“The Great British Baking Show” premiered its 11th season on Friday in the United States. Episodes of the British reality competition series — known as “The Great British Bake Off” in the U.K. — are being released weekly on Netflix. Hosted by comedians Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas, the show features 12 amateur bakers completing a series of complicated tasks in hopes of becoming the next winner. During each episode, food industry professionals Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judge the contestants on their performance in three unique baking challenges — a signature, a technical and a showstopper — in order to both crown a star baker for that week and narrow down the pool.
As a result of the turbulent nature of 2020, this year’s premiere began more dramatically than years past. “Like everyone up and down the country, the Bake Off has had to make some changes,” Noel Fielding said of the global pandemic in the episode’s introduction. Production addressed the pressing public health situation by housing the contestants in a bubble for the duration of the series. Luckily this change is not an unpleasant one — leave it to “Bake Off” to find the bright side of a pandemic. “It’s unbelievable that I’m living in a wee Bake Off village, a wee Bake Off town,” contestant Peter Sawkins said of the arrangement.
Despite the unusual circumstances, the new season offers familiarity to fans. The big white tent is back and better than ever, instantly adding a degree of normalcy. Its lovely pastel appliances and counters set a calming backdrop for the rosewater marzipan and choux pastry adventures to come. Additionally, the show maintains its traditional structure of three challenges interspersed with hosts chatting up contestants and tastings by the judges. Though host Matt Lucas is a new addition, he brings the same lighthearted energy as hosts prior, allowing the show to maintain its comedic moments.
The pinnacle element of the series is its baking challenges. The premiere delivers an especially exciting theme — cake. Not only is it fun to watch the contestants race the clock, but the bakes provide both inspiration and education for viewers. Starting off strong, the show introduces a dessert unfamiliar to many Americans — Battenbergs, a checkerboard of sponge cake wrapped in marzipan. The contestants’ flavor-melding concoctions — some more successful than others — offer additional inspiration to bakers at home.
The creativity of the showstopper challenge in particular lends itself to major entertainment. In one of the wildest tasks production has ever dreamed up, contestants were asked to bake a bust of their hero. Though degrees of success varied, there’s just something endearing about lumpy faces made of cake.
Although the challenges are the building blocks of the show, the true strength of the series lies in its warmth. Unlike American reality television — where over-the-top drama runs rampant — “The Great British Baking Show” is known for its sweet and supportive casts. This season, there is something incredibly genuine about each and every one of them, just 12 regular people with quaint British accents and a passion for a good bake. Despite their wide variety of ages and life experiences, they all come together over a shared love of the kitchen.
Though they are competing against each other, the contestants regularly help each other through offering advice or lending a hand when time is running out. The comedian hosts are the official comic relief, but contestants’ comments can often be equally as funny. Most importantly, however, viewers feel the contestants’ pain and successes along with them as they pour their hearts into their baked goods. The feeling of the show is uniquely emotional for a reality competition, especially when the star baker calls home to share the good news at the end of the episode.
“The Great British Baking Show” provides the comfort, warmth and delectable baked goods everyone could use amidst the coronavirus pandemic. As endearing as ever, the show sticks to its roots to provide a delectable escape, invoking the same feeling as a warm mug of chamomile tea.