I was home sick the past three days, and after I finished working, I was desperately seeking something to watch on Netflix. Something light and fluffy, that wouldn’t drag me down (especially as the anniversary of November 8 approached). Something like my favorite go-to cotton candy-esque pastoral pleasure, The Great British Baking Show (also known as The Great British Bake Off across the pond).
GBBO is a gosh darn delight. It’s the most low-stakes reality competition that has ever existed. If we ever form a utopia, this show would fit squarely within its idyllic parameters, even though there are winners and losers. Everyone is there to make friends. No one has ever been thrown under the bus. The most dramatic thing that ever happened involved one contestant getting so frustrated that his Baked Alaska didn’t come out correctly that he dumped it in the bin before it could be judged. The other contestants, ever the cheerleaders, urged him not to. Even the judges were somewhat kind and understanding during their admonishments, including the gruff Paul Hollywood. There were some rumors of sabotage, but it seemed likely unintentional.
When it was announced that the show would be moving from the BBC to the more risqué — everything is risqué when compared to the Beebs — Channel 4, which meant the loss of hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and beloved judge Mary Berry, hearts everywhere sank like an ill-timed soufflé. The Channel 4 version has yet to air in the United States (GBBO is available on PBS and Netflix), but it’s gotten fairly positive reviews in the U.K. “Bake Off has survived the move from BBC oven to Channel 4 table, and it’s still showcasing the best of humanity. The world is on fire: this is what we all need,” Lucy Mangan wrote in The Guardian when the show premiered in August.
The BBC needed something to fill the Bake Off-sized hole in its programming, though. That something is The Big Family Cooking Showdown, which premiered in the U.K. in August, and debuted on Netflix last week. It seemed like the perfect mindless thing to watch when stuck on a couch with a faucet for a nose. The only problem is, it’s no GBBO, even though it stars one of Bake Off’s most beloved contestants, Nadiya Hussain, in the Mel/Sue role.
The problem begins with the hosts, Hussain and Zoe Ball. I’ll admit I don’t have context for who exactly Zoe Ball is, but a cursory Google search revealed she’s an English television and radio personality. Ball and Hussain interact with an almost frenetic level of energy, trying to create a Mel and Sue-style chemistry that just never manifests. The judges, Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli and cooking teacher Rosemary Shrager, never fulfill the good cop/bad cop dynamic that works so well for Mary and Paul. Locatelli is restrained, offering only words like delicious as a compliment. Shrager does her best to up the tension about things like how hard it is to cook venison, but the payoff tends to be her saying something came out well.
Then, there’s the hugging. There is so much hugging. Now, this is a show where three members of a family compete in three different challenges to enter the semi-finals (I have’t yet watched the semi-final or final episodes), so a little hugging makes sense, but they hug everyone. Each other. The hosts. I’m surprised the judges don’t get involved. I have nothing against hugging, but when Hussain and Ball show up at the contestants’ houses for the second round, during which they have to cook a main course and dessert for the judges (the production budget for this show must balloon simply to accommodate for Locatelli, Hussain, Ball, and Shrager’s travel alone), it feels forced. As does the banter Hussain and Ball struggle to get the contestants to engage in during the high-pressure 90 minutes they have to cook a full meal for two very important houseguests.
That’s not to say The Big Family Cooking Showdown is entirely unwatchable. It’s still a fairly low-stakes competition during which you get to watch delicious-looking food being prepared. You can learn a thing or twenty about cooking, especially if you’re like me, and it can be intimidating. If you’ve already watched all available episodes of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, take a breather, then give the first episode of BFCS a try. It’s cathartic to watch someone triumph over an apple crumble as the world is crumbling down around us.