Did you watch the premiere of a new season of The Great British Bake Off last night? If so, I’m horribly jealous … or I would be if jealousy didn’t run contrary to the spirit of The Great British Bake Off, a show that is at its core pleasant, gentle, soothing and entirely pure in heart.
Bake Off employs calming narration, a delicate pastel color scheme, a reliable format and real-life fairy godmother Mary Berry. It is basically like watching Mr. Rogers or Shining Time Station, but for adults. It cuts through the ugliness of reality competitions and resists cheap “extreme” challenges or manufactured rivalries. While we await the U.S. airing of series 7, let’s look at all the ways the Bake Off is the most pure and kind reality competition on television today:
In my head, Mary Berry was named after her beloved granny, Mary Poppins – because how else do you explain their shared delightful temperament, coupled with a firm instance on perfection (or practically-perfection)? Mary never met a sneaky innuendo she didn’t like, but she’s also excellent at playing the well-bred grandmother who doesn’t know what you’re all snickering at. Plus she’s a style icon to boot, always sporting a smart scarf or a well-tailored floral blazer or that one bomber jacket that sold out in a day. If you worry that getting older will make you dowdy or dull or stuck in the past, just look to Mary (age 81!) and rest assured that such a fate isn’t inevitable. And is it just me, or do her eyes actually twinkle sometimes?
I mean. Sue Perkins is her own person. But she has a quick and dry wit that’s very Rachel Maddow-without-the-politics. Or maybe the funniest NPR presenter? Just tell me that Sue Perkins doesn’t own a library tote. I’ll wait. She’s also always quick with a dad joke, which is objectively speaking the most pure-in-heart category of humor. Sue is a comedian, not a baker, so she’s really just around for the laughs – although she did make an earlier foray into food television with The Supersizers, a great program where modern people consume the typical diet of historical periods. It is funnier than it sounds.
Remember that show Zoom? Whenever the kids were doing a craft or a race, all the other kids gathered around saying encouraging things. That’s basically how Great British Bake-Off Is. Contestants who are done with their bake lend a hand to fellow competitors, tell people they’re doing well, or just calm down the other bakers during their more ruffled moments. The judges and hosts offer practical advice instead of watching the contestants muddle their way into disaster. If you want to watch people be nice to each other for an hour, you’ve found the right show.
Whether you’re a senior citizen or a school-aged kid, you could watch and enjoy GBBO. The field of competitors isn’t age-segregated either, and there have been bakers as young as 17 (sweet, pleasant Martha) and as old as 69. Obviously reality shows have to cast based on both talent and personality, but it’s so refreshing to see a show that doesn’t rely too heavily on the young and conventionally attractive (no worries: if you like conventionally attractive people, there are plenty). Contestants have ranged from posh, Aga-owning teen Flora to the more working class builder/dad Paul, proving that baking – and talent – cut across all classes.
Given the events of this year, it’s also been great to see that a number of the top competitors haven’t been of British descent. It’s important for viewers to see bakers of all different backgrounds concoct some of the more traditionally British challenges – and make them better by drawing from their own influences. Where scripted television still has trouble writing roles for Muslim women that aren’t either boring and obedient at best or extremist at worst, through a reality show audiences got to meet Nadiya, full of personality and ambition. When even central and eastern European immigrants face discrimination and stereotyping, Bake Off presented us with Ugne, a shoe-loving female body builder. In a year of Brexit and Donald Trump, this is the kind of content I want on my television.
The Best Of Reality Competitions
While I’d rather focus on what Bake Off is instead of what it isn’t, we have to discuss what reality competitions can be at their worst. We’re talking about those cheap tactics that producers think are going to keep viewers tuned in – but which I’d argue are completely unnecessary (and I think the 10 million viewers tuning into the series 7 premiere last night would agree with me). Drawn-out personality clashes between competitors or judges have no place here. Neither do unnecessarily extreme challenges that you see on some other cooking competitions; why include that if these challenges are hard enough? Even the participants’ interviews are free of that reality tv posturing about being the best. Or is that just an American thing, maybe?
Instead, GBBO shows what reality tv competitions can be at their best. You have talented contestants trying their hardest, interesting challenges that actually teach us about history or travel (remember that Victorians episode?), and suspense generated naturally instead of artificial, hyped-up gimmicks.
GBBO Exists Outside Of Time
As if this show didn’t already remind me of a mature version of the public television shows of my childhood, it also seems to exist entirely outside of time. I mean, I never know when any series of The Great British Bake Off originally aired, thanks to the wonders of PBS’s screwy scheduling. It’s all clearly from at some point in the 2010s, but beyond that it’s anyone’s guess. Series 5 (UK) was Season 1 (US), and then Series 4 (UK) was Season 2 (US), and Series 6 (UK) was Season 3 (US). Don’t even try to remember which season aired first. It’s exactly like tuning into your local PBS affiliate c. 1993 and never knowing which cast of Ghostwriter you were going to get.
From Mary Berry to the tranquil pastel baking tents to the cheerful competitors, the Great British Bake Off is everything reality shows can be. If you get to watch a new series right now, enjoy! I’ll be here with my weirdly ordered PBS repeats in the meantime – not because I don’t want to jump ahead, but because watching with a torrent is NOT very pure-in-heart. Besides, I think Mary Berry would be disappointed in me, and we can’t have that.