2015 was the year that The Great British Baking Show finally had it’s moment. The show is so positive and fun, a refreshing dose of reality television that proves what the genre really should be. Unfortunately, America has tried and failed to replicate the series, much to the chagrin of fans like me. Can they ever make this show work in the states?
If anyone’s trying, it’s ABC who are testing the waters with The Great Holiday Baking Show. It’s apparently not doing well at all—but that hasn’t stopped me from watching it. Why isn’t it working in America? Is it Mary Berry not connecting or what?
Let me tell you this: Americans are not British people. The viewership and appeal of the show is the same, yes—but in terms of talent and people being cast to star in the show? Americans are not British people. The strength of TGBBS is that the bakers are so sweet, supportive, and likable. There are no villains. It’s just talent, charisma, drive, and zero bad vibes. Here? None of that. Those bakers surely exist but the casting on American shows is to make people into characters. Yes, that happens on TGBBS but American casting people take this to a gross, exaggerated level.
For example: the cast of Holiday is a mixed bag of stereotypes. There is the black effeminate man obsessed with his grandmother. There is the Jersey matriarch who speaks in sassy soundbites. There’s a young cat woman. There is a semi-masculine gay male from Jersey. There is a Southern black mom who is constantly praying to Jesus. There is the Jewish mother. That is all we have to work with.
While those “types” could exist on TGBBS, the American versions are overly happy and lazy and without an appreciation for craft. These people just give up and don’t care. Save for the Jewish mother and maybe the Southern mom, everyone else has put forth lackluster dishes without giving a fuck. The Jersey mom abandoned a project and put it forward saying “This is just a reality show.” while the the effeminate dude obsessed with his grandmother used store bought candies to decorate a dessert. Huh? That shit would not fly at all on TGBBS.
Two other defining features separate the two shows: god and work. There are tons of mentionings of faith and how spirits are guiding these people through the competition. There is also an uncomfortable feeling of work to these people: while TGBBS uses one’s day job as a motivation to escape into baking, the American Holiday bakers make desserts in the image of their workplaces. They are constantly defined and redefined by their job. They are never bakers: they are their job first, which makes their subpar baking excusable since they think it’s a silly thing they can do for fun (and end up on TV).
What makes this most maddening is that it has rubbed off on the format which, surprisingly, was kept in tact. The kitchen, the three act competition, double hosts, Mary Berry: it’s all there. The missing element is earnestness. Everyone is acting for the camera as a character. Even Mary Berry who, unfortunately, is produced in a way that is much “happier” than she normally is. She’s reduced to the The Old British Lady trope when placed against constant awkward gay Johnny Luzzini and spousal hosts, Nia Varlados and Ian Gomez. The magic of Mary is lost.
TGBBS is so lovely because the people are so lovely, because British people are so adorable. Placing the American version against the original reveals a startling truth: Americans are just so coarse and gross. It’s a little embarrassing since all these people end up looking like The Ugly American trope, which reflects poorly on all of us. The way to make this show work is to cast people with integrity, humor, and happiness: that’s missing here. Unfortunately, American television, potential casts, and cooking shows are overdone: the reason why Top Chef isn’t made more than once a year and features so many repeat chefs is because the amount of talented people worthy of making it on a television show probably don’t want to be on television, which is why a series like Chopped has turned to amateur chefs.
I still have hope that TGBBS will work in the states. Having worked in and watched loads of reality television, the only advice to give is to keep it simple. TGBBS should work in the US: we’re just overthinking it.