In the middle of the biggest strike in Hollywood since 1960, caused by massive corporations who value profit over the people who actually make them money, Netflix is releasing Big Nailed It Baking Challenge.
This is quite a choice, considering that Nailed It! season seven was cancelled mid-production to prevent its crew from unionizing.
In March 2022, the show’s 50-person crew walked out, seeking a union contract, and instead of working with the people actually make their show, production company Magical Elves killed the rest of the season. That’s why Nailed It! Halloween had just four episodes last fall.
The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge was produced between March and August 2022, and filmed last summer, so after season seven was axed.
So I was very surprised not only to see a new Nailed It, but to see “this picture made under the jurisdiction of IATSE” at the end of the first episode of Nailed It Baking Challenge.
No such message appeared on previous seasons; no headlines announced that Magical Elves decided to not try to stop its freelance crew from organizing. Was this show already in the works? Unionized because of the walk-out? Neither Netflix nor Magical Elves would comment last year after the walk-out and cancellation.
That is actually more interesting to me than The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge, which is a solid step backward for what was, for a while, Netflix’s—and America’s—signature baking competition.
The Big Nailed It: Baking Challenge is basically Nailed It with more contestants, all attempting to recreate professionally produced bakes.
Host Nicole Byer and judge Jacques Torres are back, as is Weston “Whessssss” Bahr.
“We’ve eaten a lot of bad cake,” Nicole says at the start of the episode. “It is time for Nicole to eat some good cake.”
Alas, this is not The Great British Bake-Off, with talented home cooks testing themselves under pressure. Nicole quickly admits the contestants “have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.”
“Zero clue,” Frank, a data scientist, says upon being asked to create a surprise cake, with a center full of something that spills out when it’s cut open. The contestants still get recipes and instructions, and that still doesn’t help much.
To compensate for this, the show has brought in two coaches/mentors: cookbook author Erin Jeanne McDowell and TikTok cake maker Robert Lucas.
I like that idea in theory, but The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge isn’t really interested in teaching. That wouldn’t make comedic TV.
So for the first challenge, Robert demonstrates how to level cake layers, stack them, and crumb coat them—while everyone else is at their stations trying to follow along. Many of them aren’t even facing the mentors’ station, and several contestants decide to just ignore the advice altogether just to try to win.
That leads to a beautiful sequence where leaning towers of cake fall and smash onto the floor, again and again.
I don’t know why Netflix thought Nailed It! needed to become Worst Cooks in America, but somehow this Nailed It spin-off makes Anne Burrell’s Food Network show look like the Culinary Institute of America.
When it comes to reveal the main challenge’s bakes, the bakers still say “nailed it!” and reveal awkward bakes—though some of them are pretty good. They seem like the bakers who’d surprise us on Nailed It by not making something inedible and unrecognizable. Some of them actually improve over time, meaning fewer comedic disasters, i.e. the thing we watch Nailed It to see.
It’s one thing to watch untrained people attempt the impossible and reproduce a professionally decorated cake, usually failing in the process, and another to watch more-competent people occasionally produce recreations that are great but not excellent.
One person goes home every week, the winner gets $100,000, and we get 10 episodes pushing 50 minutes each that are too slow. Even Nicole and Jacques seem a little listless. Perhaps that’s just the editing including more of the boring parts of their jobs.
The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge’s most-clever idea is the parting gift for the eliminated contestant: a shopping spree in the pantry, taking whatever supplies or equipment they want. Wes pushes a shopping car for them during the frenzied dash around the set, everyone cheers, and the contestant gets some useful stuff.
In the first episode, discussing their approach to a challenge, one contestant says, “I think I made the better choice at the end of the day.” I cannot say that for The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge, as adding more has taken away the charm of Nailed It.
The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge
Expanding Nailed It! has subtracted too much of the fun and not added enough in its place. C-
What works for me:
- The consolation prize
- The comedic fails
What could be better:
- Tighter editing/shorter episodes
- Actual teaching
- More differentiation from the original