Three new (or new-ish) holiday-themed reality competitions have come to TV and streaming over the past few weeks: Peacock’s Baking It, a spin-off of NBC’s Making It; Hulu’s Candified: Home for the Holidays, a brand-new show; and Food Network’s Buddy vs. Duff Holiday, a for-charity version of the competition that’s now in its fourth season.
While I’ve been loving Holiday Baking Championship, and always enjoy The Great Christmas Light Fight and The Great British Baking Show’s holiday episodes, and only one of three is a show that I’d urge you to check out.
But I hope I’m not being a total Grinch here, either, because none of them are bad.
They’re fine, and could be a way to fill an afternoon while with family during the holidays, or decent background TV for folding laundry or baking or ordering take-out. Let’s take a look at each one.
Baking It is Making It with baking
Peacock’s Baking It is the only one of these three shows that I’d enthusiastically recommend, but only for a particular part: the judging panel of four grandmas. Yes, the show has assembled four grandmothers to judge its bakers.
It’s quite clever—and actually works, too.
Baking It! is essentially Making It! with baking instead of crafting, with pairs instead of individual contestants, and with Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg instead of Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.
While Making It took place in an actual barn and used the outdoor areas, Baking It‘s set is clearly a soundstage decorated to resemble Making It’s set, so it’s slightly less warm, with the faux backdrops out the windows and the studio lighting.
The grandmas are Bubbe Norma, Gigi Sherri, Grandma Anne, and Nana Harriet. While the contestants are baking, they sit and chat. They taste the teams’ desserts and don’t hide any of their pleasure. When it comes to giving feedback, they offer precise notes but are also empathetic. They’re as good as the best Food Network panel.
The contestants, in Amazing Race-like teams of people who know each other, are vying to win brooches that the grandmas pull out of their purses. The grandmas also handle eliminations, which makes everyone emotional. “You’re not going to get out of here without a hug from Nana,” Harriet tells the first team eliminated.
The grandmas are helped by the fact that it’s easier to objectively and subjectively judge baked goods versus art made out of completely different materials, which may be one reason why Making It’s judging just did not work.
They’re the best part of Baking It, both when they’re interacting with each other and the bakers. The show is just kind of generic when the grandmas aren’t around.
Alas, while Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg are both talented and hilarious performers, they don’t have the chemistry with each other that Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman did—probably because they didn’t work together for years on the same sitcom!
That means Maya and Andy’s interstitials feel far more staged and scripted, just filling time rather than playing around and making each other laugh. They’re just fine when they talk to the contestants, and together they all produce some playful and funny moments. But it’s not their star power or comedy that kept me watching Baking It.
Candified: Home for the Holidays covers a house in candy
Candified: Home for the Holidays is basically Buddy vs. Duff minus the competition and plus a larger, season-long project. It follows “Candy Queen” Jackie Sorkin and her staff as they try to build a 1,000 square-foot house out of candy—or, more correctly, covered in candy.
By the time I watched this I was just completely beside myself with horror about all of the food being wasted on these kinds of shows, and the complete pointlessness of it all.
Why make a house out of candy if you can’t eat it? And who is this house actually for? A witch living in the woods in Germany?
It’s actually, allegedly for a “potential investor,” Frank, who would potentially fund a candy hotel Jackie wants to build in Nashville, but all of this just comes across like a flimsy excuse for why this TV show was made.
The complete candy house gets a brief visit from kids, and they’re clearly delighted and amazed, so that’s nice.
Candified the TV show does an excellent job of showing the artists’ actual process, and having them explain what they’re doing. They create some impressive-looking objects and surfaces, like a woven blanket that looks soft and fluffy but is actually made out of candy, or a chandelier made from gummy bears that look like crystals.
The staff clearly gets along, but the show searches for moments of conflict and drama, including shouting matches, which all felt as forced as the opening conversation in which Jackie introduces this project to her employees.
There are just four 43-minute episodes, which could be an advantage, but actually worked against Candified for me: After one episode I didn’t really feel like I knew the team well enough to be invested, especially with all of the bickering, so instead I just skipped to the final episode to see the house.
Buddy vs. Duff Holiday: Buddy Valastro and Duff Goldman’s fourth face-off
Buddy vs. Duff: Holiday is the fourth competition series that has Buddy Valastro and Duff Goldman’s teams face off in challenges for a season-long battle. The original season was Food Network’s most-popular show in 2019.
I’ve become fascinated by this show and how it changes every season.
It improved in its second season, which gave Buddy the win he so craved even though he basically lost, and then a third season premiered earlier this year to break the tie, though Buddy and Duff are now friends rather than rivals so the competition part makes less and less sense.
Season four, Buddy vs. Duff: Holiday, is the same format: a challenge, several days, judging, points totaled. (It’s apparently replacing last year’s attempt at Buddy vs. Christmas, where Buddy faced off against different kinds of artists.)
The people who work in Duff and Buddy’s bakeries are the real stars of the show, and they’ve clearly grown to know each other and have obvious respect for each others’ work, even despite the occasionally snarky or judgmental comment. That’s what makes it fun to watch, even as they carve cake into something no one will eat and let all that extra cake fall to the floor.
While season three brought in a panel of 100 judges via Zoom, who all independently scored the two “cakes,” the holiday version has four in-person judges, two in each location: Gesine Prado and Elizabeth Falkner in New Jersey with Buddy’s team, and Stephanie Boswell and Valerie Gordon in Los Angeles with Duff’s team.
Why that change? Eh, who knows. I do know that I just do not believe that the competition is either legit or matters. It’s about watching teams of people interpret a brief and then build something amazing out of cake. And this time, the competition is for charity, which is a nice bonus. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buddy and Duff tie at the end of the season, so that each charity gets money, but that’s just me being suspicious.