Today, the Great American Baking Show is set to make its triumphant comeback to the Roku Channel. It’s been a long and rough road for the series, which aired for five seasons on ABC — a fact you probably don’t remember, because the series was so unremarkable, and also because one of its judges was an alleged creep. But this latest take on GABS (as I’ll be calling it) has real potential to finally succeed, thanks in large part to the fact that it is, finally, just like the Great British Bake Off.
The most obvious difference between this new season of GABS and GBBO is the hosts. In place of Noel Fielding and new British co-host Alison Hammond, actress Ellie Kemper and comedian Zach Cherry are in charge of hosting duties. Their stunts and antics are, as with the British version, objectively corny, but they do bring an element of wholesome charm to the series. Otherwise, the tent is the same; the format for the challenges is largely the same; and the judges are the same.
Those judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, are as they always are, the former doling out handshakes and the latter making pearl-clutching comments about how many calories must be in this cookie bar or that cake. The show’s nine contestants also have that same quirky, likable vibe that made GBBO such a smash. There aren’t any huge personalities here, just a bunch of competent bakers who are kind to each other and perpetually nervous about their own bakes. It’s that combination of endearing and humble that makes for a great Bake Off contestant, and this season’s cast has that in abundance.
There is, however, a concerted effort to make the show “American,” especially with regard to the bakes themselves. Instead of steamed puddings and crumbly biscuits, the contestants are tasked with baking cookie bars, babka and, for some reason, burgers, across the six new episodes. On a technical level, these bakers are just as talented as their British counterparts, and because the bakes are more familiar to the stateside viewer, you might find yourself heading to the kitchen to recreate something you’ve just seen in a showstopper challenge.
Spiritually, though, GABS works because it is so strikingly similar to the show that inspired it, managing to replicate the GBBO magic without feeling like an inferior knock-off. The Great British Bake Off is not a format that needs tinkering or tampering. It succeeds because its combination of beautiful baked goods and relatable personalities sucks you in organically, without resorting to gimmicks or tricks. Some of the challenges on GABS are, arguably, still a little too tough — who can make great macarons in an hour and a half? — but that just adds a dose of drama to a show that can sometimes be a bit quiet, especially compared to the unhinged American reality series that many of us are used to.
And maybe it’s because Paul and Prue are both there, or maybe it’s because the most recent season of GBBO was so disappointing, but in these six episodes, GABS represents a return to Bake Off’s roots, something that signals hope for the show’s future in general, no matter which continent is being represented. Clearly, the executives at Roku Channel agree: the new show has already been renewed for a second season, along with another holiday special starring an all-celebrity cast.
Really, all we’re missing with the American version is the opportunity to learn a few fun facts about Wales and Scotland and all those charming British accents. And while it’s strange to feel optimistic about a television series in 2023, especially in the midst of a writers strike, the rebooted Great American Baking Show might actually be the start of something that sticks.