By Atara Huberfeld
Often, we watch TV to transport us to a new world. Whether out of curiosity or boredom, sometimes we all want to escape our own reality for one that’s different. Some people prefer to immerse themselves in worlds that are crazier or more dangerous than their own, like ones filled with zombies, dragons, or people in their 20s who have friends and can afford apartments in NYC. But many others, myself included, use TV as escapism to a world that seems better — more cheery, more upbeat, or more exciting than one we are in the night before a major paper is due.
The Great British Bake-Off is definitively in the second type of world. The characters are delightful, easy to love, and care deeply about one another. The aesthetic of the show is bright and cheerful, and overall, the show seems to want to make the viewer happy. It inhabits a Wonderland on TV these days, spreading fun, positivity, and lots of information about its primary topic — British baking.
Perhaps surprisingly given that description, this show is a competition. Amateur bakers from around Britain gather in a park on weekends in the summer and over the course of three challenges, try to prove that they are the best amateur baker in the tent. Unfortunately, one person is sent home every week, but by the end of 10 episodes, one lucky person is crowned the winner and gets…a fancy cake stand.
The fact that there is no massive prize waiting at the end of the frosting rainbow hints at a key aspect of the show. The show is technically a competition, but it is nothing like the explosive and drama-filled competition shows on American TV. You’ll find no flaring tensions, difficult personalities clashing, explosive arguments or cold shoulders, all of which can make for great TV. Instead, everyone on the Great British Bake-Off seems pretty normal. They’re on the show because they love to bake and want to share that gift with the world. All the contestants seem like lovely people who you want to share a cup of tea with while you enjoy listening to their fun accents. Also, because the bakers aren’t competing for anything specific, they are all much more likely to help one another if one baker is running out of time and needs an extra set of hands to finish the caramel decorations on a multi-tiered creation or place all their biscuits on a tray.
In addition to being one of the few shows that allows you to watch a pure cinnamon roll bake an actual cinnamon roll, while you’re binging one of the 5 seasons on Netflix, you’ll learn a lot about baking. British baking has evolved over centuries worth of tea-times and today has all sorts of traditional cookies, cakes, tray bakes, or pies that non-British people might not recognize. As a result, the show spends quite a bit of time educating their viewers about different types of meringue (French, Italian, Swiss) or how to properly pronounce the phrase, “creme patisserie” (the French’s pretentious way of saying custard). The show has inspired many at-home bakers to try the recipes on their own and has spawned its own subculture of bakers. Who needs a cult following of fans obsessing over an actor’s good looks when you have a cult of people baking pastry?
For the uneducated viewer looking for guidance, there have been two versions of the show. The first four seasons available on Netflix aired on the BBC, hosted by the cheeky and lovable duo of Mel and Sue. The judges are Mary Berry, who you’ll definitely want to be your adopted grandmother, and Paul Hollywood, who’s more like a judgemental uncle who you love anyway. All of those seasons are lovely, but Season 4 is a personal favorite, featuring some of the best bakers on the show so far and baking challenges based on the Tudors (pigeon pie, anyone?). The fifth season on Netflix is from after the show switched networks, and as a result, the show switched hosts and judges. Paul Hollywood stuck around, but Mel and Sue morphed into the quirky Noel and compact Sandy, while Mary Berry was swapped out for Prue Leith. The bakers are still great, the cakes still look too beautiful to eat, there are just fewer puns and more adult jokes than the BBC may have permitted. But both versions of the show are a joy to watch.
The only possible downside to this show is that while you watch it, you will probably get very hungry. Otherwise, if you enjoy watching winsome people joking around and having fun while surrounded by delicious looking cake, the Great British Bake-Off is your next Netflix binge.
The Great British Bake-Off seasons 1-5 are available on Netflix now, but now it’s listed as The Great British Baking Show. The show is also available as The Great British Baking Show on PBS, with a new season airing now. In England, it airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday evenings, with a (different and newer) new season airing now. We know it’s weird, we don’t think it makes much sense either.