‘Great British Baking Show’ returns to Netflix

Nine seasons of “The Great British Baking Show” (TV-14 rated for language) are currently available on Netflix, including the current season and a prequel season. (Netflix / Courtesy Image)

“The Great British Baking Show” deserves a Hollywood handshake.

Known as “The Great British Bake Off” on the BBC, and now most widely available on Netflix, the show provides a welcome dose of extravagant wholesomeness in the midst of a faltering entertainment industry.

Safety concerns due to COVID-19 haveshut down numerous TV and art productions this year, but the producers of “The Great British Baking Show” opted to continue production, releasing “Collection 8” of the reality baking competition. To protect cast and crew members, they utilized a “bubble” system, quarantining cast and crew together in a metaphorical safety bubble, for the duration of the filming process.

 “Collection 8” on Netflix is technically the show’s eleventh season, since three seasons were created on BBC before the show moved to Channel 4. According to Variety, it was picked up by Netflix in 2018, where seasons 4-11 are listed as “Collections 1-8” and season 3 is available as “The Great British Baking Show: Beginnings.”

Currently airing oneepisode of its new collection per week on the streaming platform, the popular British show retains its charm – a noteworthy reminder that kindhearted shows can and do achieve financial success and longevity.

Defying the reality competition genre’s obsession with overdramatic, cutthroat competition styles, “Baking Show” maintains a softer approach.

Each season, a baker’s dozen of contestants join the tent where “The Great British Baking Show” holds its competition, hoping to be named Britain’s greatest amateur baker by judges Paul Hollywood (“Collections 1-8”), Mary Berry (“Collections 1-4”) and Prue Leith (“Collections 5-8”).

These judges’ deliver feedback with refreshingly friendly sincerity, embodying constructive criticism at its absolute best – no crude insults yelled for the sake of shock value here.

Hollywood’s tradition of giving a congratulatory handshake when a baker’s work particularly impresses him has become part of the show’s mythos, a symbol of work well done. His contributions are at times guilty of overshadowing that of his female judge colleagues.

The show’s narrators and hosts provide humor and encouragement, but little baking expertise, in roles debuted by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins (Collections 1-4), followed by Sandi Toksvig (Collections 5-7) and now held by Noel Fielding (Collections 5-8) and Matt Lucas (Collections 8).

These key roles set the show’s overall tone.

In the new “Collection 8,” Fielding and Lucas continue the baking show’s pre-established pattern, using their comedic skills not only for the entertainment of the viewing audience, but also to lighten the atmosphere inside the tent (although their sense of humor isn’t always the most child friendly).

This is a show that holds more laughter among its contestants than tears. It would be hard to imagine anyone on the show so much as raising their voice.

The environment inside and outside the tent reflects this positive temperament through a light and airy color scheme and frequent shots of sunlit meadows and grassy lawns.

That is not to say the competition is undemanding.

Each week of competition has its own episode and a theme, such as “Biscuit Week” or “Bread Week.” Many of these themes return each season in approximately the same order.

Each week also contains three challenges, linked to the week’s theme: the “Signature Challenge,” the “Technical Challenge” and the “Showstopper.”

In the first challenge, contestants are allowed to plan ahead of time and practice making their own rendition of whatever the signature challenge requires within the allotted time.

For the “Technical Challenge,” however, there is no preparation. This is a surprise challenge, where the bakers are provided with the correct ingredients, the name of the item they are to bake, and minimal directions.

They must use their prior experience and general knowledge of baking to fill in the rest. This is the only test that is judged blind. The judges then rank each dish according to how successful the contestant was at completing the technically demanding bake.

Like the “Signature Challenge,” the bakers are allowed to prepare for the “Showstopper.” In this challenge, the contestants must push themselves creatively, technically and artistically to create something stunning and tasty.

Then the baker who performed highest overall is crowned that week’s “Star Baker.” The title is an honor but does not grant any special privileges or advantages in the competition going forward.

Finally, the contestant whomthe judges deem performed lowest that week is eliminated from the competition with comforting hugs and murmurs of “I’m so sorry” and “you had a good run.”

An all amateur contest, the “Great British Baking Show” features competitors from all over Great Britain, with a diverse range of races, nationalities, and economic levels represented.

Aside from its wholesome atmosphere, perhaps its greatest strength is the nonchalant manner in which it incorporates this diversity.

Far from being self-congratulatory, or taking advantage of the sob stories of the contestants it features, the show instead mentions the contestant’s personal stories when necessary and relevant to the baking happening in the tent.

The clearly present racial diversity is mainly reserved for the introductory biographies or explaining why contestants chose specific things to bake, such as a traditional family dish their mother always made.

In “Collection 8,” contestant Marc Elliott’s prosthetic leg, aside from a mention when his biography is provided in the first episode, is almost forgotten about until he brings it up himself as part of the inspiration for his Buddhist-themed showstopper.

The show makes no effort to define him as “the one with the disability.” Instead, it is shown as purely part of who he is.

Similarly, LGBTQ+ representation on the show is nodded toward by a mere mention during the contestant’s biography segment during the season premiere. The show makes no apologies for its contestants’ orientations, or efforts to hide them. It’s simply not a big deal.

What matters is if the contestants can bake.

The only kind of brownie points that “The Great British Baking Show” is interested in earning are of the baking kind.

And it’s earning plenty of those.

Runtime: 50-70 min. per episode

4.9/5.0 Stars