***Spoilers for GBBO Series 8 follow. Spoilers***
As some of you may be aware, here at Oohlo we’re a little bit of obsessed with The Great British Bake Off.
Just a little. Just a tad.
As such, we were counted amongst the devastated millions (MILLIONS!) last year who had their hearts broken when it was announced that the show might be ending. For depressing and frustrating monetary reasons, the BBC could no longer afford to pay for the show year after year and for a few terrifying days, it seemed the most relaxing, inspiring, uplifting show on TV was over.
But then, strange news came. Channel 4, the ‘rebellious’ (once, maybe) rogue of UK television had made a daring and frightfully smart move in buying up the rights to the Bake Off for themselves.
It was a glimmer of hope, though of course things were to be different, and new, and frightening.
It came as no surprise that long time judge Paul Hollywood would follow the show to its new home. To quote beloved (and now former) hosts Mel and Sue, Paul ‘followed the dough’, and what is, at this point, his only truly bankable career move.
Mel and Sue chose to leave their hosting roles on the Bake Off, a decision I can’t imagine came easily or lightly. Next, word came that favourite judge and basically favourite Human Being of literally everyone, Mary Berry, would also remain behind at the BBC.
So we were left with the question of who could possibly take over the now vacant positions. Rumours swirled, and every Cool British Comedian was linked to the open jobs. Richard Ayoade, who is these days linked with literally any open job going on British TV, was a leading and popular choice for a period.
Then things got … unexpected. Prue Lieth was announced as the new judge, not a bad choice considering her career in food media and catering but a curious fit when pondering the dynamic she and Paul could share. She’s a marked contrast to Mary Berry in both her style and approach. Or, she should be. More on her in a moment.
Then we learned who would be hosting and the news was equal parts thrilling and baffling; Mighty Boosh alum and legendary Professional British Oddball, Noel Fielding, joined by the delightfully acerbic Dane Brit comedian and activist, Sandi Toksvig.
A quick history for any audiences outside the UK who may not know who the new hosts are; Sandi Toksvig is best known to most of us as a comedian and regular guest on adored British celebrity panel shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Would I Lie To You, Eight Out of Ten Cats/EofTC Does Countdown, and of course, QI. She’s a motivated feminist, a badass, hilarious and if you are something of a stranger to her work, remedy that quickly.
Noel Fielding is an actor, writer, musician, comedian, artist, moonchild and honestly, probably an alien from a dimension where Glitter is a state of being. He shot to fame in the abstract and delightful, The Mighty Boosh and since the show’s end, has quietly positioned himself as the coolest weirdo in Britain, as he shuffles between quiz shows and brings new levels of weird to every public appearance.
Fun Noel Fact; He played the ‘original’ Baby Driver in the Gareth Edwards directed music video that became the basis for this summer’s box office cinema smash of the same name.
The audiences … we braced ourselves. These were not bad choices per se, but, unexpected ones. For some, like me, my sworn blood vow to the Dark Gods to never watch the new GBBO … suddenly took a back seat. I like Noel. I like Sandi. And I like the Bake Off. Could this work?
The answer we finally learned this past Tuesday the 29th of August, after months of waiting, speculation, anxiety and concern was … I mean, yeah, pretty much.
We’re only one episode in, so there is plenty of time and space for the show to grow into its new settings, but if the first look is any indication, it probably won’t be a rough journey.
If there is one major failing in the NuGBBO it’s their attempts to avoid mentioning the BBC show. There are one or two acknowledgements but it never quite goes far enough, and there’s just a slightly odd feeling overshadowing the whole thing.
That’s about the worst thing I can say. Oh, that and it SUCKS to watch the Bake Off with adverts. For its many failings, the BBC is advert free, and we’ve always been better off for it. Ad breaks between the rounds on Channel 4 are one change we’ll all struggle to accept.
But what of the new stars? …Well, so far they’re … serviceable. I wish I could say more, but we’re one episode in and everyone is clearly still adjusting to their new positions. The potential is there, I’ll give them that. Sandi and Noel are just plain likable people and while they are no Mel and Sue, the foundation is there for them to make a pretty special comedic pairing, once they really find their groove.
In fact, that’s about the only other let down I can really think of; for all our fears things could get weird, it wasn’t actually weird enough. Noel was in the tamest outfit he owns, wore basically no make-up (!!), and they kept their commentary and interactions with the bakers not only safe, but arguably safer than Mel and Sue were by GBBO’s last year on the Beeb.
Once again, I’m hoping that’s just first night jitters.
Prue as a judge is perfectly acceptable too, though she didn’t make much of an impression in the first episode. So far, her contribution to the show is her considerable resume as an expert on food, but her personality hasn’t landed just yet. She’ll get there, I’m sure.
And the rest? The good news is, aside from the cast and the slightly awkward vibe (akin to that feeling of having to be around the ex you had a mostly amicable break up with), the charm is still intact, helped by the the fact it’s the same country home setting, the same tent and set up up of the cooking spaces, the same challenges; even the same old Paul bringing a much needed grounding and sense of familiarity.
As for the bakers? We have nothing to fear. Bake Off is and always will root out the best, kindest, most lovable Britons that this island has to offer and this year is no different.
I can’t name all of them here but standouts so far; Yan, the molecular biologist who turned out an truly astonishing illusion cake in just the second challenge.
Liam, the baby of the season at 18, who is hoping to make baking more acceptable for his generation to be excited about. He’s just charm personified, and definitely the baker I’m the most excited to watch develop and grow.
Julia, who was born in Siberia and now makes a home in the UK — and my heart — has the potential to reach Disney Princess levels of adorable/fierce.
Of course, my favourites to win and yes, the fact they are both from my home city of Liverpool and speak in strong Scouse accents has absolutely 100% biased me in their favour; Kate and Flo.
Kate is an adorable, tiny Scouse girl who is also an apprentice blacksmith who tries to construct an arboretum out of sugar glass for her showstopper challenge, because she is a fearless badass.
And Flo? Flo is a Scouse grandma who manages to make Paul (and the world) fall deeply in love with her while throwing sass around the room like sprinkles on a cupcake. She also turns out a mind-blowing watermelon illusion cake, and I’m working on a theory she only lost star baker out of fears Paul would be accused of bias. Because, she should have won, and she will win the show. Mark my words: If she does not, The North Will Remember.
Should you tune into NuGBBO? Definitely. It deserves a real chance to find its feet and if we are going to be angry at anyone that it had to change homes, look at who cut BBC funding …
The new show is different in a lot of big ways, and the absence of Mary, Mel and Sue is absolutely felt. While its own charm is so far hidden by the shadow of the old show, there is something there worth coming back for. I will be coming back, even if it’s just to see how good, or indeed, bad, it may get.
If there’s one reason you should definitely come back, it’s the bakers. Even in this first new episode the bakers have clearly bonded as good friends, and are at all times falling over each other to offer help or support. They are magically talented people, good people, who deserve showcasing just for being who they are. That’s what The Great British Bake Off has always been about, and should always be about.
The Bake Off returns on Tuesday nights on Channel 4 at 8pm, tune in on September 5th to see episode 2. Viewers stateside must patiently wait for the series … TBA.