True, the minutiae of baking can seem a little less than fascinating. But there is so much more to the show than flour and butter.
The contestants are an impressive batch. They are not professional bakers. They are ordinary Brits from all walks of life who are hopelessly devoted to baking cakes, cookies, biscuits and breads.
This season’s group of 12 includes firefighter Ian, prison governor Paul, hipster musician Stuart and Nadiya, the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants and a mother of three.
Unlike trash-talking U.S. reality show competitors, the baketestants seem to genuinely respect each other as they concoct goods ranging from the familiar (scones) to the obscure (a puffy, crusty French pastry known as kouign-amann). And they all display a character trait missing from most TV competitions: humility.
“I am mortified,” Nadiya says of an unfortunately overbaked gingerbread. “How can I make amends?”
“I should have checked the oven,” says matronly Scotswoman Marie of her failure to set the proper temperature. “I was silly, silly.”
They compete for the sheer joy of baking. There is no prize — cash or otherwise — for the ultimate winner. Two judges pick each week’s “star baker” — and send one home.
Mary Berry, a cookbook writer of a certain age, offers no-nonsense assessments like a blunt but loving auntie. “It’s a bit garish for me” is her reaction to purple, green and yellow icing. Artisan baker Paul Hollywood is tough but can be playful. “I don’t like them” he says of Ugne’s Lithuanian cream-cheese cookies, evoking a gasp of dismay from the baker. Then he states: “I love ’em.”
Ugne, by the way, deserves a blue ribbon for the most un-boring line of Season 3 so far: “I am making fondant baby legs.”
One thing about the show puzzles me: Why do the bakers toil in a tent? PBS did not provide an answer in time for my deadline. My theory is that the tent is symbolic.
Like Britain at its best, it is an island of good manners in an uncertain world. Plus, the outdoor setting gives the camera an excuse to pan to sheep who graze nearby, for comic relief.
More of Marc’s TV musings: