Sunday, November 19, 2017
TV and Media

Why 'The Great British Baking Show' is the best thing on Netflix

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It's officially TV catch-up season.

As Chelsea Tatham writes in this week's Couch Planner, Fear the Walking Dead is back for a third season, so brush up on the first two. And, before the TV reboot starts in June, she suggests watching the movie adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist, an endeavor that left me horrified. I can still hear Thomas Jane's tortured screams.

But these dark shadows are not why I called you here today. I am here to advocate that you play catch-up on a series with much lower stakes, and a much happier disposition. A series that will caress your head gently and calm you like a red wine.

The Great British Baking Show.

The PBS/BBC staple, known as the Great British Bake Off across the pond, has been around for some time. I came to it last weekend on Netflix while laid up with a bum foot. I've now binged two seasons. Let's explore why this show is a glimmer of softness in an otherwise Brutalist world.

THE SIMPLICITY

The premise of this show is, who bakes the best? There are three challenges every episode — a signature bake, a technical challenge and a showstopper (fancy time!). The person who does the best wins. The person who does the worst leaves. There are no immunity challenges or opportunities to save yourself or "who to kill first" tribal councils or life credits/alliances. They even get to go home between takes and practice. A merit-based show? Weird.

THE NICENESS

The people are so nice that I have wondered what is wrong with them. They say things like, "Frances is amazing," and help each other finish bakes when the clock is ticking down. At elimination, they are relieved to have stayed but sad to see a friend go. Even judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, who are allegedly intimidating, keep things above the belt with zingers like, "The creme patissiere is really quite runny." When one contestant got frustrated and dumped his ice cream in the trash, he apologized profusely for his bad attitude.

THE LACK OF DRAMA

If someone is suffering a fatal illness, we never know. Some true excerpts: "Ali is a charity worker and lives with his mom and dad, three brothers and a younger sister in Birmingham." Or, "Christine lives in Didcot, Oxfordshire, with her husband, Rob." We get small details along, like when Ruby adopted a cat. The judges never tell contestants their psychological problems as it relates to cake. There is no Tyra Banks screaming, "I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU" at a fashion model. There are no production points for third-great-nieces with food allergies. Ruby has a cat named Rupert.

THE FOOD

Forget blocks of Rice Krispie Treat covered in fondant for the Garfield and Odie Celebrity Put-Put Challenge. Contestants tackle puff pastry from scratch, pate a choux dough, Swedish princess cake. There are plenty of dishes to learn about, including Viennese Dobos tortes, suet pudding and cream puffs covered in chocolate to look like nuns. Nuns! You'll be inspired to start baking one way or another, even if it's just that box mix in the cupboard. Don't worry. Even if it doesn't come out right, The Great British Baking Show will be nice. So, so nice.

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