The Great British Baking Show felt different this week. Sure it was the Quarter-Finals, aka “Desserts Week,” and tensions to make it to the Finale were high, but that wasn’t new. Rather, everything about this week’s episode felt like a throwback to the pace of the “old” Great British Baking Show. The challenges were old school British classics like a suet-based Sussex Pond Pudding and the bakers themselves kept focused on the tasks at hand. The whole episode was lovely. If not for the omnipresence of Noel Fielding, Matt Lucas, and Mary Berry-replacement Prue Leith, I could have been fooled into thinking it was an episode from 2015.
This week’s episode of The Great British Baking Show was boring — in a good way. There were no Instagram-inspired challenges or uber-dramatic twists. It was just an hour of five nice, normal British people trying to pull off challenging bakes in a tent. At long last, could it be? The Great British Baking Show remembered that boring can be beautiful in 2020?
Ever since The Great British Baking Show premiered all the way back in 2010, it’s been held up as the gold standard of “cozy TV.” With its sweet attitude and low stakes competition, it provided an immediate antidote to the rest of the drama-addicted reality competition genre. However as poet Robert Frost noted, nothing gold can stay. As The Great British Baking Show became a global behemoth, the show itself transformed. Contestants came Instagram-ready, challenges took on a bonkers-feel, and the show’s move from the UK’s BBC to Channel Four ushered in a new line-up of hosts and judges.
It’s not that this new iteration of The Great British Baking Show was bad, per se. It was still pleasant and lovely and full of nice Brits baking in a tent, after all. But occasionally it seemed like the hosts, presenters, producers, and even bakers, were trying way too hard. There was an emphasis on stirring drama, casting for personality, and choosing favorites over talent.
This latest season has had a few minor stumbles, but in totality, it’s shown signs of course correction. Nowhere was this more obvious than in this week’s low-key Semi-Final.
For one thing, this is — as Paul Hollywood points out — one of the tightest seasons ever. What this group of bakers lacks in confidence, they more than make up for in their propensity for producing great flavors and impressive showstoppers. Early favorites like Peter Sawkins have admitted they have begun to feel overwhelmed, while under the radar bakers like Hermine have only soared as more challenging briefs have been ordered. Rounding out the group now is the erratic, but lovely, Marc Elliott, “neat as a pin” baker Dave Friday, and flavor queen Laura Adlington. (Dave and Laura each have the skills the other lacks: Dave’s bakes always look great and Laura’s nearly always taste great.)
All in all, this week’s episode of The Great British Baking Show lulled me into a state of calm akin to being rocked on my mother’s lap as an infant. It felt safe. It felt warm. It felt boring.
Boring isn’t bad, especially when it comes to The Great British Baking Show, a show that actually dazzles the most when it leans into understated grace. The Great British Baking Show did that for the first time in ages this weekend and it makes me so moderately thrilled for next week’s Semi-Finals, “Patisserie Week.”
Watch The Great British Baking Show on Netflix