‘Great British Bake Off’ is back for a not-so-sweet season

October 23, 2020

Many shows and movies have halted or pushed off production during the coronavirus pandemic, but not the beloved “The Great British Bake Off.” A whole new season was filmed this past summer. Producers of the show have reported from the start of this new season that the filming took place in a bubble: the judges, hosts and contestants, who would normally travel back and forth from their homes to the famous baking tent, had to stay together in one area for the entirety of the seven weeks of filming. 

That said, the “Bake Off” maintains some of its trademark charm. The contestants are the usual mix of cheerful and slightly anxious amateur bakers. There are still the ever-so-wholesome moments in which contestants offer help to rushing bakers and there are still jokes and innuendos about moist bottoms all around. 

Yet, “Bake Off” doesn’t feel the same. And it has nothing to do with the pandemic. 

“Bake Off,” simply put, is not the same show that it was when it first aired 10 years ago. Gone is the mostly balanced commentary from judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry—Hollywood usually being the slightly harsher, firmer judge and Berry being the ever-so-slightly gentler one—and gone is the overall kind and genuinely witty banter of the hosts Mel Geidroyc and Sue Perkins. In the last few years, Mary Berry has been replaced by Prue Leith, and Geidroyc and Perkins have been replaced by Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, and, eventually, Toksgvig replaced by Matt Lucas. 

This isn’t to say that the new replacements are bad—Fielding and Lucas, while not necessarily in the same tradition of Mel and Sue’s humor, are still able to keep things relatively lighthearted in the tent. The similar sentiment goes for Prue Leith, who is certainly not Mary Berry, and quite frankly doesn’t seem particularly interested in following her footsteps. And this isn’t bad, either—the new additions to the “Bake Off” team deserve to showcase who they actually are, rather than try to trick the audience into thinking they’re someone they’re not. 

The problem is, the new replacements are not always pleasant to watch. Prue Leith has an annoying habit of dragging in diet culture into the tent, often explaining that a baked good must be “worth the calories” and “worth the sugar” and blah, blah, blah. If the audience wanted diet talk, then they can find that on one of the gazillion other reality shows or YouTube videos of how to lose weight or bake healthy or whatever it is Prue’s trying to get at. But in this “Bake Off” tent, no one’s thinking about the calories—everyone’s supposed to be thinking about the flour and butter and sugar and all the wonderful, wonderful things delicious baked goods have to offer. 

Our other judge, Paul Hollywood, isn’t much better when it comes to providing the much-needed positive presence on the show. Hollywood has always been known to be the rougher judge, but whereas he started off with carefully worded comments (and the occasional brutal—but usually rightfully so—remark), he now seems to take a certain amount of glee in intimidating contestants. Perhaps something could be said of the concept of owning up to a role, but there’s a difference between owning a role and just plainly being arrogant and condescending.

Hollywood’s comments and overall growing condescension would be tolerable if there was more of a counterweight. For instance, past hosts Perkins and Giedroyc were mostly able to mediate Hollywood’s comments—often by cheering the contestants on their own after receiving particularly brutal comments. In essence, Perkins and Giedroyc were able to remind contestants and the audience that Hollywood is, honestly, just another man who likes to throw his weight around. 

And while current hosts Fielding and Lucas do, on occasion, riff off the contestants’ fears of Hollywood (in one of the newest episodes, Fielding and Lucas both attempt to goad the contestants into throwing a cake at Hollywood’s face), they mostly seem happy to feed his ego. Perhaps that really could just be seen as another attempt at humor, but considering how puffed Paul Hollywood’s chest already is, we have to wonder whether the additional praises are really necessary. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, then perhaps the more devastating parts about ‘Bake Off’ is that the baking challenges seem to grow more and more ridiculous with each season. This season is no exception—already from the first episode, the contestants were asked to build a bust out of someone they admire … out of cake. If you compare this challenge to that of a few years ago, when the grand challenge would just be making a more technical cake, this new twist seems more like a stunt-grab than anything else. That, combined with the ever-shortening time limits set on bakers to finish their projects, the show seems more intent on creating the most high-stakes situation for the bakers than actually providing the wholesome content that most viewers crave when watching “Bake Off” in the first place.

So unfortunately, “Bake Off” doesn’t seem intent on delivering the same amount of comfort for its audience this year as it has in years long past.The wholesome and lighthearted show has turned into a more intense and stressful mess. In the meantime, we’ll just have to settle for re-watching past seasons of “Bake Off” for our dosage of wholesome baking. 

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