cooking reality

A brief interruption from your regularly scheduled political programming to discuss The Great British Baking Show.

I want to make the argument that this show is genuinely great. Not just a feel-good cooking show oozing with quaint British charm, not just a rousing volley in the post-ironic/new-sincerity wholesome media wave, but something that is worth watching for its own merits.

Before I go further, let me drop these opinions to provide some context:

1. reality tv is a cancer developed from our collective apathy and narcissism, a toxic genre that preys upon humanity’s basest instincts for voyeurism.

2. the skyrocketing popularity of cooking shows is something that future historians will write about as evidence that we, as a society, have lost touch with ourselves and each other as human beings. it is an absurd reality where we have somehow come to prefer watching people prepare and consume gourmet food rather than enriching our own lives, particularly as a billion people go hungry and obesity is the greatest threat to our longevity.

The Great British Baking Show is both a cooking show and reality tv. I believe it dodges all the failures of its peers and predecessors with a combination of sharp but minimalist editing, great casting for participants, and by letting humans be humans wherever possible. What results is a heartwarming and enriching composition that is genuinely educational at times.

Paul and Mary are model judges. Their criticisms are always fair, succinct but dense with expertise about the craft, rarely personal or overly familiar, but still sensitive and human. They never shame or twist the knife. They genuinely want everyone to do their very best. This is exactly what constructive criticism ought to look like.

There is never any mention of rewards or prizes. If there’s money on the line, it’s never spoken of. There’s no gimmicks or mechanics to the competition. The only thing that matters is making the judges happy, and this works because the participants have such obvious respect and admiration for Paul and Mary.

The participants love the craft for its own sake, and this means there is zero need to generate drama or force conflict. You get to watch creative, talented people work hard. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed. You get to know them through their work, not as some trope pulled from a hat by the producers.

I recommend this show without qualification. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit, and that is something I find myself needing quite a bit recently.

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