How ‘The Great British Baking Show’ Saved Reality TV

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Image: PBS
Image: PBS

Full disclosure: I kind of hate reality television. Sure, I grew up in the golden age of The Real World, but I got that voyeur stuff out of my system pretty fast. Okay, maybe I tuned in  briefly when Corey Feldman was on Celebrity Big Brother for about five minutes, but since then it’s been pretty far out there in terms of my television hierarchy of needs. Having just come down off a week’s worth of Daredevil viewings, I can tell you the bar is set pretty high when it comes to what I’m going to spend time watching.

Enter The Great British Baking Show.

Stay with me here.

I know, it sounds totally silly. And I remember reading a headline that read, “Meet your new favorite television show,” and laughing long and loud. Because it sounds so silly. A bunch of amateur bakers get into a tent and bake various challenges while a pair of (sometimes) funny hosts keep the thing going and the true stars of the show, the judges, (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood) deconstruct the offerings.

It might sound silly, but it’s absolutely awesome. My husband and I are as addicted to the show, which is called The Great British Bake Off across the pond, just as much as we are to Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Daredevil, and Orange is the New Black.

Berry is radiant and very, very British, her outfits as colorful as an English garden and her accent impeccable. But don’t let it fool you. Beneath that facade is a shrewd judge who knows precisely what Victoria sponge should look and taste like. She might not be as bold as Hollywood–who likes to cruelly poke his finger into failed dishes and call them disasters–but I’d say she’s got more knowhow by a mile. Hollywood likes to do the whole “no expression” response as he’s eating the dishes, waiting and letting the drama set in, then smiling and saying it’s magical. Nah, I’m #TeamMaryBerry all the way.

But the judges aren’t just what make the show sing. No, it’s a lovely combination between the contestants and the unique recipes they have to prepare. The contestants feel far more authentic than the majority of reality shows out there. They range from movie star lovely to run-of-the-mill. They are from a wide variety of backgrounds (or at least as wide as you can get in the UK) and while they are competitive, they clearly form friendships. When one is dismissed it’s time for a huge group hug. There’s no cutthroat behavior, really. They’re all aware that they’ve been given this great chance to shine, and they do so, for the most part, with poise, humor, and true emotion. It’s a big deal.

As an amateur baker myself, I love getting a crash course in English and European pastry cooking. I’ve struggled to get consistent macarons here in North Carolina, but I’m telling you these folks make it look like a cakewalk.

Each episode has a theme, be it desserts, pastries, bread, or pies and tarts. You get a crash course every episode, too, and watch them create both mystery recipes (obscure things that Mary usually plucks out of the aether) and their signature cakes which they’ve planned and worked on before the event.

The final recipe is truly delicious. And more than once I’ve found myself desperately searching the kitchen for the right ingredients for trifle or itching to make baked Alaska.

It’s not just me. GQ calls the phenomenon “bizarre” but points out that more people in the UK watched the October 2015 finale of the show than the World Cup Finale.

Makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes it’s nice to watch something, get invested, and learn. Without explosions. Without major plot twists. Just delicious, inspiring food. And you can catch it right now on Netflix.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream Team.

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