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'The Great British Baking Show' is Back and as Delicious as Ever
June 22, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

There are two types of Brits on the telly.

One is the Brits of Downton Abbey, droll and witty and impeccably mannered, give or take the Dowager Countess.

The other is the Brits of Outlander, vicious sadistic brutes who revel in their cruelty.

The Great British Baking Show, which returns Friday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), gives us the very best of the Good Brits.

Now you might think it would be hard to make cruel and sadistic television out of a dozen cheerful people baking cakes. You obviously haven’t watched Gordon Ramsey and a few of his fellow travelers on other cooking shows.

The Great British Baking Show, hosted by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry back as judges, stays on a delightful upbeat without ever feeling forced.

The competition part of the show is standard. The 12 contestants attempt the same challenges, we see an abbreviated version of the results and each week one baker is eliminated.

The elimination part isn’t fun for the unlucky departee, and en route to that moment we see more than a few culinary disasters. In the opening episode, that includes a cake that could double as a doorstop and more than one cake that Berry and Hollywood matter-of-factly declare to be “flavorless,” which is never a word you want in the same sentence with your cake.

Yet even those somber moments don’t infuse The Great British Baking Show with a sense of failure. Everyone who has ever baked anything knows that once in a while, you open the oven and all the stuff you put into that pan or dish just didn’t cooperate.

Thanks to the hosts and judges, we also never lose perspective on the whole business. This is baking, it’s not nuclear disarmament. We focus on what these contestants are creating, and most of it looks delicious.

It also stretches our culinary imagination.

The first challenge here is an upside-down cake, which doesn’t sound revolutionary. But with upside-down cakes as with almost everything else most of us cook or bake, the truth is that almost all the time we stick to a couple of familiar go-to recipes that we’re confident will work.  

There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s also fun to see what other amateur bakers use, and here that means the likes of passion fruit, plums, kumquats, tomatoes, and parsnips.

Yes, parsnips. From Berry’s and Hollywood’s reactions, for the record, you don’t really taste them. Still, it gets your attention.

It’s true that some of the challenges here may not be applicable to daily baking situations. Like creating a cake that, when sliced in half, has a recognizable design. At least two of the cakes here, when bisected, reveal a Union Jack.

In Outlander, that would feel ominous. On The Great British Baking Show, it almost makes us want to sing “God Save the Queen.”

The contestants range from a young mother who works at a service station to a retired chap who plays the cello to a 21-year-old medical student who owns two St. Bernards. What they all seem to share is an appreciation for the concept of friendly competition.

There’s no sabotage, no whispering, no audible snark. When the camera periodically cuts away from the large tent in which the baking happens, we see verdant woods or wooly sheep.

If you want a program that takes you away from almost everything else you’re likely to see as you cruise your other 500 channels, The Great British Baking Show is nothing short of jolly good.

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Best reality show on television. Love the ladies and their British sense of humour. Love Mary Berry and the "Male judge".
Jul 11, 2018   |  Reply
I'm so excited to see these earlier shows as I have loved the later seasons. I hope PBS will show more of the earlier seasons that were not available in the US. They may be old, but they're new to me.
Jun 22, 2018   |  Reply
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