Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Honking Box Preview: The Great British Bake-Off

One year ago, when BBC Two allowed - or arguably, steered - The Restaurant into a laughable spiral of self-parody, it marked the premature end of a fresh, interesting elimination show which stood head and shoulders above its contemporaries. Quite why such poor decisions were made shall remain a mystery, but at least BBC Two have gone some way to clawing back a bit of respect, in the form of its newest food-based reality masterpiece.

So as The Great British Bake-Off reaches its grand final, we thought it'd be apt to celebrate its brilliance. And the two most basic components of the show do that fairly easily: (1) Mel & Sue; (2) food. Television doesn't get much better, really, does it? However, when you consider that the food in question is specifically within the realm of baking, the drool factor is at least quadrupled, easily trumping the likes of Masterchef (though no matter how good the food is on Masterchef, its repugnant hosts soon put you off). Cakes, breads, biscuits, tarts, pasties... this truly is food porn.

And the overall level of talent far surpasses that of The Restaurant. Granted, baking barely covers a fraction of the skills required of competitors on The Restaurant, but any of the ten contestants featured on The Great British Bake-Off would have made an admirable and deserving winner - rather unlike certain individuals who felt wrapping boiled carrots and green beans in a tortilla constituted Mexican cuisine, or the inexcusable champions who used cocktails to wallpaper over diabolical cooking. The closest we've come to such madness on The Great British Bake-Off is Jasminder's peculiar Jelly Tots bread, and even then, it invoked a morbid mixture of disgust and genuine curiosity to sample.

The final, which takes place in the gardens of Fulham Palace, sees the remaining three contestants - flowery mumsy-type Miranda; slightly-barbed Northern grafter-type Ruth; and the geektacular Edd - donning their flour-caked aprons to whip up their bestest efforts yet. From the earliest stages, a Ruth/Miranda final seemed fairly likely, though it's been hard to fault Edd's consistent efforts. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of peculiar lesbian child Jonathan, whose elimination a few weeks back was unprecedented. Our money is on Edd, but whoever lifts the trophy, which we imagine is a gold-plated croissant (or at least, it should be) will be more than deserving.

Food aside (but only momentarily, don't worry), the return of Mel & Sue as partnership is, in itself, televisual ambrosia. Ever since Light Lunch, the ultimate in bunk-off TV, they've each gone on to entertain thoroughly outside of the pairing (Sue's constant outshining of Giles Coren as The Supersizers; Mel's uproarious Barbra Streisand turn on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy), but as a double-act they're greater than the sum of their parts. And although their on-screen interaction is minimal this series, their hilarity and casual warmth - such as interviewing contestants while swigging from a mug of tea, or freely nibbling on necessary ingredients - is a key component of the show's brilliance.

And kudos to Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood in their roles as judges, whose encouragement is admirable and whose criticism is always constructive, fair, and doesn't see them using their authority as a power trip to compensate for their own issues. *COUGH* Alan Sugar, Arlene Phillips, Simon Cowell, Diddy, Richard Park, Pixie Lott, Craig Revel Horwood, Gordon Ramsay, that bitchy Australian thing off Dancing On Ice, Nigel Lythgoe, Gregg Wallace, John Torode, Sharleen Spiteri *COUGH*

And that's perhaps testament to The Great British Bake-Off on the whole - it's nice. Not necessarily in a twee, inoffensive way, but the mixture of lovable hosts, affable judges, talented contestants, interesting quasi-educational moments, picturesque settings and absolute fuckloads of cake makes for an overall highly enjoyable viewing experience. And furthermore, it's rather exciting to be entering the final of a TV show where its winner isn't a foregone conclusion. Tune in on Tuesday at 8pm to see the finalists take on their ultimate arduous challenge - although, let's face it, nothing will be working harder than the saliva glands of the entire viewership.

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