Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.This Thursday, the finale of The Great American Baking Show airs. The program is a spin-off of the U.K.’s The Great British Bake Off (GBBO), which happens to be my favorite television show. Near the end of 2016, the GBBO made headlines not just for its charming cast and creative cooking, but for announcements about a dramatic network switch and star personalities who will and won’t follow the show to Channel 4. Judge Mary Berry will not be making that move, but she did hop over the big pond for the American rendition of the show (not that it’s made much difference to the lackluster ratings in the U.S., says Whitney Filloon). As the show wraps up its tenure with the BBC in the U.K. and its holiday run here in the states, it’s leaving me with a question that always seems to come up at the end of Christmas: What now? The Bake Off is a simple show and a joyful one. It feels simpler to me than the Christmas season, with all its hectic meaning-making activity.I love the playful banter between Mary Berry and fellow judge Paul Hollywood on the original GBBO, and I think Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins host with a rare combination of cleverness and kindness. Only Hollywood will stick with the show when it moves to Channel 4, prompting many viewers (myself included) to feel like it’s the end of the era. In baking, as in Bake Off, chemistry matters. I enjoy and watch The Great American Baking Show, but already it lacks that spark and signature British wit. It’s wholesome and sweet, and those aren’t characteristics I undervalue in the world of reality television, but it loses some of its magic in translation.
Consider the reprisal (aired in the U.K. on Christmas Day and Boxing Day), The Great Christmas Bake Off, which brings together GBBO bakers from previous seasons for one holiday-themed episode. With all of the original cast in place, The Great Christmas Bake Off is an opportunity to tease the bakers about their past mishaps and to catch up with them. And through both episodes, there’s a sense of camaraderie, warmth, and affection that at least feels real. In so many reality television programs, a contestant is eliminated and there’s little in the way of leave-taking, so it stands out that there are always hugs and handshakes (between contestants and judges) in the GBBO. It’s something that the American version tries to replicate, but perhaps it lacks the history, and thus the nostalgia factor, that seems automatic with a holiday program based on a national favorite.If the SNL spoof of GBBO is any indication, the politeness and formality of the show just don’t jive with American audiences, who don’t necessarily appreciate a contest where “the prize is the honor of being the best baker, and being British.” The SNL quip captures the spirit of the competition, but no matter how long I wax nostalgic about how great the show is, the fact remains that it’s changing. The season finale of the already-less-delightful American edition approaches, and there’s no going back to the BBC for GBBO. So, what now? I’ve watched these shows as part of my family’s holiday season, and it’s easy to feel a correlation (however personal or imaginary) between the post-Christmas letdown and the inevitable changes in store for my favorite show.
Maybe that’s part of the problem with the American show—that it ends when the holidays feel long gone. Even those of us who celebrate the Christmas season until Epiphany can feel like that momentous birth of Christ is over. We slip so easily back into ordinary time. Perhaps that’s what I appreciate most about the Bake Off, that the tent feels like a world apart, a separate, special place where everything is wholesome and happy and there’s an abundance of great baked goods to choose from. The Bake Off is a simple show and a joyful one. It feels simpler to me than the Christmas season, with all its hectic meaning-making activity.
Maybe that’s part of it, too—that the Bake Off means something without trying so hard. It fulfills a longing I have for joy and wholesomeness and simplicity that I can never quite capture in my Christmases or my ordinary times. Baking is about balance, and that’s a keyword that’s hard for me to achieve. So as I contemplate the end of the Bake Off as I know it and its intersection with the end of Christmas, I can’t help but think about the challenge of the Nativity. It always leads to the cross. Every time. But it always leads back to the birth in Bethlehem, too. I may be walking toward Lent, with Christmas behind me, but Christ always brings me full circle. There may be no way to recapture the magic of the Bake Off in any of its revisions, but the mystery of my faith is an infinite loop. So, what now? I’m walking away from Christmas, but I’m walking toward it, too.