The announcement that the popular British baking competition show “The Great British Bake Off” was jumping to a new network was made shortly after the Brexit vote last year and was met by some with a similar degree of panic. Syndicated worldwide, the baking show has developed a devoted international fanbase in addition to becoming a national pastime in its native Britain, where fans were left united in their worry about the show’s future. News that judge Mary Berry and hosting duo Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc would be departing felt like a death blow. One of the new network’s executives described the new show as more “modern” and promised “no more soggy bottoms jokes.” For fans, this was madness.
If you have never personally experienced the calming and restorative effects of watching “The Great British Bake Off,” I highly recommend it. Twelve amateur bakers compete against one another in a tent erected in a pastoral meadow. There is no grand prize. Pleasant music burbles in the background as a charming and diverse cross-section of the United Kingdom fusses over biscuits and tarts. The hosts wander around making puns about under-baked sponges having “soggy bottoms” and the judges say tactful things like “it’s a bit informal, isn’t it?” even when a baked creation is crumbling apart on the plate. The stakes are never any higher than whether or not a contestant will successfully balance the flavors in their orange zest and rosewater cake.
There is something uniquely cathartic about becoming briefly yet deeply invested in the flavor profile of a pudding that you will never taste on behalf of a stranger you will never meet. The low stakes of the show are heightened in contrast to the deep commitment of the contestants, who tend to grow teary if, for example, their mirror glaze fails to set properly. We can ride high on their successes and mourn their failures safe in the knowledge that the worst possible outcome is the losing contestant getting squashed in a group hug with heartfelt assurances that they did their very best.
The premiere of the new season, watched legally by The Wellesley News’ British correspondent—I’m studying abroad—was met with sighs of relief. In spite of a new network and a handful of new faces, the show has remained virtually untouched in all the ways that truly matter. The tent is unchanged down to the kitschy knickknacks decorating its shelves. The new judge, Prue Leith, has comfortably taken up Mary Berry’s mantle, offering kind words that balance the gruffer critiques of the returning judge, Paul Hollywood. Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, the new hosts, have embraced Mel and Sue’s style of warm encouragement mixed with gentle teasing without coming across as copycats.
The show’s quiet progressivism has also remained intact. Two seasons ago, the last episode concluded with Nadiya, a Muslim stay-at-home mother who competed in a hijab, tearfully declaring that she would never let self-doubt or negativity hold her back again. The new season opened with Yan, a woman of color working in STEM, casually mentioning her wife in the first thirty seconds of the premiere.
While American fans going through the proper legal channels will have to wait some anxious months before they can see the new season for themselves, let me assure you from across the pond that “The Great British Bake Off” has successfully navigated the transition. The bakers are still forgetting to turn on their ovens and helping other contestants when they fall behind. The judges are still delivering lines like “it’s a little overbaked” with the solemnity of a doctor giving a cancer diagnosis. The hosts are still making jokes about, yes, soggy bottoms. “The Great British Bake Off” is still as wholesome and lovely as a warm apple pie.