This piece is a long-time coming, or baking I should say, as I an quite the adamant fan of “The Great British Baking Show.” BBC’s, or now Channel 4’s, “The Great British Baking Show,” commonly nicknamed “Bake Off” graced the British airstream in 2010, and came to my own attention in 2012 through KPBS. Bake Off is a masterful series where twelve amateur bakers from all over Great Britain come together in the beautiful Somerset countryside to compete to win the Bake Off title. Each episode has a different theme, ranging from Chocolate to Patisserie to Victorian week. After three challenges: a practiced homebake in the Signature, a surprise recipe in Technical, and a centerpiece in the Showstopper, one baker is crowned Star Baker and one is sent home. The main attraction to Bake Off is the lightness of the competition; instead of the brash music of American cooking shows and jealous competitors, Bake Off uses gentle orchestral music to accompany competitors that lend each other ingredients and help finish each other’s bakes if a competitor is struggling. Bake Off is still a competition, and it is rather humorous to see common schoolteachers or garden landscapers fight to win with their various custards and meringues.
The 2016 series premiere topped the British television charts with 10.6 million views, rising to 13.4 million after a week’s release, according to The Independent. Bake Off was the most popular series for that year in Great Britain, as its pleasing atmosphere and comical competitors were a delight to watch. The amateur bakers were welcomed into the tent by comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, whose weekly colorful blazers and quick-witted jokes kept emotions light during intense episodes of melting ice-cream bakes and flat, airless sponges. The bakers received a more serious reception by judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, both acclaimed baking titans in their own right. The combination of all the homely yet humorous personalities, pastel-colored mixers, and delicately-decorated bakes made for a simply sublime show. The 2017 season was surely about to be the best one yet. Unfortunately, I was wrong to get my hopes up.
My grievance, one shared with many Bake Off fans, with the series is the recent network switch from BBC to Channel 4, a more generic network. While the background theme, baking tent, and programme style remains the same, Sue, Mel, and most importantly Mary stayed behind with the BBC, refusing to follow Paul to a more commercialized version of Bake Off. The eighth series has completed four episodes now and it already shows the underlying differences Channel 4 has brought. An obvious change is the new comedian hosts, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, whose jokes mainly revolve around innuendos, which seem out of place in a friendly baking tent filled with floral arrangements and gingham tablecloths.
I understand that they are different hosts than Mel and Sue, but Channel 4 needs to stop pigeonholing Noel and Sandi to try to imitate Mel and Sue with matching patterned collared shirts and hosting styles. As for Paul, he is now joined by Prue Leith, another equally qualified judge whose critiques are as intimidating as an ice queen. When Leith is pleased, her sly smile translates to a top mark. She is a pleasant addition to the show, but now Paul seems to be forced into being the light-hearted “good cop,” where in past series he was the one whose grey-eyed stare upset the nerves of any baker who stepped in the tent. Paul’s jokes seem forced and it is obviously not a simple change in character, it’s a full 180.
While Channel 4 was presented with a new cast, they did not have to resort to the tried and true character types of the old series. The network should have accepted that a different cast would be a change to the show, and not force the hosts or Paul to try to replicate the old cast’s idiosyncrasies.
Despite the strange qualities of the new Bake Off, I will continue watching as the challenges this year are interesting and innovative. The new set of amatuer bakers have diverse backgrounds, from all reaches of the country, and whose personalities in the tent still make for a quirky and light television show. I only hope that Channel 4 realizes that the drop in viewing numbers (down to 6.5 million for the first episode) mark overall dissatisfaction with the network’s version of the program.