It’s a rather dismal time in American politics. There’s been lots of fighting, drama, and tweeting of late. Over the past few months, we’ve seen disappointed hopes, angry passions, and forlorn despair all rise to the surface. On the cultural front, we’ve experienced a good deal of unrest and volatility, fragmentation and decay.
But there’s hope, friends. From across the pond, the British have delivered unto us the most delightful “reality TV” show an Anglophile could ever ask for. It features people being nice to each other, the punniest hosts on television, two judges talking about “soggy bottoms,” and the most tantalizing baked goods.
So you could turn on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News and hear about the latest Donald Trump tweets destroying peace and prosperity. Or you could just watch the final episodes of the fourth season of “The Great British Baking Show” instead.
Here are some reasons you should consider the latter.
1. This Is A Different Kind Of Competition
If you’ve ever watched U.S. baking and cooking competitions—such as “Chopped,” “Master Chef,” or even “Master Chef Junior”—you’re likely used to a rather cutthroat culinary competition. We Americans take our bakes seriously. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and making it to the top often requires (at least in our minds) a steely, even hostile demeanor. After all, you never know when Gordon Ramsay’s going to shout at you in his menacing British accent. “Master Chef Junior” encourages its conniving little contestants to throw each other out of the competition—despite the sunny dispositions of these little kids, they know how to attack an opponent.
This is how Americans do reality TV. While it’s intense, it’s also rather sad. I didn’t even realize how sad it was until I saw the kindly and jovial “British Baking Show” contestants hug each other at the end of each episode, wiping away tears and laughing. They genuinely appear to like each other and get along. They even help each other, if one contestant finishes early and has a bit of time on his hands. It’s the most uncompetitive, charitable competition on TV. And it’s marvelous.
All this probably has to do with the fact that the winner of “The Great British Baking Show” gets a CAKE STAND as his or her reward—and seems genuinely happy about it. We Americans would expect at least $10,000 as the result of our culinary labors. The Brits baking away across the pond seem to be happy, however, with their opportunity to learn from the great Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, and to appear on television.
That brings me to my second point.
2. Mary Berry
She’s sweet, classy, and knows how to bake a mean cake. She reminds me of my grandmother. She has the most soft-spoken, kindly voice, but doesn’t mind a little booze in her bakes. Mary Berry makes every day a brighter, sweeter one by her very presence. She makes “The Great British Baking Show” great.
Paul tends to take on the aura of the bad-cop judge, glowering and critical. But Mary’s cheering us on. She wants us to succeed. Her quiet criticisms hit home, because they’re delivered by a baking queen with a heart of gold.
No one said it better than Jordan in Season One: “We mustn’t upset Mary Berry.” She inspires all of us—contestant and viewer—to be better people.
3. The Delightful Puns
Hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are hilarious. They add levity and humor to every episode, and their commentary’s a cascading avalanche of witty puns and repartee. You don’t have to be British to find yourself giggling along with the contestants.
But I also love Sue and Mel for the way they entrench themselves in the work and labor of the contestants. You’ll find them propping up a collapsing gingerbread house, helping frost an elaborate cake, or encouraging a crestfallen baker whose soufflé has just collapsed. They hug, they laugh, they cheer. Like I said, this is the most anti-“mean” competition ever created. It’s all just way too nice, and yet it all seems so real and fun. Mel and Sue deserve much of the credit for that.
4. An Endless Education In Baking
Watching the last four seasons of “The Great British Baking Show” has taught me how little I truly know about butter, flour, and yeast. Truly. I had no idea there were so many different sorts of sponge (Victoria sponge, Génoise, chiffon, biscuit), pastry (puff, flaky, shortcrust, hot water crust, choux, phyllo), or meringue (Swiss, Italian, French). I didn’t know how to make crème pâtissière, or a Baked Alaska.
I’ve done a lot of baking in my life, but few bakes of the technical sort. “The British Baking Show” takes everything to the next level. The show’s “technical bakes”—a competitive round featured in each episode—offer not just the contestants, but viewers an opportunity to learn new skills.
Of my acquaintances, many who watch “The Great British Baking Show” have been inspired to try their hand at new culinary skills and challenges by the show. They’ve made new dishes, tested new recipes, even engaged in a friendly competition or two. I have decided that I am finally giving croissants a try. (One of these days. When time permits to do it properly.)
5. The Show As We Know It Is Ending
But alas, “The Great British Baking Show” is nearly at its end—at least as we currently know it. At the end of this season, which is currently playing on PBS (and available to stream on their website), the current delightful team is disbanding, and a new show will soon begin.
The dustup concerning the show’s future happened last fall: its producers decided to leave the BBC for a rival network—and Sue, Mel, and Marry Berry all quit. That means the new “Great British Baking Show” will feature Paul Hollywood, along with a new judge (again: not Mary Berry!), and two new hosts.
As Vulture reports, “Seemingly unaware of why millions and millions of people tune into The Great British Bake Off every week, the show’s new network has vowed to revitalize the program to make it better suited for modern times.”
“There are no soggy-bottom jokes on the first show,” the show’s creative officer said. “The show is modern in terms of its comic take and a lot of the humour will come from Noel [Fielding]’s surreal twists.”
No soggy-bottom jokes. No puns. No Mary Berry.
So this is it, folks: the last great, incredible season of “The Great British Baking Show.” We’ll still be able to watch old seasons on Netflix—but the current show airing on PBS is something worth savoring.
Fellow Americans, political moments come and go; pesky debates and presidential dramas will be there tomorrow. But today is “British Baking Show” day—so let’s pause the angry vitriol, cutthroat politics, and dog-eat-dog competitive spirit, and just enjoy some British baking for the day. Mary Berry will be proud of you.