‘The Great British Baking Show’
By Nathan Englander
Lately, in a bit of blatant off-label use, I’ve been self-administering doses of “The Great British Baking Show,” Season 3. I watch it as a kind of holistic cure for the overwhelming stress of American life in 2017. That and Bulleit Bourbon are about the only two things that work.
I stumbled upon “Great British Baking” relief just as I was coming to terms with the fact that the source of my upset was reality TV itself. All that manufactured truth leaking out into real life, and the fictional personalities following behind and wreaking havoc along with it.
There I was, praying that Dennis Rodman, of “Celebrity Rehab,” might ease nuclear tensions via his connection to the Oval Office (see: “Celebrity Apprentice 2”) when it all became clear. The path to easing my own tensions was more reality TV.
It’s the same as having a bloody mary for breakfast to chase a hangover away. To back it up with real science: Polio was eradicated with a polio vaccine. And what is that vaccine made of? Just a tiny bit of polio, of course.
For the uninitiated, “The Great British Baking Show” unfolds in a kind of postcolonial Garden of Eden, in a tent set atop a thick carpet of lawn. Inside it, every contestant gets his or her own identical oven and mixer, and a stretch of counter on which to knead. An unseen clock is set, a task dispensed and then those hopefuls get to work at the cry of “Bake!”
Despite its being a food show, it neither distracts us with hunger nor fills us with want, as most of the time the froufrou cakes assigned are so far from anything anyone would ever choose to eat — they’re too sweet, or too creamy, or ridiculously complex. We cheer at home as a prison governor delivers a museum-worthy lion’s head sculpted completely out of bread.
The pair of judges who hand down the verdicts are the onomatopoetic foodies Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Never have two people looked more like the sound of their names: he of the piercing eyes and flirtatious first bite, and she, the gentler and more senior, apt to declare something to be absolutely “scrummy.” They don’t ridicule, bait or pit contestants against one another. They don’t baldly exploit the personal.
In this dark age of walls rising up along with old hatreds, the show is magically unwilling to acknowledge anything beyond what comes out of the ovens. My all-time favorite contestant, Nadiya Hussain, whipped up wedding cakes, iced buns and a chocolate peacock while wearing a hijab. Not once did anyone bring up religion or race or note that she covers her hair.
While out from under that tent, in a world beyond the safety of screens, our reality-TV president (of “WrestleMania” IV, V and VII and “The All New Mickey Mouse Club”) threatens to strip health care from actual American children and annihilate countries filled with people who live and breathe, there is something to be said for an hour of fantasy in which success is based on merit, kindness reigns and the ultimate price paid is ejection from the warmth of that KitchenAid Eden and a walk across a verdant lawn.