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5 Reasons to Embrace the New ‘Great British Baking Show’

Three TV recommendations for the weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news

Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, and Sandi Toksvig

This post originally appeared on September 7, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Happy Friday. If you’re reading this message, it means you survived the first post-Labor Day, back-to-school week of 2018. Congratulations. Now it’s time to blow off some steam by eating, drinking, and basking in the warm glow of your TV set (or smartphone/laptop/tablet screen). Here are notes on three TV shows to check out this weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news.

The ‘Baking Show’ proves that change is hard, but good sometimes

Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig
Netflix/Great British Baking Show

This week, American audiences got their first taste of the Great British Baking Show 2.0, and much like the original U.K. launch last year, some viewers have been understandably confused and/or enraged by the host switch-up. Mary, Sue, and Mel are out; Prue, Sandi, and Noel are In.

I understand the backlash, because it always sucks when a show you love makes changes that aren’t creatively motivated. But while blasting through Season 5 last week, I couldn’t help but realize that... I actually like this new version better than the old one. Here are five reasons to embrace the new Great British Baking Show (minor spoilers herein).

  1. It feels livelier than before: While Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were the show’s daffy aunts, Noel Fielding (of Old Gregg fame) and Sandi Toksvig are like two members of a fringe theater troupe who just crashed the pastry party. Their weird little intro skits and off-kilter banter with the bakers are among my favorite moments of the new season. And while Prue Leith lacks the regal sweetness of Mary Berry, she has more gravitas during the judgment rounds, and genuinely seems to have a blast chatting with the competitors.
  2. It’s more colorful, too: The newcomers are definitely power-dressing throughout their first seasons of the show. Noel’s got the patterned silk blouses on lock, while Sandi is rocking TV’s freshest paisley track jackets. Prue must certainly have a closet full of technicolor tunics and chunky necklaces (please do take a minute to read an appreciation of that jewelry from Eater’s deputy editor, Erin DeJesus). The desserts this time around also seem more colorful and outlandish — a few of them wouldn’t even be out of place on Nailed It.
  3. The lovable underdog: At 19 years old, Liam Charles is the youngest baker on the show, and he’s clearly the least experienced, but (minor spoiler alert) he stays in the tent for a while thanks to his quick thinking and enthusiasm for the game. He’s also got the best one-liners, and great chemistry with Paul Hollywood in particular. It’s no wonder that Liam is getting his own baking show in the U.K.
  4. A pastry star is born: There are several incredibly talented bakers this season, but army officer-turned-aspiring stunt woman Sophie Falco is the competitor whom you want to root for. She’s not a virtuosic pastry genius, but rather an amateur baker with the right instincts and a healthy competitive spirit, who (minor spoiler alert) has an amazing run on the show.
  5. Noel is the secret ingredient: At first glance, the lanky comedian with the Keith Richards hairdo and cheeky sense of humor might seem out of place in the big white tent… and yet, like adding sea salt to a caramel-chocolate chip cookie, Noel is a surprise addition that enhances the flavor of everything. Fielding is not a provocateur or a pest, but rather someone who, like everyone else in the tent, respects the art of baking, and loves the thrill of the game.

Like Absolutely Fabulous, Blur’s Parklife, or any P.G. Wodehouse novel, the Great British Baking Show is a grand celebration of British eccentricity. The only major fault of this season, as my colleague Chris Fuhrmeister points out, is that Paul Hollywood gives out way too many handshakes.

All 10 episodes of The Great British Baking Show are now streaming on Netflix.

Streaming recommendations du jour

Netflix/Somebody Feed Phil

Somebody Feed Phil, “Venice”

Watch it on: Netflix

The gist: If you didn’t get a chance to get away this summer, the Venice episode of this new travel series from Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal might just feel like an hour-long mini-vacation. Rosenthal spends a lot of time mixing and mingling with local restaurateurs and food experts, and he takes a detour to Modena to visit acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura, who treats the host to a meal at his world-renowned restaurant Osteria Francescana. As usual, the dishes all look gorgeous, but in this case, the food is slightly upstaged by the shots of the Floating City. “Venice is like a movie that’s been art directed,” Rosenthal remarks early in the episode. ”Every single place you look is another stunning visual.”

The Office, “Dinner Party”

Watch it on: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Video

The gist: Over the last year, actor John Krasinski has morphed into Hollywood’s favorite new action hero/horror auteur. That’s all well and good, but seeing the actor promote Jack Ryan and A Quiet Place only made me want to revisit The Office, the show that propelled Krasinski to stardom in the first place. And there is no finer episode of that great sitcom than “Dinner Party,” wherein three couples take part in one of the most hilariously awkward meals ever committed to film.

This episode has everything people hate about dinner parties: the obligatory house tour, tedious parlor games, weird food that seemingly takes forever to cook, and couples who bicker with each other in full view of their guests. As in many of the great Office episodes, Krasinski’s silent reactions are priceless.

It’s a tough call, but this might be the one Office episode to rule them all.

Also of note: Former Eater contributor Max Silvestri has a new 15-minute stand-up special on Netflix that includes a hilarious bit about smug, spandex-wearing cycle bros who kill the vibe at the beer garden. Silvestri also drops this nugget of wisdom: “Exercise classes are like cults, but you don’t even get to die.”

In other entertainment news…

Have a great weekend, everyone, and if you’re looking for a fall-aspirational dish to make, consider taking a peek at Ina Garten’s herb and apple stuffing recipe.