‘The Great British Bake Off’ Is Verging On Unwatchable — Except For One Thing

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On past week’s occurrence of “The Great British Bake Off,” justice Prue Leith made what she whitethorn person thought was a complimentary remark astir Syabira Yusoff, 1 of the bakers: “She’s fixed america a batch of comic flavors, and they’ve been wonderful.”

Yusoff past won implicit Leith and the different judge, Paul Hollywood, with her Patisserie Week signature situation of peanut butter, strawberry and blackberry pick food minicharlottes. In praising Yusoff, Leith called her spirit operation “unusual.”

In an interrogation aft that round, Yusoff, who often incorporates flavors from her Malaysian practice into her baking, said what galore of america viewers were thinking. “They said it’s somewhat ‘unusual,’ but it does spell together,” she said. “What does it mean by ‘unusual’?”

The coded racism from Leith (who, it indispensable beryllium noted, is an aged achromatic woman who grew up successful apartheid South Africa and has said she voted for Brexit) is par for the show’s course. It’s hard to ideate Leith saying the aforesaid happening if Yusoff were white. Both judges person periodically expressed skepticism toward ingredients like, say, matcha and yuzu, and toward assorted flavors from chiefly nonwhite cultures.

It’s 1 of many longstanding issues with the long-running show, from unnecessary drama bits to an overuse of gimmicks and stunts ― not to notation taxable weeks that person played retired arsenic embarrassing oregon downright racist. These issues person reached a tipping constituent successful this season, the show’s 13th, and they’re undermining the facet of the amusement that’s ever made it worthy watching: the bakers themselves.

From near  to right, big   Noel Fielding, judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood and big   Matt Lucas basal   successful  beforehand   of the bakers of this play   of "The Great British Bake Off."
From near to right, big Noel Fielding, judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood and big Matt Lucas basal successful beforehand of the bakers of this play of "The Great British Bake Off."

Mark Bourdillon

On Friday, viewers successful the U.S. (where the amusement airs connected Netflix arsenic “The Great British Baking Show”) volition find retired which of the finalists — Yusoff, Sandro Farmhouse, oregon Abdul Rehman Sharif — volition beryllium crowned this year’s champion. They, similar each of this year’s bakers, person been beauteous and pleasant arsenic always, an integral portion of the show’s feel-good tone and charm. With its light-filled structure and pastel-colored enactment stations, “Bake Off” has agelong distinguished itself arsenic a warmer alternate to emblematic world shows that instrumentality an often but not exclusively American attack — where, arsenic the saying goes, competitors are not present to marque friends.

By contrast, the contestants connected each play of “Bake Off” are precise overmuch present to marque friends. Often humble and self-deprecating, they cheer each different connected and assistance each different retired during baking crises. It’s hard not to get a small misty-eyed when, astatine the extremity of each episode, the baker who “sadly indispensable permission america this week” (as the hosts typically enactment it) tearfully describes however grateful they are to person made a radical of caller friends. As the amusement has grown successful popularity, it’s spawned an full genre of akin comfort-food world TV connected some sides of the Atlantic. There’s HBO Max’s “The Great Pottery Throw Down” (like “Bake Off,” but with pottery), and NBC’s “Making It” (like “Bake Off,” but with crafting), each delivering cozy vibes to supply a spot of respite from our hellscape world.

But much and more, the bakers are conscionable astir the lone happening keeping “Bake Off” from wholly losing its way, similar a barroom careening disconnected its basal successful the last seconds of 1 of the show’s challenges. Week aft week, the bakers are progressively the sole crushed to support tuning in, portion astir everything other astir them is simply a disaster, astatine times adjacent doing them a disservice.

For years, “Bake Off” fans person pointed retired the show’s overreliance connected gimmicks and stunts, specified arsenic challenges that don’t needfully trial baking skills. The amusement has reined successful immoderate of those (like Hollywood’s overuse of the Hollywood Handshake), portion others person lone worsened. For example, hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding often instrumentality the absorption distant from the bakers. They’re comedians, yes, but bash they person to crook everything into a bit? And if they do, indispensable their bits scope exclusively from distracting to corny to inappropriate?

Most infamously, determination person been the taxable weeks, which person marked existent debased points for the show. In 2020, the horrifically executed Japanese Week provoked disapproval for conflating assorted Asian cuisines and ingredients (like putting Indian flavors successful a Chinese steamed bun, during what was, again, Japanese Week). It besides bafflingly positioned Hollywood arsenic an expert, simply due to the fact that he’d precocious visited Japan for a question amusement helium hosted.

This season’s Mexican Week fiasco proved the show’s producers learned thing from Japanese Week. The hosts and judges made a mockery of the richness of Mexican cuisine, relying connected lazy and cartoonish stereotypes and demonstrating a deficiency of cognition and owed diligence. If you’re going to beryllium connected camera talking astir guacamole and pico de gallo, past astatine the precise least, larn however they’re pronounced. And cipher wants to spot 2 achromatic British dudes wearing serapes and sombreros, shaking maracas, and smirking astir however they truly shouldn’t marque Mexican jokes, “not adjacent Juan.”

A fewer episodes later, the method situation for Pastry Week progressive making outpouring rolls. Leith (whose background, arsenic noted above, does not found her arsenic an authorization connected Asian cuisines) provided an illustration of “spring rolls” that looked much similar cannoli.

When evaluating the bakers’ completed outpouring rolls, adjacent she and Hollywood seemed confused by the judging criteria established by Leith herself ― inconsistent astir whether the bakers’ outpouring rolls should oregon should not person bubbles connected the outside. (They should not.)

Leith's illustration  of "spring rolls."
Leith's illustration of "spring rolls."

Netflix

In weeks with culturally circumstantial challenges, it seems evident that the amusement should astatine slightest bring successful impermanent judges who really cognize what they’re talking about, alternatively of butchering full cultures and culinary traditions. But possibly the problems tally deeper than that; possibly it’s clip for a implicit overhaul. For starters, it’s baffling that “Bake Off” has ever had an all-white slate of hosts and judges. (The producers wouldn’t person to look precise acold to find a amusement doing it better: On “Junior Bake Off,” the kid-oriented mentation besides disposable connected Netflix, some judges are radical of colour ― Ravneet Gill and erstwhile “Bake Off” contestant Liam Charles.)

The monochrome lineup of judges and presenters is particularly glaring erstwhile compared to the divers scope of bakers. The contestants often usage their baking to archer a communicative astir themselves oregon wage homage to their families and communities. By being connected the show, they often assistance others to consciousness seen too. When Nadiya Hussain won “Bake Off” successful 2015, it was hailed arsenic a hugely important infinitesimal for Muslim representation. As writer Remona Aly wrote successful The Guardian: “That an Asian Muslim pistillate successful a headscarf tin triumph a thoroughly British contention proves that ‘Britishness’ is simply a broader and much unfastened conception than immoderate would similar america to think.” Last year, baker Lizzie Acker, who has ADHD and dyslexia, made a barroom to observe neurodiversity and reminded viewers that successful the U.K., astir 1 idiosyncratic successful 7 identifies arsenic neurodivergent.

The disconnect betwixt the diverseness of the bakers and the deficiency of diverseness among the hosts and judges, and the show’s carelessness erstwhile taking connected culturally circumstantial cuisines, person agelong been immense oversights connected the show. They’re besides grounds of what “Bake Off” is progressively becoming: retired of measurement with what primitively made it great. For a amusement engineered to marque america consciousness good, overmuch of it present leaves a sour sensation successful my mouth. And it makes maine consciousness atrocious for the fantastic bakers, who merit better.

The bakers are the show’s prima ingredients, the crushed to support watching. It’s past clip for the remainder of the amusement to really bespeak them, and to bash amended by them.

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