Wednesday, September 05, 2012
The Great British Bake Off
Our guest post series continues with this entry from Annie, reviewing the British cooking competition show, The Great British Bake Off.
All sorts of things can convince me to try a new show. Sometimes it's as simple as an actor I like, other times it'll be nothing more than a funny gif I see on Tumblr. What got me watching The Great British Bake Off were three words guaranteed to pique my curiosity: nerdy Scottish hipster.
I'm referring to James Morton, one of the twelve competitors in the third series of The Great British Bake Off. He is exactly as adorable and charming as I was led to believe, but let's talk about the show itself first.
Although it's in its third series, I had not even heard of the show until I heard those three magical words. The concept is simple to anyone who has ever watched a reality show before, or really anyone who completed the second grade. The contestants compete in a series of three challenges over the course of each episode - the signature challenge, the technical challenge, and the showstopper - and by the end of the episode one person is named Star Baker and another person is sent home.
There are no prizes or immunity for winning one of the first two challenges but the judging is cumulative, so if a contestant whiffs the first two challenges and then also stumbles in the third, they're likely to be sent home. But a contestant can completely screw up in one challenge, do well in the others, and be safe.
The Great British Bake Off is hosted by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, a comedy team who are genuinely funny and likeable. Sue in particular has a knack for cracking a joke that will make an anxious contestant chill out, at least for a few seconds. The judges are Mary Berry, who has the greatest name ever, and Paul Hollywood, who has the second greatest name ever and is also a total silver fox. Anderson Cooper better watch his back, is all I'm saying.
One of the things I love about TGBBO, and that sets it apart from its American brethren like Top Chef and Cake Wars, is that each episode delves into the history of baking in Great Britain as it relates to the theme of each week. I also enjoy the segment where Paul and Mary discuss how each baked good should turn out if the contestants do things right and the ways it can all go wrong.
There's more education with this show and a lot less interpersonal drama - or interaction at all; the contestants are hardly ever seen talking to each other - than you see on American reality shows. But what I enjoy the most about it is that the things they are making are things that anyone who can read a recipe can make. We're not talking about enormous fondant-covered fancy cakes with moving parts and elaborate designs. These are pies and tarts and breads, oh my. Not all of it is simple stuff, but they are things that don't require tons of training and hours of backbreaking labor.
Back to James. Naturally, given the whole nerdy Scottish hipster thing, he's my favorite and I'm pleased that he's been doing well so far. He takes risks and it's been paying off for him. Unless he stumbles badly I expect him to easily make the top three or four. My other favorites are John Whaite, who did screw up in this week's episode but hopefully it'll give him the drive to do better, and Cathryn Dresser, who is hilariously both a tightly wound type A personality and a scatterbrained flake, but somehow both sides are working together to help her in this competition.
As of today, The Great British Bake Off series three has aired four episodes. If you're an American like I am, it is tragically not been picked up by BBC America yet so you have to find alternative ways to watch the episodes. Of course I'm not advocating piracy but if the choice is seeing a nerdy Scottish hipster make delicious pastries while risking a stern cease-and-desist letter from your ISP or not seeing a nerdy Scottish hipster make delicious pastries, I'll take the letter.