Shows like "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who" are perhaps America's favorite British TV imports. But when it comes to reality television, the U.S. takes the title of founder and finest crafter of small-screen drama. One U.K. reality show is taking American households by surprise, however, and it takes the most unassuming form of reality entertainment — a baking competition.
"The Great British Bake Off," which airs on PBS as "The Great British Baking Show," is a baking competition in which amateur bakers compete for a crystal cake stand engraved with the show's title — really, that's all they get. Each week, the bakers gather in a tent to bake breads, cakes and pastries no one has ever heard of in hopes of being named the week's "star baker." The "star baker" earns the honor of wearing what appears to be a plastic sheriff's badge during the next week's competition and the satisfaction of knowing they were the last person the judges were thinking of sending home that week.
Speaking of judges, it goes without saying that the judges of such an unusual competition would be an unlikely pair of baking experts. Paul Hollywood plays the typical "mean British judge" role we've all come to recognize in reality competition shows, while Mary Berry stands in as everyone's favorite old (probably tipsy) aunt.
With all of its strangeness, "The Great British Bake Off" is actually quite boring in design. The contestants bake three dishes each episode, and one person is sent home each week. This doesn't sound too different from American cooking shows like "Hell's Kitchen" and "Master Chef," but this British baking show actually couldn't be more different than its American counterparts.
Take a look at this clip from "Master Chef," wherein a dramatic rivalry forms between a very dislikable contestant named Ryan and his target of choice, Monti (also, Ryan gives a live crab to a blind contestant):
Now, watch one of the most dramatic moments of "The Great British Bake Off," wherein Nancy decides to prove her dough in a microwave instead of a proving drawer:
It's easy to see that the reality television models of these two shows are drastically different. While it's not uncommon to see American contestants sabotaging each other and stirring up drama, bakers in "GBBO" are simply here for the dough — literally, because they don't win any huge cash prize at the end of the season.
Maybe that's what makes "The Great British Bake Off" so intriguing. Sure, watching someone's pastries get a bit over-baked is the closest a viewer will get to edge-of-their-seat drama, but the genuine attention to the personhood of each of the contestants is really quite beautiful.
The emotions conveyed in "GBBO" are real and untainted by the artificialness of sensationalized production.
If you're fed up with reality television's typical antics and want something refreshing, try this odd British treat. The fan base is quite large and growing. Someone will be there to hold you as you cry with Martha over the soggy bottom on her tart.