With the recent immigration of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) from the BBC to Channel 4, a change which everyone freaked out about but no one seems to have commented on since the first episode aired in August, I must assume that viewers are largely content with GBBO’s current state.
Of course, I watched the first episode with a heightened awareness of flaws; I didn’t want it to be bad, in fact I wanted to enjoy it, but it is medically impossible for me to be optimistic. Therefore, I was bespectacled with pessimism. I was surprised, honestly, by how… fine it was. Mary Berry’s departure didn’t leave such a gaping hole when Prue Leith was there to fill it. And Prue is fine, she just needs to get herself some non-stomach-churning glasses.
Anyway, the hosting duo of Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding is alright as well. I prefer them to Mel and Sue, but that is a personal comedic preference, I believe. The new hosts and judge, I do not have any problems with. They were, and are not, the subject of my scorn. The first show left me rather pleased.
The second episode, however, began to stir in me simple irritations.
To grant some context: I recently suffered a dreadful syndrome called Binge Watching syndrome. It’s not uncommon among millennials these days, especially with Netflix and others supplying episode after episode of automatically-playing fiction. I fell prey to the syndrome too, only my binge was on Kitchen Nightmares USA. After a few episodes, I began noticing the same things in each. At the start of every episode, the enthusiastic narrator says, “Tonight on Kitchen Nightmares,” before reeling off three things (usually bad food, obnoxious workers and “more importantly, a family breakdown”) which Gordon has to work on if he is to “save” the failing restaurant. From that point on, each episode is a template. The exact same music plays at the exact same point in each episode, the same sound effects are used, and the same things are said in each one-on-one interview, which are peppered throughout the show in the same places each time.
For example, there is always a verbal reaction (clearly filmed after the fact) from the restaurant owner cut in just after Gordon introduces himself to the staff. They say things like, “When Gordon Ramsey walked in I felt nervous but also relieved.” – Cut back to the clip of Ramsey shaking hands with people – Cut back to the restaurant owner, “I felt like this was our last chance, and Gordon was the one to save us.”
It’s the same thing every time. Kind of ironic, really, for a chef who pioneers good food done well to be the star in a televisual equivalent to a fast-food chain.
Of course, I wasn’t too upset with noticing this pattern. It’s obvious, and it’s what the Brits expect from American “reality” television these days. Watch Supernanny USA, watch the Dog Whisperer, you’ll notice the same things from show to show.
And, while British programming obviously does fall victim to these templates too, very often and very obviously, no British reality show ramps up tension as far and as much as American television does (I exclude things like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent in this, because they are live reality shows). Supernanny is a good example; the original, UK Supernanny is a lot quieter and slow. There are not sound effects, there is not so much tension and hyperbolic emotion in every single piece of music played. However, in Supernanny US, this is the case. You can see the contrast in Kitchen Nightmares UK as well.
So, how does this relate to the Great British Bake Off? If you’ve been watching along, and if you’re equally keen-eyed and keen-eared as me (honestly, you don’t have to be keen-eyed or keen-eared, you just have to possess working eyes and ears) you might know where I’m going with this.
The Great British Bake Off is becoming Americanised. By this, I don’t mean it’s being tainted by American culture and programming style, I simply mean it’s beginning to possess the qualities of American shows. Is this a bad thing? Not particularly, depending on your stance. But, since I am reviewing it, I will treat it as abhorrent! It is my duty, after all. Read my username!
Re-watch an episode of GBBO for me. Re-watch two. Either now or when you’re finished reading. Re-watch episodes of it, re-watch all five if you must, but you will notice how everything is the same. Everything is identical. From the re-re-re-recycled music to the over-used reaction shots from contestants, and from the placement of ad breaks to the formulaic structure of the whole thing, it is hard not to realise that GBBO, now, is becoming nothing more than a muffin-tray that editors drag and drop clips into.
I did it, just to show how purely formulaic it is. And, to compare to the American shows, there is indeed over-the-top music. The tension is attempting to be disguised because it is played on instruments like xylophones, glockenspiels and violins, but once you notice it, and once you notice the anxiety-building rumbles of the floor toms, you begin realising that the only reason you’re watching is because you’ve been–
We’ve been hypnotised. That’s it!
The formula! The music! The clips! Paul’s eyes! All of them are instruments designed to hypnotise the masses! We must not succumb to this mental shepherding anymore! Pause your television, throw your laptop across the room, drop your phone in the soufflé you’ve been “inspired” to make!
The formula lulls us into a false sense of security so we’re not afraid to tune in next week. The music produces subtle, Pavlovian reactions in our minds (I bet half of you read ‘Pavlovian’ and thought of pavlovas, not of Pavlov). The clips in the same places of raw human emotion from the contestants strive to ensnare our emotions, so we feel how they feel! And lastly, Paul’s eyes…
It’s impossible to look away.
We are all doomed.
This is not Americanism in the Great British Bake Off.
This is hypnosis.
We are all sheep.
We are all doomed.
We will all become contestants one day.
We will all become bakers one day.
We will all become subservient one day.
GBBO will rise.
GBBO will rise.
GBBO will rise.
Unless you’ve added too much baking powder in which case we’ll rise and deflate again.