Don’t miss the last two episodes of U.S. Season 4 of The Great British Baking Show, airing back-to-back on many public television stations tonight. Though I’m puzzled about this: They start with 12 amateur bakers, and each week eliminate one. As of last Friday, four were left. So wouldn’t it take three shows, not two, to come up with a winner? I’ll just have to watch and see.
In case you’ve missed this wildly popular phenomenon, the show (called the Great British Bake-Off in the U.K.) is the antithesis of the typical reality contest show. It’s isn’t cutthroat competition. It isn’t “Cupcake Wars.” The British bakers are pleasant people. “It’s been very, very hard for American unscripted television to employ pure gentleness without cloying sentimentality, to balance kindness and bluntness (which) The Great British Baking Show does effortlessly,” said Linda Holmes on NPR.org last year. Maybe that’s because, instead of using a sound stage with flashing lights and booming sound effects, it takes place outdoors, under a big white tent. It’s a show about trying, not about winning.
Something so popular cannot help but be marked by controversy. Up to now, the show has been a BBC production, but it recently was bought by Channel 4. Only one of the two judges—Paul Hollywood—and neither of the hosts, the comedy duo of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, is making the shift. The first promotion for the new show has been aired and roundly criticized. You know, change. Exiled judge Mary Berry (who authored a cookbook of mine) will have a new BBC show, called Britain’s Best Cook, which will feature classic British dishes, not just bread and pastry.
Giedroyc and Perkins are important in the show, because they make the slightly risqué puns and ask the dumb questions, the kinds of things a viewer might want to know. They set a light and supportive tone. Laurie Penny in an article unequivocally titled “Cake or Death: why the Great British Bake Off is the best thing on television” says, “Legend has it that if anybody has a real breakdown . . . , Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins stand next to them repeating brand names and swear-words so the cameramen can’t use the footage, and don’t you dare disabuse me of that fact, because I want it to be true.”
The last few seasons have included a multicultural set of contestants. That’s also been controversial, apparently, and well addressed by commentator Penny.
Each episode has three parts. Part one is a “signature bake,” where contestants prepare a classic in their own unique way; part two is a technical challenge, which the contestants do not know about in advance and may never have prepared (or even seen) before; third, a “show-stopper.” For marzipan week, contestant Candace made a cake covered with marzipan to form a giant peacock. It lived up to the show-stopper name for sure. When Paul and Mary asked her about working on it at home, Candace said, “Oh, yeah, it’s been peacock all the time. What’s for breakfast, mum? Oh, peacock.”
It’s the most fun you’ll have with flour, sugar, eggs, and butter, with the fewest calories. WNET New York has past shows and multiple features, ICYMI.