For the holidays, two reality competitions have new special holiday versions, one of which is a must-watch, and one of which is much more skippable, even though it features a posthumous appearance by the amazing Leslie Jordan.
Both The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday and Lego Masters: Celebrity Holiday Bricktacular have celebrities with effectively no experience competing in highly technical skill-based challenges.
Both shows stay close to the original, which is why one is so much better than the other, but in the interest of holiday generosity, they’re both worth watching. But let’s start with the best first!
The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday
The Roku Channel’s The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday, which is streaming now, is an outstanding 75 minutes television.
(Regular reminder: The Roku Channel is a free streaming service; you do not need a Roku device to watch or access it, either on a TV or on the web. It’s also the home of this wonderful Leslie Jordan-hosted competition.)
It’s obviously following in the footsteps of The Great British Bake-Off’s annual celebrity holiday special—those are on Netflix—but is also reintroducing the American edition, which Roku Channel is resurrecting.
This new American edition has Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith as its judges; the ABC version never had both British judges. But like the ABC version, there are two new American hosts: Ellie Kemper and Zach Cherry.
Ellie and Zach are terrific, both together and with the celebrities. Even better, the celebrities are extremely well-cast.
Five of six are comedians—D’Arcy Carden, Liza Koshy, Nat Faxon, Chloe Fineman, and Joel Kim Booster—who are individually and professionally perfectly suited for this kind of show. The sixth contestant, NFL star Marshawn Lynch does just fine, too, both in delivering entertainment and baking.
They compete in the usual three challenges: signature, technical, and showstopper, and
While Paul is generous with the handshakes, these contestants manage some truly impressive bakes, especially considering many openly admit to having never baked before, and some didn’t even practice!
They also have a lot of fun, with each other and the judges; Liza Koshy and D’Arcy Carden’s fourth-wall-breaking commentary on Paul’s wandering around and staring is perfect, and so is one of Nat Faxon’s confessionals.
But I could cite most of the episode, because it really is a delight from start to finish. Highly recommended.
This bodes very well for Roku’s upcoming Great American Baking Show season 6, which will not have celebrity contestants, but will have Prue, Paul, Ellie, and Zach, and I’m excited to see their regular version.
Lego Masters: Celebrity Holiday Bricktacular
Lego Masters: Celebrity Holiday Bricktacular (Fox, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 8) is, alas, less successful, because it mirrors its parent while also being quite watered-down.
For me, in just three short seasons, Lego Masters has become virtually unwatchable: so little focus on building, such terrible judging (don’t drink every time they say the word “story”), and nonsense twists like season three bringing in a team several episodes late.
The three-episode, four-hour holiday version pairs four celebrities—Leslie Jordan, Cheryl Hines, Finesse Mitchell, and Robin Thicke—with four Lego Masters alum for four challenges.
They’re versions of challenges we’ve seen before, like the bridge challenge, now revised to be a sleigh, though no one is eliminated across three episodes.
There is a little more focus on building than usual, and even some conversations about how Lego work, owing in part to the celebrities’ ignorance and lack of experience building with Lego.
But it also ends up kind of dumbed-down. Jamie literally tells Dom and Cheryl: “when you’re doing plate-locking … make sure those plates have an interlocking system.” Amy calls those “great tips” and Dom says that feedback was “very insightful and very helpful,” and my brain dripped out of my ears.
The celebrities get a lot of attention (of course!), but are at best acting like Lego sous chefs, with the planning and expertise coming from their teammates Mel Brown, Natalie Cleveland, Dom Forte, and Boone Langston.
So much of the final product still appears out of nowhere, and some challenges focus more on destroying Lego builds than building. The first challenge is building a snowmobile that’ll be flung up a ramp and then smash on the ground.
Each episode gives $10,000 to the celebrity challenge winner’s charity, so there’s a nice outcome, but despite holiday music, set decorations, and winter themes, the episodes don’t quite capture holiday cheer or warmth, because Lego Masters is more interested in jokes and explosions that creating connection to its characters and their craft.
To not be a total Scrooge/Grinch/whatever: the Lego Masters: Celebrity Holiday Bricktacular is perfectly fine background TV, and some fun designs. The infomercial toy challenge is inspired, and a great way to use the celebrity talent.
The four hours also have a lovely, emotional moment of redemption. And, of course, it’s absolutely lovely to have Leslie Jordan on TV for three hours. That’s a nice holiday gift by itself.