Once the BBC’s extensive (and we mean non-edited, minute-by-minute, multinational) coverage of the Olympics came to a close, we were excited to continue exploring British primetime television. In general, the BBC has the reputation PBS wishes it could. Of course, we were aware of the reputation of BBC programming considering the many shows which have either been remade for US television (The Office, House of Cards) or made it across the pond in their original form (Sherlock).
Best of all, no commercials! How do the Brits have the budget for such stellar production? Does the government require all its citizens to pay some sort of tax in order to fund quality programming for free to the populace?
Well, yes. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the UK IRS) collects an annual 150 pound tariff from each resident across the UK. There is no option to be exempt. If you try to evade it, they will come to your door step with tier hands out. They. will. find. you. At your work, at your home, through a wall (Stranger Things-style). Like I said, they’re the IRS of the UK. In return, every household can just plug their TV into the wall and get not only a few different BBC channels (in HD as well), but an additional 30-something channels through the Freeview system.
We have a telly, so why not take advantage of this free(ish) television? A couple US friends had recommended this show named The Great British Bake Off. I ignorantly thought, “another cheesy baking show, brimming with petty drama and sterile, wannabe- artisanal dishes?”
Your majesty, I’m sorry. I will never presume anything so negative about British television again.
The Great British Bake Off (#GBBO) is THE perfect balance of drama and realism that is frankly lacking in American reality TV!* The baking really is front and center and while they do delve into the personal stories of the contestants, there’s no forcing sob stories or contrived conflict on the viewer.
Anytime we watch a cooking competition on the Food Network, the first 20 minutes of the program are inevitably some sob and/or inspirational story for each contestant. In the GBBO, each contestant averages about a 7 second intro (“This is Pippa, she has 7 kids and likes to look at rocks. The shapes of rocks inspire her baking.” DONE) and the rest is all about the baking. Granted some competitions require you to bake
something symbolic of your background, but again, it’s all about the baking (This is Jim, he once went to Italy so he’s making his scone look like the leaning tower of Pisa).
The format of the show is similar to Top Chef–each week contestants complete 3 different baking challenges around a certain theme (Bread!, Biscuits! etc.), and the weakest performer goes home each week. The first challenge is one they’ve been able to prepare for, the second is usually something a bit strange that they get a bare bones recipe for and is judged blindly, and the third is the “show stopper” requiring the wowing of the judges.
The ways that the contestants can defy gravity are outstanding–a centerpiece weaved basket (handle and all) made out of bread?! A multi-story pub built out of gingerbread?!
The judges themselves are as much, if not more, of a draw than the actual competition. Think American Idol but way less annoying.
Paul Hollywood = He wants to be the mean hardass and is skeptical of basically everything but the dude knows his baking. Mainly he just tells it like it is. He won’t sugar coat your undercooked cake but he’ll gush about your perfectly cooked pastry.
Mary Berry = Basically your grandma if she was British and loved to bake. Note: This might actually describe your grandma. If your grandma is in fact Mary Berry please let us know in comments.
And then, of course there are the hosts (or presenters as the Brits call them,) Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc who keep things light with their frequent puns, cute commentary and frequent digs at Paul.
It’s still early on in the season, and we’re eagerly awaiting next weeks’ episode. U.S. of A.-ers, you are able to stream some previous seasons on Netflix, free of charge! Unfortunately here in the UK, we need to pay 20 quid PER SEASON to watch previous seasons (and yes, we’ve tried to crack the code for days), but I suspect that’s what happens when you’re the highest ranked show in the UK at 15 million viewers plus now that Top Gear is over the BBC is going to need another money maker.
[UPDATE LITERALLY HOURS BEFORE POSTING]: So, apparently the BBC lost the rights to the show since they couldn’t fork up enough money. Welp, capitalism at its finest.