The New Age of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and Why Mary’s Reign Will Always Represent Its Golden Years

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In recent years The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4) has become a staple in many a family’s household as it presents an occasion for everyone to gather around the TV and enjoy the nostalgia of the British countryside that many are drawn to. Though it still remains a firm favourite and regular in our viewing schedules, its shift from the BBC to Channel 4 in 2017 left the British public polarised; do we remain loyal to Mary Berry, Sue Perkins, and Mel Giedroyc, or do we accept the drawing of the new age represented by Prue Leith, Sandi Toksvig, and Noel Fielding?

As an avid viewer and keen baker myself, Bake Off lures me in through its carefully curated feeling of safety, solidarity, and sweetness (literally) within the confines of the infamous tent, but this seems to have been lost in the past couple of years, something that became especially prevalent during this season. If Mary Berry’s reign resembled something cozy and warm, like that of your grandma’s house, Paul Hollywood has usurped her to interject into the realm of the tent a feeling of threat and fear that pervades every week.

The once friendly competition that highlighted each baker’s respective talents for homemade baking has transformed into something that reflects a reality show; the music along with shifting camera angles work to heighten the drama drastically, especially during the impossible to complete technicals. For me the pleasure is lost when we are forced to watch an entire group of talented bakers virtually tear their hair out as they try to wade their way through a recipe reduced to just a few words, leaving very little (or no) room to demonstrate the talent which landed them in the tent in the first place.

Even if the viewer accepted this new dramatically driven version of the Bake Off, one thing you cannot ignore are the often deep-cutting, harsh comments from both judges, mainly Paul, leaving the viewer watching through severely clenched teeth – not what you want when tuning in to a show that should feel warm and homely. The weight of these comments becomes all the more prevalent when you see the defeat in each bakers’ eyes, making us wonder how they are expected to go on and produce a work of baking glory after being knocked down moments before.

It’s impossible to watch this new age of the Bake Off without a sense of nostalgia and longing for a softer and warmer version of the same show as now the emphasis is placed on striving towards perfection, rather than praising the rustically homemade version of baked favourites. The latter is what the Bake Off has always represented for me, or what it should represent, and it seems to be getting bogged down under this desire for absolute professional perfection.

Despite the new age of The Great British Bake Off many (including myself) return to watch series upon series, episode upon episode.  Whilst the dramatics have been turned to full volume and the goals seem slightly warped, there is still a sense of homemade greatness to be found in what comes out of the Bake Off tent that serves to inspire and encourage a passion for baking, something that either already existed or sat dormant in for many that watch.

The show seems to be going nowhere and it still provides great television, but there remains a deeply held desire for it to return to the warm and cozy feeling it once held in displaying amateur bakers achieving things that felt within the reach of those at home. The perfection that frames every challenge, enhanced by Paul Hollywood’s menacing glare as he leans forward with two hands on the work bench, has soured the experience slightly… Though not completely.

The newest series of the Great British Bake Off continues Tuesday evenings at 8pm on Channel 4. Catch up on previous episodes on All4.

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