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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

The Great British Baking Show needs a new recipe for success

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If this new season of ”The Great British Baking“ Show were a loaf of bread, it would be slightly under-baked. Sure, I would eat it. But the person who baked that loaf certainly wouldn’t be getting any handshakes from me. 

I know we’re only a couple episodes in (Netflix has chosen to release this new season week-by-week). Still, I don’t think it’s too early to suggest that this show has lost some of its spark. The move from BBC to Channel 4 was never going to do GBBS any favors — especially since it meant losing lovable presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins — as well as the inimitable Mary Berry — but I was hoping that the show would rediscover its “groove” after a few seasons. This has not been the case.

Although show-runners managed to find new presenters who (weirdly enough) resemble Mel and Sue in appearance, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig’s oddball, largely costume and prop-based humor is often hit-or-miss. While it is admirable that these two have attempted more than a total imitation of Mel and Sue’s pun-based humor, neither possesses their predecessors' easy charm. Where Mel and Sue were delightfully quirky, Noel and Sandi — particularly Noel — often tread the line between eccentric and just plain weird in a way that feels out of place amidst all the baking powder and gingham. 

And the show is clearly struggling to develop new and inventive challenges for contestants. One  “technical,” for instance, tasked contestants with making a veggie burger and some burger buns, an especially odd choice for the season's “Break Week” episode (usually one of its best). Even the episodes’ themes are getting more far-fetched. This week was “Dairy Week” — as if 95% of baked goods don’t contain butter and eggs to begin with. 

Accompanying this apparent challenge fatigue is a similar issue with the show’s contestants. Once recognized by the Times as emblematic of Britain’s increased cultural diversity, the show has clearly made that a primary focus. While such a decision, in itself, should be celebrated, this year’s cast of contestants seems more curated to fit some implicit quota of race and sexual orientation than chosen randomly from Britain’s wealth of diverse citizens. Furthermore, the cast skews very young. This year lacks even one adorable grandma baking traditional British desserts, an exclusion seemingly indicative of a misguided attempt at modernization.

But the problem isn’t primarily that the casting choices seem like inauthentic pandering. It’s that they’re all fairly forgettable. Most seasons, I find myself falling in love with almost every contestant. This time, I can barely remember anyone’s names.

Worst of all, their baking has failed to impress. Maybe it’s unavoidable that a show’s 10th season won’t find bakers able to “top” the creations of their predecessors (the bar can’t keep moving up forever, I guess). But I had a hard time being wowed by Alice’s macaroon sheep when I had Paul’s Lion Bread sculpture (Season 6) in the back of my mind or praising Michelle’s carrot cake when I’ve seen Nadiya’s incredible soda pop cheesecake

That’s how I’ve felt this whole season, really. It’s not bad. But I can’t help remembering what came before. 

  • Show: ”The Great British Baking Show“
  • Where to watch: Netflix
  • If you like: Other mediocre cooking shows 
  • Favorite episodes: None. They’re all the same. 
  • Shamrocks: 2 out of 5