Bakers attempt three challenges each week trying to impress the judges enough to go through to the next round and eventually are crowned Britain’s best amateur baker.
I guarantee you’ve never watched a reality competition like this one before. Ten bakers from the UK spend their weekends hanging out in a tent in a beautiful field, often with little baby lambs just chillin’ nearby (which they will gratuitously feature in long, still shots with twinkly music playing in the background), cooking up tasty morsels for two white-haired master bakers.
The first time I turned this on a few years ago, I was home sick and basically watched the entire first season in one sitting. That day was a blur. But on a whim, I put on the next season earlier this year, and I recalled how nice this show is. You won’t know what to do with all the politeness you’ll witness. Like, you guys know this is a COMPETITION, right? People shake hands and hug when their competitors win. They’ll offer each other advice. They look like regular humans without three layers of mascara and spray tans, and they wear the same clothes ALL weekend. The two adorably funny and goofy hosts will occasionally help contestants with little tasks when they’re short on time. And yes, a few tears may be shed, but only because a baker may feel like they let themselves and the judges down with their poor performance, never ever because they just got told they were, like, too fat to live by another baker.
Each episode of The Great British Baking Show* is divided into three parts: the Signature challenge, which is like a warm-up bake where no one gets graded (but it’s clear who is better than the others); the Technical challenge, where the bakers get a set of ingredients and a vague list of instructions and need to complete a perfect replica of a little-known dish, getting graded from worst to best; and the Showstopper, the final, complicated recipe that incorporates time management, artistic skill, and culinary prowess, sending one person home and affixing another with the moniker of Star Baker for the week.
* A word about the name: in the UK, the show is actually called The Great British Bake Off. When PBS aired it in the US, Pillsbury got good and puffed up about the fact that it sounded like its Pillsbury Bake-Off competition and they were forced to change it.
Paul—whose surname I just learned is Hollywood and, yes, that is his real name—is the Tom Colicchio of the show. He’s the snarkiest thing they’ve got, but, that said, his meanest commentary is stuff like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have done it like that” and “I don’t think that worked the way you wanted it to”. His signature move is asking the contestant a question about their technique/style and then not saying anything when they answer. Maybe they’ll get an eyebrow raise, like so:
IS THAT GOOD OR BAD, PAUL? TELL ME, DAMMIT. There is nothing like that feeling of desperately wanting to know if your teacher thinks your answer is right or wrong. This is the most stressful part of the show for me (you don’t have to tell me I have issues, thanks).
I did know Mary’s last name because they say it all the time. (I guess cuz it’s cutesy and flows off the tongue.) Seeing someone like Mary, who is an actual older lady allowed on actual TV, is another clue you are not watching American TV. I assume she might be a well-known baker/cookbook writer in the UK but I have nothing to back this up, except the entire internet, and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Mary is the queen of digging up the most random technical challenge recipes for dishes no person has ever seen, like the time she wanted them to make a jelly and sponge cake with a fondant tennis court on top. Uh, sure.
Neither of these ladies has huge resumes, so if you’ve seen them before, congrats. Until writing this Stream It I couldn’t have even told you their names because I’m not sure they ever introduce themselves. Regardless, they are great hosts who love making puns and double entendres out of the names of the challenge foods. I approve. I feel they are silly and real in a way you will never see any US reality competition host ever be (well, except for Cat Deeley on So You Think You Can Dance, who is a national treasure, but unfortunately she’s THEIR national treasure because she’s also British!).
Various Contestants as themselves
I love listening to all the accents of the different bakers (the episode where they all spend the entire time pronouncing pita bread as pit-a bread instead of peet-a bread was wild). They’re all delightfully varied in backgrounds and skill levels. This is not a competition where your oldest contestant will still get carded everywhere they go—there’s some legit grandmas and middle-aged dads serving up dishes like frangipane tarts and Cyprian flaunas, and the show is all the better for the diversity.
And featuring these great moments:
Tantalizing shots of various sugary goodness
(This bread lion was AMAZING.)
People fanning baking goods
And British people being delightful
Couch-Sharing Capability: Low
Some people, like my husband, use Netflix as a source of documentaries to fall asleep to. I can’t fall asleep while the TV is on, but I do sometimes need something before bed to ease my mind and not be too stimulating, and I find that this show is perfect. There’s something so soothing about watching people create things, and the fact that everyone is so nice to each other makes the competition portion enjoyable, unlike when I watch The Amazing Race and see my favorites losing to JERKS and get REALLY ANGRY. Ahem. Anyway. This show relaxes me.
You certainly can watch this with others (I have) but unless they can commit to watching the entire season with you, they’re not going to appreciate your little asides about how you want to have to tea with such-and-such and how you were so touched when that person helped the other person with their Baked Alaska in the last episode.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Tea and Biscuits
If you’re the kind of person who can’t watch cooking shows without food, you may need to have some ice cream or biscuits (that’s cookies to us Yanks) on hand, because you will get the urge to snack. Instead of alcohol (if you’re like me and watching this before bed), put on the kettle and get yourself a nice, soothing cuppa.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Excellent
Season five just came out at the end of August, so you’ve got some catching up to do. Netflix doesn’t have the actual first four seasons that aired in the UK (Netflix’s season one is actually the UK’s season five), so I live in a state of perpetual hope that they will add them one day. On the bright side, Netflix has already purchased rights to the next few seasons, so score! If you’re looking for more after devouring the five currently available seasons, there is the Masterclass edition featuring Mary and Paul doing the actual cooking themselves, which I am saving for when I’m desperate.
Sorry in advance for making you hungry!