We don’t watch the Great British Baking Show we want, we watch the Great British Baking Show we have. The final episode of the seventh series dropped in the U.S. on Netflix at midnight on Friday, closing out a season filled with pleasant, uncomplicated bakers forced to complete often ridiculously complicated tasks for judges who seemed determined to remain unmoved by any of their efforts.
GBBS’s Old Guard fans were not amused by this season’s turn in favor of personality over process. The Mary, Mel, and Sue diehards who’ve been watching the show for comfort, cupcakes, and a bit of baking history from its first days on the BBC want to see top-tier amateur baking from an array of singular personalities. What they got this time was a younger set of interesting and emotional people baking above-average pastries against ever-increasing odds.
Maybe we should all just lighten up. How many bakers like Nadia, Candace, Rahul, or Kim-Joy can one country reasonably hope to produce? Anyone who bakes on the regular will tell you it’s not especially easy. The possibility of failure looms large, even for the most experienced baker. In our heart of hearts everyone is just like fan favorite Dan anyway—one festival bake away from collapsing into a puddle of angst and tears.
It always takes a few episodes before viewers of any reality competition show can sort out the initial field of contestants into their personal favorites and likely winners. This season brought more than a few folks worth rooting for. Along with Dan, there was the delightfully goth Helena, who stayed true to her dark and stormy aesthetic against all odds and remained cheerful after her controversial elimination. Charming schoolboy Henry turned up each week in a shirt and tie ready for senior class picture day rather than an afternoon getting up to his elbows in flour and frosting. And then there was Rosie, the veterinarian who fascinated presenter Noel Fielding each week with her grim personal tales of All Creatures Great and Small. It was Rosie who may have delivered one of the series’ most memorable quotes during one of these exchanges: “I find rabbits the most difficult animals,” she told Noel casually while mixing up ingredients. “They just want to die.”
Fielding and his co-presenter, Sandy Toksvig, have been an acquired taste for some. The superfans are constantly reminding us they are not Mel and Sue, and they’re right. Noel and Sandy are not as warm and encouraging as the original duo, and the “Did you know Sandy is short?!” jokes have definitely run their course, but they have their own charms. Noel especially brings a geeky surrealism to the bakes that is endearing in its own way. His stoveside chats with the bakers are sweet and seem to do the trick chilling out frazzled bakers.
Mel and Sue’s brief seems to have been to protect the contestants and keep on-camera drama to a minimum. Channel 4, which has been responsible for this and the two previous seasons, is more than okay with filming a few tears being shed. But maybe next year, a little more thrill of victory could be thrown in with the agony of defeat.
Adding to the drama, or maybe the exact cause of the drama, are judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. They represent the disapproving parents, teachers, and other authority figures that keep therapists in business all over the world. In past seasons Hollywood tried to find a balance between pointing out the myriad ways a baker could ruin a loaf of bread and awarding “Hollywood Handshakes” for exceptional work to surprised and delighted bakers. This season he seemed particularly harsh, especially given some of the unfamiliar and difficult challenges. Meanwhile, Leith is still struggling to fill the shoes of Berry, who is a British cooking icon. She’s delightfully artsy with her bold jewelry and specs, but she defers to Hollywood far too often. Like many of the bakers, she just needs a shot of confidence.
Despite all the complaining and all the posts picking apart every aspect of the season, almost nobody stopped watching. The main ingredients are still there, the big white tent, the quirky bakers, the stern-faced judges, and the weekly array of pies, cakes, puddings, Chelsea buns, and traybakes. This is the new recipe for the baking show we have. It’s not quite as good as the original, but it will do.