I love The Great British Baking Show. I am obsessed with its warmth, its humor, and its colorful collection of rich local accents from all over Great Britain. For years, The Great British Baking Show has been my go-to comfort viewing. Watching it is as soothing as sipping a warm mug of hot chocolate on a windswept November day or as comforting as a bear hug from a friend.
However something is different for me this season. I can’t put my finger on it, but the thrill is gone. The show is hitting the same notes it always has, but now they sort of bore me. The cast of bakers is one of the most charming yet, but I’m already kind of yawning at the obvious Giuseppe/Jürgen showdown. Has The Great British Baking Show on Netflix finally gone stale?
The Great British Baking Show premiered on the BBC back in 2010 as The Great British Bake Off and soon became a phenomenon. It first hit stateside in the mid ’10s as an offering on PBS and, later, streaming on Prime Video, putting it first on nerdy Anglophiles’ radars. It wasn’t until Netflix scooped up the rights to the series that it became something of a cult hit in the United States. So much so that when Love Productions’ original contract with the BBC expired after seven years, Netflix joined forces with rival UK network Channel 4 to pounce on the show’s rights. Netflix not only snagged the streaming rights to every season shown in the USA but eventually managed to add new episodes weekly to its library.
By the time that new episodes of The Great British Baking Show had started rolling out weekly on Netflix, the show had become a mainstream hit with a hyper-opinionated audience. Debates raged over whether or not Prue Leith was an adequate substitute for original series judge Mary Berry and if Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, and Matt Lucas were living up to the legacy of O.G. co-hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. (For my money, Prue has managed to carve her own niche on the show but nothing will match the mix of heart and humor Mel & Sue brought to their gigs. But I still like everyone involved, okay!)
Nevertheless, going into its 2021 season, The Great British Baking Show seemed officially too big to fail. Viewers had weathered the channel change and revolving door of talent. Imitators of the series began popping up all over American TV. One-time amateur bakers like Nadiya Hussain, Ruby Tandoh, and Andrew Smyth were now culinary celebrities with their own shows, food columns, and judging gigs. The production team had even managed to deliver a stellar season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. So why do I feel so lukewarm about this current season of The Great British Baking Show?
I want to be clear about one thing: on paper, this season of The Great British Baking Show is fantastic. It’s got an effervescently charming cast of bakers I want to befriend. There have been multiple gorgeous Showstoppers and bitterly difficult Technicals. I have agreed with every decision the judges have made so far! And yet, I’m not as stoked about the show as I usually am. If anything, I feel bored watching The Great British Baking Show. This season of The Great British Baking Show feels so much like a good season of The Great British Baking Show that it actually feels like…cliché?
Maybe this is just a problem I’m having, but I don’t think my Bake Off fatigue is all that unique. This year’s episodes haven’t yet had the power to break through the noise on Netflix’s homepage. Google Trends — which is not a foolproof look at viewership, but a fair representation of search interest in a show — shows that while 2020’s season enjoyed a few spikes, 2021 has been slow to spark excitement.
It’s not just this TV critic feeling a tiny bit of Bake Off ennui; the public at large is losing interest.
What’s weird is — again, I have to stress this point — The Great British Baking Show‘s latest season is empirically good. It’s hitting each and every note of a successful Bake Off season. And that might be its cardinal sin. The Great British Baking Show has failed to evolve as times have changed. Moreover, The Great British Baking Show isn’t a magical unicorn show anymore. Its wild success has ironically made the show’s winning formula become formulaic.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how The Great British Baking Show changed reality TV in the last decade. When the show first premiered, its kindness was a novelty. Today it’s the norm. So much so, that previously cutthroat and catty shows like Project Runway and Top Chef are known for the same camaraderie that initially made The Great British Baking Show stand out. I don’t think we’re tired of The Great British Baking Show because of any fault of its bakers, talent, or producers. Rather what made the show special when it first hit American screens is no longer anything unique. In fact, The Great British Baking Show‘s cozy vibe is obnoxiously ubiquitous.
The greatest problem The Great British Baking Show has faced in recent years is the burden of its own success. Now there are expectations about the beats each season must hit, making the drama downright predictable. There are legions of competitors aping the show’s trademark twee challenges, rendering its offerings cliché. The show’s imitators have so flooded the TV landscape that The Great British Baking Show‘s specialness has become drowned out.
Maybe The Great British Baking Show isn’t stale so much as we’re starting to feel over it.