All of the ingredients are there, but ABCs version of the UK hit show falls flat in the oven trying too hard to be nice and to Americanize the shows concept
There was a very brief moment at the beginning of The Great Holiday Baking Show when I knew it wasnt going to work.
ABCs four-week Christmas-themed variant on the UK super smash The Great British Bake Off looks exactly like its predecessor, complete with the stately manor, sprawling green lawn and the simple white tent. As the show opens, we see two exuberant hosts standing next to six contestants, and the set-up looks very much like the British show that a growing number of Americans are obsessed with. But as the shot pans out, the American amateur bakers do something their British counterparts would never do: they cheer.
That expression of performed enthusiasm was exactly when I knew we were doomed.
The Great Holiday Baking Show, which premieres on ABC on 30 November at 10pm EST, tries very, very hard to be The Great British Bake Off which aired in the US as The Great British Baking Show for the first four series on PBS before Netflix acquired the rights to series five. As in the original Bake Off, there are three bakes per episode: a signature bake, where contestants produce variations on a certain dish; a technical bake, where everyone makes the same dish with vague instructions; and a showstopper challenge, which is like the signature bake but with a lot more pizazz.
There are two hosts of the ABC special, but instead of Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, we have My Big Fat Greek Weddings Nia Vardalos and her husband, Cougar Town star Ian Gomez. It is a choice so odd that there isnt an emoji to express how it makes me feel. The judges are Johnny Iuzzini, who spent two seasons as the judge of Bravos Top Chef: Just Desserts, and Bake Offs reigning queen dowager Mary Berry.
The sets look identical, they use the same music cues, and even the little storybook drawings of the intended dishes are trotted out. All of the ingredients are there, but this soufflÃ© seems to have fallen flat in the oven. Maybe it wasnt left in the proving drawer long enough?
The problem is that the show is trying so hard to emulate its UK counterpart that Bake Off fans are left waiting for it to achieve the same brilliance, but it never does. For instance, Vardalos and Gomez use the same On your marks. Get set. Bake! tagline that Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins employ, but without the daffiness that makes it so amusing. Saying the words of a spell isnt enough unless you really believe them. Ian Gomez also goes for a soggy bottom joke in the first episode, but references cookies instead of pies or tarts, and totally misses the provenance of the double entendre.
It also seems that someone in development decided that one of the reasons that Bake Off works is because it is nice. On the ABC show, everyone tries very hard to be nice. Mary Berry gives her constructive criticism, as always, but pulls her punches with American bakers. Its like everyone gets a participation trophy rather than tough lessons on how to be a better baker. (And these bakers could surely use it. With a field of only six I expected some top-notch creations but most of these showstoppers were duds that would never fly on the BBC.)
No, its not the niceness that makes The Great British Bake Off a smash (and with 14.5 million people in the UK watching, it is absolutely massive) its the sense of warmth and respect from the judges to the contestants and among the contestants themselves. Americans, unfortunately, translate that atmosphere of warmth into cheering. Were going to be nice! the producers seem to be saying, in contrast to the Im not here to make friends ethos that pervades reality competitions. Be as nice as you can be. Root for each other. This is not Top Chef. Cheer, damn it. Cheer!
These attempts to Americanize the show are what really gums it up. When one contestant prays before firing up her oven, I rolled my eyes and thought Ugh, how American! The same baker repeatedly says Im a country girl, which I also found obnoxiously cloying. The producers have managed to go American on the wrong aspects without adding anything truly American at all. But maybe Britons felt the same way when series four contestant Becca constantly talked about being Welsh.
This is actually the second attempt to bring the show Stateside. In the summer of 2013, CBS aired The American Baking Competition with judge Paul Hollywood from Bake Off and hosted by Jeff Foxworthy (it doesnt get more American in a derogatory sense than Jeff Foxworthy). It averaged a disappointing (at least for CBS) 5 million viewers an episode and was not renewed.
Some have theorized that the popularity of the show in the UK has as much to do with British national identity as it does with actual baking challenges, and that is something American audiences certainly dont grasp. Our state fairs are about deep-fried butter and rickety amusement park rides, not fields of daffodils and Victoria sponges (I still dont know what that is, exactly).
Maybe we should just be happy with importing the original and stop trying to retrofit it for our shores. Since we cant even agree on a definition for pudding, well never quite figure out how to put the proof in one.
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