Upper Crust

Thursday, March 5, 2015
Know what just took my breath away? A competitive reality show. I know, I'm shocked too! I still can't believe just how great The Great British Bake Off was. Season 5 is the first one to be aired on American television, and I don't understand why it took so long. Over on these shores, it's called The Great British Baking Show. I'm not entirely sure why the name was changed in the transition, but I've heard theories that maybe Pillsbury has some sort of trademark on the phrase "bake-off". Fuck them, I'm using the original name.

I've watched plenty of competitive reality shows, and I've watched plenty of food television, and cannot emphasize enough just how stellar this show is. The contestants? They're all talented people that...wait for it...don't use that talent as an excuse to act like raging dicks. No, really! Everyone is nice and supportive. They have friendly chats as they compete, and they don't backstab each other. All their criticisms are directed at themselves, and how they'd like to improve their skills in the future. The biggest contestant drama of the season is BinGate, which I won't spoil here, but look it up. That's as fierce as it ever got. American reality shows like to excuse terrible contestant behavior with an excuse about how awful people generate drama that audiences want to watch, but The Great British Bake Off puts the lie to that claim. This was a group of wonderful people all doing their best to display their abilities without ever once feeling the need to tear each other down. It was such a breath of fresh air.

The judges? Equally awesome! They have names that don't even sound real (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), but they are just as superior to their American counterparts as the contestants. They articulate their opinions clearly, they're firm about their criticisms without being needlessly cruel, and they freely compliment people for work that was done well. In other words, they're judges, rather than catch-phrase spouting personalities.

The challenges? Equally awesome! Each episode is split into three challenges. There's the Signature, in which the chefs all make the same type of baked good, and are allowed to bring tried-and-tested recipes from home (the openness about these recipes is another good change from American cooking reality shows, in which everyone is expected to make things up as they go along). Then there's the Technical, in which the bakers all make the same thing, and are just given the barest of instructions. The best thing about this challenge is that it's blindly judged; Mary and Paul have no idea who made which entry until they've ranked them. And finally, there's the Showstopper, in which the bakers are challenged to make something complicated and visually arresting.

The production design? Equally awesome! I cannot over-praise the camera work on this show; everything looks incredibly beautiful. The editing makes it clear how every contestant is progressing, ties in check-ins and interviews, and intersperses the challenges with pretty illustrated animations about what each baker is making.

The hosting? Equally... OK, this is the one nitpick I have, and it's a minor one. The show and challenges are hosted by two women named Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and when they're chatting with the judges or contestants, announcing winners and losers, or voicing over the explanations of what each baker is making, they're perfectly capable. But the other 60% of their time is throwing out terrible puns, cringy double entendres, and annoying fake accents. Mel is usually fine, but Sue really needs to cool it with the need to pronounce "bake" with a different quirky tone in every episode.

That complaint right there? Is literally the only thing I can find to criticize about the show. I don't know if I'll be able to track down any of the previous seasons, but you can bet I'll be trying. And it is my fervent hope that this show continues on, in exactly its current form, for a long time. As long as they keep sending it over here for us poor Yanks to enjoy.

The Great British Bake Off - Season 5: A+