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What I loved watching this week: The Great American Baking Show

What I loved watching this week: The Great American Baking Show
Great American Baking Show contestant Bryan McKinnon, left, talks to new judge Paul Hollywood, returning judge Johnny Iuzzini, and new host Spice Adams. (Photo by (Mark Bourdillion/ABC)

When Mary Berry, Mel and Sue all quit The Great British Bake-Off last year, I was pretty convinced that one of my favorite shows was done. I even called Channel 4 and Love Productions “delusional” for insisting they could do the show without those three.

But even then, in those dark days of imagining GBBO without its witty hosts or judge who delights in double entendre and liquor in dessert, there was some evidence that might not be true, and it was ABC’s The Great American Baking Show, which had aired one season at that point.

Along with the same producers, Love Productions, ABC’s version had the same tent location, the same music and ovens, the same whimsical illustrations. With its American contestants and accelerated production schedule, it was , but by the time it got to its second season last year, it’d grown into

It also had Mary Berry, though, so it was easy to imagine she was the show’s warm, soft center.

Then came the news late this summer that Mary Berry wouldn’t be back on the ABC version, either, replaced by her former fellow GBBO judge, Paul Hollywood. Oh, and ABC’s show was also getting new hosts. I had a bit of despair.

That was all for naught!

Having watched the first two episodes last night—they aired back to back—I can confidently say that it’s the same show, and in some ways, it’s even better. (And while I haven’t yet seen Channel 4’s version, the fact that the show can survive this many casting changes makes me want to.)

New hosts Spice Adams and Ayesha Curry, who have outstanding names for hosts of a show involving food, are the biggest surprise: easy, natural, immediately comfortable with the show and with each other. Their jokes and puns are cornier but also clearly their own.

That’s sharp contrast from the previous ABC hosts, Nia and Ian were, who were stiff even after two seasons. They did have their moments, and gradually relaxed and had more fun with it, but they never felt this at ease in the tent.

I do miss Mary Berry, and her judging relationship with Johnny Iuzzini was charming. Johnny and Paul Hollywood are each doing their thing but haven’t yet developed any sort of chemistry.

In episode one, some of the contestants really struggled, but there’s also a lot of talent and camaraderie—and even some cheekiness: Molly’s backyard chicken coop is called Cluckingham Palace. As a bonus, season two contestant Antoinette has returned. (Last season, she disappeared mid-episode because of an unspecified emergency; as it turned out, her father died during production, so she returned to the U.S.)

Altogether, it was such a charming two hours I didn’t even remember to flip over to Top Chef Colorado, which was my original plan.

Is the Great British Baking Show format like getting a new Christmas tree each year? As long as you hang the same, familiar ornaments on it—the music, the illustrations, the lack of conflict, the editing that doesn’t treat its audience like morons and doesn’t try to create a villain, et cetera—what seemed key to the whole festive celebration can actually change from year to year.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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