'The Great American Baking Show' is the delightful holiday comfort you need
Earlier this year, the least dramatic reality show on television found itself embroiled in drama that would make even the cast of Vanderpump Rules jealous. The Great British Bake Off, the United Kingdom's warm, cheery baking competition, moved from its home on the BBC to rival network Channel 4. The shift rocked the program, resulting in hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and judge Mary Berry leaving.
It remains to be seen what Channel 4's Great British Bake Off — broadcast in America as The Great British Baking Show, thanks to Pillsbury's trademark on the term "bake-off" — will look like, or if the BBC will build a rival show. But here in the United States, we still have Berry on a baking show. If you're missing the original British show, or just want something fresh and warm, good news: The Great American Baking Show is a delicious holiday season treat.
The format is simple enough: 10 amateur pastry chefs compete in three rounds of competition. The first is a signature round, featuring a recipe the bakers are familiar with and confident in their ability to do. The second is a technical bake, each competitor getting the same ingredients, expected to replicate the same recipe (think Chopped, but with less variance between results). Finally, during the showstopper round, the contestants churn out something spectacular. At the end of each episode, one baker goes home.
It's a familiar formula — most cooking competition shows are done in three-round format these days, with the exception of shows like Top Chef — but the familiarity is a feature, not a bug. This is a show designed to be comforting. There's no fast-paced editing, or inter-baker drama, or hectic music. This is about 10 people going over to their corners, quietly making good pastries, and presenting them. And it works.
Fans of Food Network cooking shows might be thrown by the calm vibe here, but that's by design. It's almost a direct replica of The Great British Bake Off, and that show's a phenomenon. The Great American Baking Show takes some time to ease into, but once you're with it, it's a rather calming experience.
Berry is as fine here as she is on the British series, and her co-judge Johnny Iuzzini is a well-known pastry chef with smart insights. Hosts Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez (a wife-and-husband pair) are fine, but seem to be trying too hard.
But they're not the attraction here — the food is, with the bakers providing cute stories to follow. They're not fleshed out as deeply as your average reality TV show, because the focus is so much on the baking, but many of them (especially Jeremiah and Stephanie) are adorable, smart competitors.
Ultimately, The Great American Baking Show isn't a reinvention of the wheel, nor is it anywhere near what you could call "great" television. It's kind of like comfort food. As the weather gets colder across the country, there are worse ways to spend a Thursday evening than curled up under a blanket with some wine and cookies, watching talented people bake delicious-looking treats. It's ideal December TV.
The Great American Baking Show airs its two-hour premiere Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern.