Everybody knows that you are never supposed to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You end up getting snacks you don’t need and inevitably load up on sugary treats you’ll regret buying later. What nobody tells you, however, is that television baking competitions can have the same effect. This would have been useful knowledge to have about five slices of Marketplace cake ago.
“The Great British Baking Show” (TGBBS) is a baking competition filmed in England’s Welford Park each summer to find the best amateur baker in the United Kingdom. The show has a total of eight seasons, and the first episode of the 2020 bake-off was released on Netflix Sept. 22. As someone who has watched every season and every episode of the show multiple times, this was great news — not only because I can never get enough of the amazing bakes on the show, but also because production on most TV shows and movies has come to a screeching halt this year. To watch a show that I have not already seen at least twice was an experience I had not had in a while.
Any fan of TGBBS will tell you that some of the best and funniest moments of the show come from the two comedians that the show brings on set to keep the mood light in the midst of the intense baking. Early “Bake off” fans will remember Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and I don’t think there was a viewer out there who didn’t love them. When the show brought in two new comedians between seasons 4 and 5, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, I initially wasn’t pleased. However, during their season 3 stint on the show, their puns and funny bits before each episode grew on me.
So, when I began watching the first episode of the newest season, I was surprised to find that they had replaced Toksvig with yet another new comedian: Matt Lucas.
The newest episode opened with a scene in which Lucas imitated and satirized British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his unclear speech and questionable guidance on COVID-19. I thought this was the perfect way to open the new season; the show embraced the challenges we have faced during the last few months in a humorously lighthearted way.
Each of the twelve contestants, the two comedians and the two judges — Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, who replaced judge Mary Berry in 2016 when the show moved from the BBC to Britain’s Channel 4 — opted to quarantine away from their homes for the duration of the show to create a bake-off bubble, so that the show could continue under mostly normal circumstances.
And what could be more normal and traditional than starting off the season with cake week? As expected, the bakers already brought their A-game with innovative designs and flavors.
As a viewer, watching a new season of the show as it would normally unfold is quite a relief from the drastic changes brought on by COVID-19. Continuing my tradition of watching this show every fall has been one of the few traditions that has continued during the pandemic. I am sure that this sense of relief, and perhaps escape, was felt by the cast of the show as well. They got to leave behind the daily stresses caused by COVID-19 in favor of a taste of normal life.
On the flip side of these benefits, however, is that the stakes of the competition are particularly high this year, as the bakers have already isolated and been away from their homes before the first episode even began. So, to be eliminated and sent home early in the competition would be even more devastating than in past years.
The baker who is eliminated is announced at the end of each episode, after three separate baking challenges. The brief for the final challenge, the Showstopper, in this inaugural episode of the new season was to create a three-dimensional bust of a person made of cake — among them hilarious interpretations of David Bowie, Lupita Nyong'o and Freddie Mercury. I definitely enjoyed seeing the results of this challenge, as a lot of these cake busts were more like caricatures rather than accurate portraits.
All of this is just to say that I absolutely love this show, including the newest episode, because it is just a wholesome, happy escape from stressful events; this effect is particularly amplified in the times of COVID-19, where our baseline level of stress at any given point is higher than it was before March 2020. If I ever feel overwhelmed by work or particularly upset, tuning into an episode of TGBBS always helps. Part of the reason why the show is so wholesome is because the bakers are not incentivized by a large cash prize, as they are in Netflix show “Zumbo’s Just Desserts.” Instead, they are usually driven by their own personal goals. Some bakers express that they just wanted to do something different and for themselves, while some want to prove to themselves that they are great bakers.
So watch the show, and make sure to have some sweet treats nearby to satisfy all your bake-off cravings.
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