Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Great British Bake Off Series 8 Review

Welcome, Bakers! 

Or, at least baking watchers. If you're like me, you love the Great British Bake Off (or, in the US, the Great British Baking Show, a title so charmingly on-the-nose that it mainly works because it's said with a British accent). 

There was a massive shake-up since the filming of Series 7 (they're called "series" rather than "seasons" across the pond), in which the BBC lost the Bake Off to rival Channel 4 when Channel 4 threw down a giant pile of money. Presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins opted to stay with the BBC and leave the show, and days later beloved octogenarian Mary Berry left the show as well.  Paul Hollywood (yes, that's his real name) stayed, and the internet deemed him a heartless money grabber because dude wanted to keep his job.

Channel 4 set to work on the new series, hiring younger woman Prue Lieth (sprightly at 77) as a judge, and Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig as presenters. This was followed by a number of articles talking about how the new series would be "updated," with "modern humor."

The internet wrung its hands, tore its clothes, and threw ashes over its head.

Well, the first new series has aired in the UK, and I've seen alllllmost all of it, due to my a.) persistence and b.) YouTube. The first episode remains AWOL so far, but I've gotten to see episodes 2-10.

My take? Unknot your hands, mend your clothes, and wash your hair - everything's okay.

Honestly, Noel and Sandi were my biggest question marks. I knew Noel from The IT Crowd and wasn't familiar with Sandi at all. But they're both very charming in their roles, developing an increasingly odd-couple rapport as the series goes on.

Noel won me over first - standing taller than most of the contestants, usually wearing something outlandish, with a shaggy head of raven hair, he's basically a giant human muppet. With a background in stand-up, this may be his most dialed-down self, cracking silly jokes, listening to the bakers and asking questions, coming across more sweetly than you'd expect.

It look me another episode to bond with Sandi, but she really shines during segments taking the viewer through Britain's culinary history. As the episodes progress, you can't help but feel affection for her when she tears up during the task of telling the bakers who's eliminated.

And Prue? Where Mary Berry had a very grandmotherly appeal, Prue is your awesome and slightly eccentric great aunt, with her forthright nature and has a love for modern statement jewelry . She'll give praise where praise is due, but if something doesn't meet standards, she'll say so. 

This changes the dynamic with Paul in an interesting way. With Mary and Paul, Paul was the tough "man judge," where Mary tended to be more diplomatic. It was the baking version of good cop, bad cop.

But Prue? Prue goes for it (and she clearly knows her stuff). The result is a more diplomatic Paul, a Paul who doesn't go for the kill because it's already dead. He seems a little off-balance at the start, but it's honestly a refreshing change of pace. We didn't need him to be the Simon Cowell of baking.

And the "modern updates"? Whatever. The tent looks exactly the same. The sheep look exactly the same. You'll still covet the Kitchen Aids. The musical cues twinkle in the background as always, the illustrations remain. As for the humor? Still goofy and charming. The only thing I noticed was that there wasn't the annual "soggy bottom" announcement; instead, Paul intoned, "the bottom is underbaked." 

But all of this is the framework for the bakers themselves. Let's be honest - the show lives and dies by the contestants. I have watched Martha and Chetna's season a few times because I enjoy that group so much. Ruby's season? Eh. 

This group is comprised of the strongest group of bakers the show may have ever seen. There are final bakes that will blow you away with their complexity and beauty. Paul and Prue go for it in the technical bakes, challenging the bakers because they know the bakers can handle it. What they're able to make is often astounding, not just for non-professional bakers, but as human people who bake.

The final is one of the closest I've seen, with each challenge impressive in its difficulty. With many finals you've got two contestants who are really close and one trailing behind - not so with this one. The winning baker absolutely deserved to win, but it was very close.

Stay tuned for the final montage at the end, with an update of each baker. What I love about the show is that it's one of the televised competitions most likely to bring people together - and that continues here, with several of the contestants remaining in contact, taking and planning trips together.

Final verdict? I love Mel, Sue, and Mary, but I really enjoy Noel, Sandi, and Prue, too, and I think Bake Off fans will be really pleased with the Channel 4 version. If you've loved the past Bake Offs, you'll love this too. They're an enjoyable group to watch, and I can't wait until the series airs here in the states on PBS.

A quick note - Prue made news for congratulating the winner on Twitter, several hours before the show aired. She immediately apologized, explaining that she'd gotten the time zones mixed up, since she was currently in Bhutan. For several commenters, this has been a terrible gaff that only proves that Mary Berry is far superior, setting up jokes that Mary was sabotaging her.

This bugs me. Mary left of her own free will - there's nothing to avenge, here. We don't need to pit these women against each other. They can both be good at their jobs, and liking one doesn't mean you have to hate the other. Life doesn't have to work like that. Also, she's a 77-year-old who's traveling to Bhutan and apparently also writes foodie fiction that I need to figure out how to get my hands on. We should be thankful this woman exists! The internet needs to chill the fork out. 

*end rant*

Have you seen any of the new episodes? What did you think?


  1. Thanks for this review, Hillary! OF COURSE I was going to watch whenever the season arrives on PBS, but I was still a bit apprehensive. Not anymore. Bring it on :-)

  2. Hillary, You watched it on youtube? I guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend!

    1. The episodes can disappear fast - one time I waited too watch while I finished a task, and by the time I got back to it, it'd been removed.


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