Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off – Episode 1 REVIEW

GBBO

From Brexit to the rise of (sigh) President Trump, nothing was more shocking or caused more upset than a popular TV show moving from one free-to-view channel to another.

I’m talking, of course, about The Great British Bake Off, that British institution that galvanised the nation around a love of baked goods and cheeky, yet family-friendly innuendo.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, it is worth noting that I was late to the party, having only popped my proverbial GBBO cherry in what transpired to be the show’s final series on the BBC. Still, even I, a relative newcomer, was less than thrilled with the moving of the show and the inevitable changes that were to follow.

It was, of course, unlikely that the creators were going to “fuck with the formula” but there were definitely going to be changes. Firstly, with the show being a full hour long on the BBC, space would have to be made to accommodate the multiple advert breaks. This has been achieved cutting the educational segments where the viewers learn about cakes and their impact on history (or, making a cup of tea). Instead of learning, we get sold to. Brilliant.

If this wasn’t enough, the show seems to have adopted some in-show advertising. There was a particularly glaring moment where one of the contestants used a cake-painting spray gun device, which the camera lingered on in a little “too long to feel natural” kind of way. It was surely no coincidence that this was the same sort of device that was used in an advert for an online retailer during the first advert break.

As previously stated, the introduction of adverts has necessitated a revamping of the show’s structure. In the current incarnation, each episode is split into four, with the first three each showing a baking challenge, with the final one to announce who is star baker and who is going home.

Whilst this is not the greatest crime ever committed, it does make the show feel that little more cynical and a little less wholesome.

Which brings us to Mel & Sue: Mark II. Having decided, along with Mary Berry, to stay with the BBC, only Paul Hollywood remains from the original presenters. To replace the comedic double-act the creators have recruited Noel Fielding (of Mighty Boosh fame) and Sandi Toksvig (former BBC Radio 4 presenter, and current host of QI). This is possibly the most cynical casting decision of all time. One to appeal to the middle-class BBC viewers and one to bring in the younger Channel 4 audience. As such, they strike a really weird visual duo, even with Fielding turning down the surreal overtones with which he has has made his name.

Yet despite this, both seem to be having a bit of fun, and trying not to stray too far from the tried and tested formula, which again makes things “the same but different”, as the new cast follows the old template.

The same can be said of Prue “not Mary Berry” Leith. The same but different. While she brings her own approach to the show, there isn’t really a substantial change. Prue, like everyone, seems to be more interested in quietly settling in rather than shaking things up. Whether this will change as audience and presenters alike, get more comfortable with the new line-up remains to be seen. But this first episode is definitely as a case of softly-softly, catchy money.

Being the only original member to return, Paul Hollywood is ultimately one of the saving graces of the show, anchoring the show in a sense of familiarity without which it could have drifted off into a tonally unsure mess. He brings a sense of order and confidence that comes with experience of doing the show for a number of years.

The choice of contestants also feels familiar, continuing with the nationwide, multicultural feel that makes the show so refreshing and appealing. Still, it’s difficult not to compare this group to the last, and even though it is still early days, there does seem to be a slight drop in the quality of the baked goods produced. Though this might be due to the ridiculously high quality from last year, personified by the increasingly elaborate creations of eventual winner, Candice.

That said, there are clearly some who stand out as potential finalists, and some who will be lucky to survive the next few weeks, though I’ll leave you to decide who those are.

This is a safe, if slightly more cynical version of GBBO which appears to be trying to widen its appeal without straying from the tried-and-tested formula that made it such a phenomenal hit in the first place.

While it was never going to achieve the same ratings as on the BBC, 6.5 million people tuned into this episode. Even though this is likely to drop (as it almost always does), there is likely to be a committed audience which makes the move a financially-sensible (if still disappointing) decision.

The Great British Bake Off is dead. Long live The Great British Bake Off.

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