For over a decade, The Great British Bake-Off has been reliable, mostly drama and conflict-free entertainment. The endearing program, which puts Britain’s best home bakers in a tent and asks them to compete in themed challenges each week that challenge their creative and technical skills for a grand prize of… nothing except the title of winner of The Great British Bake-Off, was once the television equivalent of a weighted blanket. The tent is filled with pastel cabinets and appliances, plants, and fairy lights. All contestants are super nice to each other. When sending contestants off the show, hosts spend valuable screen time explaining how sad they are to do so. Judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith (and formerly Mary Berry), while honest, were never mean. Even when they complained of soggy bottoms or underbaked cakes, they did it softly and kindly, with a compliment to balance out the criticism.
Not much has changed visually: same tent, same pastel cabinets, and appliances, same fairy lights, the contestants are still obsessed with each other and the hosts still give their long, dramatic speeches about how much they regret sending anyone home. But the series, now in its 13th season (the 10th collection on Netflix) has made a dark, weird pivot that is so different from what the show used to be that I wonder if I am hallucinating.
Despite its wholesome quality and overall pleasantness that was never too nauseatingly pleasant, the show has had its dilemmas. There was Iain’s disastrous baked Alaska in season five, which sent the contestants, judges, and world into a tailspin. But now, the show has gotten darker. In the current season, the quirky collection of bakers, who are the truest home bakers the show has ever seen, are sloppier than ever (although who am I, someone who can barely make boxed brownies, to say). This has made judges Paul and Prue meaner, and quite honestly tired of it all. Hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas’s unhinged, occasionally admirable bits feel like they were conceived ten minutes before call time, and you can see and feel their guilt as Paul and Prue are harsher and harsher on the humble contestants. The season’s themes, from “Mexican Week” to “Halloween Week,” and challenges which include tacos, masks, and weird s’mores, have completely lost the plot.
While the earlier episodes contained a hint of the series’ new “am I on drugs or am I watching The Great British Bake-Off?” vibe, it was Mexican Week that really solidified its dark turn, with offensive stereotypes and ignorance of an entire culture that was meant to be celebrated. There were also some very interesting pronunciations of quite common Mexican dishes including pico de gallo and guacamole.
Then during “Bread Week,” there was a pizza that looked like this, although to be fair to contestant Carole, she knew that she put too much cheese on it immediately.
The judges are snappier, and so are the contestants. This is, of course, The Great British Bake-Off’s version of snappy, so it is still a quite pleasant version of snappy, but it’s a huge departure from the chummy precedent. In one episode of the current season, contestant Dawn fires back at judge Paul Hollywood when he says that she reminds him of his mother.
In another episode, Prue suggests that not many people make spring rolls (which is more ignorant than weird).
In the quarter-final, co-host Noel Fielding says that he is “traumatized” and Paul Hollywood straight up says that he is disappointed with the contestants.
Alas, this all seems to be a result of the series deal with Netflix. Since 2018, the series has had a deal with Netflix. New seasons air in the U.K., and the episodes are available to stream on Netflix stateside days later. A few years into the deal, and Netflix’s signature and exhausting gimmicky meme-thirsty influence is all over The Great British Bake-Off. An attempt to make the show younger and goofier has worked against it. What was once a relaxing, reliable, and already goofy time, is now a vaguely depressing and exhausting one for all involved from hosts to judges, contestants to the audience.
Essentially, the answer to the question, “is The Great British Bake-Off okay?” is a resounding, trembly no.