The New ‘Great American Baking Show’ is a Familiar Recipe

A winning decision to not deviate from the British formula

Ads for ‘The Great American Baking Show‘ started popping up on my TV over the weekend. It’s a Roku TV, and The Great American Baking Show, a spinoff of The Great British Baking Show, is apparently a Roku property, so it literally comes baked into the deal. And I was very happy to see that it doesn’t mess with the formula at all. In fact, it does everything it can to recreate the exact vibe of the GBBO. It’s the same show, with the same set, the same tent, the same judges, and the same music.

They even filmed it in England, though they moved the baking tent from its usual countryside home to a London studio complex, so there are fewer quaint farm animals wandering about the grounds. Still, while filming, the American contestants must have felt like board-game players in the original Jumanji, with the game coming to life around them.

The Great British Baking Show is the dough of TV legend at this point, a food show that reinvented the cooking competition as something warm and friendly, mixed with cheesy vaudeville comedy. With its top award of a decorative cake plate, it stood in warm, soothing relief to the frenzied, hyper-competitive mean-spirited money grabs of American cooking competitions. The original Great American Baking Show attempt collapsed under the weight of too many gimmicks, but especially because of 2017 sexual harassment allegations against chief judge Johnny Iuzzini. With this reboot, the producers wisely stuck with the familiar formula that has made them rich.

The Great American Baking Show
If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake that looks sort of like the Liberty Bell. Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Ellie Kemper, and Zack Cherry in ‘The Great American Baking Show.’

The judges for the new and vastly improved Great American Baking Show, are the thoroughly vetted (at this point) Paul Hollywood, and the 82-year-old Prue Leith, so I think we’re safe on the sexual-harassment account. Hollywood and Leith are exactly the same in this as they are in the other show, autopilot TV personalities completely at home with themselves and their genre, as familiar, calming, and expert as Alex Trebek was hosting the old Jeopardy!

The show has also done a nice job with the host selection. The current British hosts are weirdo comedy legends Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas. While I find them incredibly funny, they’re not everyone’s teatime, and it sometimes feels like an episode of The Mighty Boosh has broken out in the tent. The American hosts are much more anodyne: the always-chipper Ellie Kemper, mostly offscreen since the cancellation of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Zack Cherry, a shaggy comedian who broke out with supporting roles on shows like You, Succession, and Severance.

After 107 episodes of The Office and the starring role in a Tina Fey Netflix show, Kemper barely dodged cancellation after it came to light that as a teenager she participated in a debutante ball with white supremacist origins. But the controversy blew over, she’s back, and is an always-welcome on-screen friend. On GABS she’s warm and encouraging, and occasionally says something just a little bit off-kilter to remind us that she’s not a mere host-bot. Cherry has a hipster nerd persona, and also says amusing stuff, like when before a challenge where contestants have to bake an elaborate display based on where they live, he says, “I’m from Brooklyn, so mine might be a man wearing a beanie in the summer.”

But this wouldn’t be a competition without the bakers, and it’s nice to see that the amateur baking Americans who won this particularly cooking-show lottery are more than competent. It’s a strong field, particularly in comparison with more recent seasons of GBBO, marred by general incompetence and questionable themes like “Mexican Week.” The Americans have strong technical skills, good imaginations and decorating abilities, and seemingly refined palates. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, but as of now they haven’t had to do anything more foreign than a macaron, which are available in infinite varieties in cities where Americans of even modest means live. They can more than hold their own with the Brits. There isn’t a ton of geographical variety–four of the nine contestants are tied to Chicago in some way–but there is a decent amount of ethnic variety, two gay guys who are the best of the class, and a fun rockabilly singer from San Diego.

My only complaints are that nine contestants is too few and six episodes are also not enough . You’re on to the semifinals before you even have time to tuck into the cupcake you’re eating to go along with the show. And, of course, there are the commercials. The GBBO airs on Netflix, which, for the moment, is commercial-free. But on Roku, there’s no avoiding the ads. Free TV was never free, of course. So maybe watching two dozen Tremfaya commercials is a decent tradeoff for an unpaid six hours of the greatest TV baking show ever devised.

 You May Also Like

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

3 thoughts on “The New ‘Great American Baking Show’ is a Familiar Recipe

  • May 9, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    Even though it it a Roku production, Roku does their commercials like they do for any other show, ignoring planned commercial breaks, often breaking mid-sentence. Not to mention the same commercial repeated Every. Single. Time.

    • May 10, 2023 at 10:07 am

      I’ve also noticed that half the commercials are for the show I am, in fact, watching.

      • May 12, 2023 at 11:03 am

        I’m never going to be able to take AI seriously as long as this sort of easily preventable nonsense is a constant feature of our technology.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *