“The Great British Baking Show” is back on the air, and I am once more at peace.
The show is beloved by many, including me. But why is it so popular? What makes it so hopelessly addictive?
I think I have the answer, or rather, answers. But first, some information.
The shows that are currently running on PBS are far from current.
You may recall that there was a major kerfuffle a year or two ago about the new season. The show was moving from the noncommercial BBC to ITV, which has commercials, and sassy hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were having none of it. They elected to stay with the BBC and not join the show on the other network.
In very short order, they were joined by the adorable Mary Berry, the 83-year-old author of more than 70 cookbooks.
That left only curmudgeonly Paul Hollywood to go to ITV, where he has been joined by three other co-hosts, including surrealist goth comedian Noel Fielding. The first season of those shows already aired in England last year.
So what are we seeing now? We are actually watching shows that were shot six years ago, in 2012, but they had not yet made it to these shores.
It doesn’t matter that no one in England can even remember the shows we are seeing now, or that Mary Berry was only 77 at the time. They are back on the air, and all is right with the world.
I do love the interplay between the hosts, the casually raunchy jokes told by Sue and Mel (apparently, the raunchier ones are edited out of the American shows) and the good-cop, bad-cop routine by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.
But I would never watch the show just for the hosts. What draws me to the show every Friday night are the competitors.
From what we see on the telly, each is an excellent baker. But they are also like you and me. That is, they are amateurs. They are home cooks. They do not have formal training. They make the same mistakes we do.
You never know when a competitor is going to have a bad day. When her bread will burn. When his cake will collapse. When her meringue will be messy.
All at once, he’ll be voted out of the kitchen. And I think we viewers especially empathize with them because we feel a particular connection to them all. They are like we would be, if we were better bakers.
At this point in the season, the relative chaff seems to have been separated from the wheat. While they are still more talented and intuitive than many or most of us, what were apparently the weaker bakers have been identified and eliminated.
Normally, I would say that the competition has become more fierce, but that’s another reason I love the show: These people are not fierce, other than Paul Hollywood. They’re lovely people. They’re nice. We don’t want to see any of them fail. And when they do, they accept their defeat with such grace and equanimity that you just want to put your arm around them and take them out for a pint. Or maybe a slice of pie.
I will make no predictions about the final outcome. I hope everybody wins.