As a fan of the Great British Baking Show, now in Season 8 on Netflix, I’ve got to say this: Challenges make great television, but too great among amateurs and the result is something I’d rather not see. Specifically, I’m speaking of the Bread Week episode and its final assignment for each of the contestants: “A large decorative bread plaque in the style of a traditional harvest festival sheaf.”
I loved the idea of this — so damn British, doncha know? — but this was one of the rare times when I thought the challenge was too great. That’s not 20/20 hindsight on my part; that’s from having seen artworks in bread at culinary exhibits. Bas relief images in bread are something to which professional bakers, in competition or by commission, must devote much time, imagination, skill and sweat. Pardon me for thinking like a TV producer (I was one once!) but, had I a seat at the Baking Show’s planning table, I might have objected to this particular challenge, arguing that contestants should either be given more time (at least an extra hour) or the assignment scrapped.
My instinct proved correct. The results among the competitors on the Baking Show were all bad — unattractive, like something you might expect from 7-year-olds working with Play-Doh. Usually, when the challenge is high, at least two of the contestants shine through. This time, no one did. And while Paul Hollywood might have flashed a smile at the modest Mark Elliott from Cornwall and pronounced him Star Baker — well, someone had to win, right?
The Baking Show is a pleasure to watch, and, while I might root for one contestant over another, I find them all pleasant and earnest. This critique was offered in sympathy for the bakers — I don’t want any of them to suffer cringe-inducing failure, and this time the show’s producers set them up for that. Ah well, as Sir Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” Onward to the next episode.