‘The Great British Bake Off’ isn’t the same

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Photo: Rachel Choi

Illustration Rachel Choi

By Roma Welsh, Beacon Correspondent

On Friday night, Oct. 4, 2022, I had to face the music: “The Great British Bake Off” isn’t the same. 

The episode started like any other. To an average viewer, the show would most likely seem the same. Why wouldn’t it? The show’s structure had not changed. Even in the most recent season, there is still a signature, technical, and show-stopping bake-off round. The bakers tent is as well lit, the music just as cheery.

But, a seasoned fan could hear a dissonant twang within the score. The saturation of the decorative flowers, which used to jump through the screen, now seep out of the sides like the soggy bottom of an underbaked tart. 

Episode 4 of Season 13, “Mexican Week,” crept forward. The show’s tone was set with an opening joke from “The Great British Bake Off” hosts Matt and Noel, who implied Mexico wasn’t a real place. 

I often struggle to convey to people who haven’t experienced the disappointment that accompanies the discovery that a celebrity I love or a piece of media that inspires me, has been exposed as problematic. 

To be fair, I know why such a high level of passionate commitment to a piece of media seems foreign. The routine cycle of discovery and disappointment that plagues anyone with an interest in any piece of media can begin to feel draining—and typical—that even I find it difficult not to resign myself to apathetic detachment. 

At the end of the day, whatever celebrity scandal is going on barely affects my everyday life. Still, an ignorant choice made by a show that has grown alongside me feels like a betrayal of trust from a close friend. 

I apprehensively continued to watch—and finish—”The Bake Off’s” latest episode. By the end, I had successfully wasted an hour of my time watching an old, white, British man yell at young bakers for incorrectly making traditional Mexican desserts.

The episode offered a surplus of Noel and Matt’s typical attempt at “witty” humor, with their opening line only being a taste of the nasty impression they would leave on the episode as a whole. However,  “Mexican Week’s” most egregious offenses were committed by “The Bake Off’s” main judge, Paul Hollywood.

A critically-acclaimed chef, Hollywood is “The Bake Off’s” most respected judge—and the aforementioned white guy. Mr. Hollywood could not bring himself to step down from his pedestal for even one episode to bring in a guest judge. At least then everyone watching would have been spared from Paul mutilating the core attributes of several cultural dishes. 

My jaw dropped when I tuned into the episode. My quaint, little British baking show would never do something like this.

The show staring back at me was an exhausted bowl of empty calories. A shiny, sweet, and well-hidden misrepresentation of the original. 

“The Great British Bake Show”—shortened to GBBO by the show’s fan base—is a baking competition that originally began airing on the BBC network on Aug. 17th, 2010. I began watching “The Great British Bake Off” on Netflix with my mom in 2015 and I have been watching annually since. 

“The Great British Bake Off” managed to captivate American audiences through a 2014 Netflix deal. This slow-paced and quiet baking show with kind-hearted contestants was a stark contrast to the typical reality television baking competition shows a hungry viewer could find on the Food Network at the time.

One of the Food Network’s most well known programs, “Hell’s Kitchen” was oozing with the drama of American trash television. The show’s noisy editing would leave audiences dizzy from jump cuts. The anger of an attention-starved chef testimonial was as integral to the show’s existence as the cooking segments.

In contrast, “The Great British Bake Off” had long and peaceful shots. Their interviews let you  know, care, and root for each contestant. The baker’s passion for their craft was infectious which rendered the competitive aspect of the show only a fragment of its appeal. The show’s vernacular was sweet and kind; it allowed American viewers to relax and it made me smile. 

“The Bake Off,” however, was doomed from the moment it became part of the routine of American viewers. 

The Netflix deal that introduced so many American viewers to “The Bake Off” inadvertently created a new show. Due to a copyright issue involving The Pillsbury Company, “The Bake Off’s” name had to be changed on Netflix’s catalog when broadcast in America. “The Great British Baking Off” was renamed “The Great British Baking Show.”

While those in the UK still knew the show as “The Bake Off,” Americans saw the rapidly approaching shift in tone the show would undergo in a more tangible way. Essentially, American audiences were seeing a new show, “The Great British Bake Off/Show.” 

“The Great British Bake Off/ Show” can be altered by production changes. This example may seem small, especially if it is approached with an American mindset toward consuming media. A copyright issue and an infringement on the freedom of creative expression? That’s to be expected!

But, for “The Bake Off/Show,” this first major change established the show’s relationship with its new American audience. The moment an American audience accessed the program, “The Bake Off/Show” seeped into American culture and all its baggage. 

This baggage sets “The Bake Off/Show” on an American stage, where the tone is tainted by our anxieties and fears. The niche American demand for nastiness was reflected in the show’s hosts, and its entire atmosphere. Noel and Matt often fall back on easy insults and were never able to grasp the earnest empathy of their predecessors, Sue and Mel, who left the show in 2016. 

Sue and Mel left “The Great British Bake Off” when the show had to move networks due to a financial disagreement between the show’s production company, Love Productions, and the BBC network. Out of loyalty to the BBC programming, almost all the original show’s cast members denied their new pay and left “The Bake Off.” 

Except for Paul Hollywood. The only scrap of familiarity left for “The Bake Off/Show” to form its identity around is a man who represents a commitment to greed and corporate sponsored apathy—the same ideals that were eating my favorite show from the inside out. The more internal corruption “The Bake Off/Show” faced, the more it adapted into American homes. By the time I recognized it, the show I fell in love with was nowhere to be seen.  

In its place was Episode 4 of Season 13, an episode dressed up in frilly music and colorful fondant where “The Great British Bake Off/Show” insensitively and ignorantly mocks Mexican culture. A tired gimmick extending from an empty shell. 

It is this episode of “The Great British Bake Off/Show” that made me feel cheated for ever loving it. The cycle of discovery and disappointment “The Bake Off/Show” was slipping was not a sudden betrayal. It felt like I finally realized the distance between me and an old friend. The conversation is halted and awkward, even though I desperately want us to slip into our old dynamic. 

But, “The Great British Bake Off/Show” is different. I can’t attempt to hold onto the scraps of the show’s soul now that it’s gone.