At one point during The Great British Baking Show “Desserts Week” on Netflix this weekend, long-time judge Paul Hollywood half-jokingly declared, “I’ve lost all faith.” Sure, he said it to the struggling (but ultimately safe) Matty Edgell with a laugh, but the bottom line was, he had lost all faith! After the mess the bakers made of the Technical Challenge, he was ready to write all six remaining bakers off completely. While everyone managed to get a Meringue Bombe Showstopper in front of Paul and fellow judge Prue Leith, does Paul’s commentary count as more than just a cheeky aside? Could it be that we’re all losing faith in The Great British Baking Show‘s magical ability to soothe our nerves and inspire our sweeter tendencies? Does Paul speak for all of us or has this latest installment of The Great British Baking Show been a triumphant return to form?
In short: did this season of The Great British Baking Show do enough to put the series back on the top of the reality programming heap? Or did it merely prolong the franchise’s slow crawl into obsolescence?
There was a lot of chatter in the months leading up to the 2023 season of The Great British Baking Show that Season 11 (aka Collection 11 on Netflix and Series 14 in the UK) would be something of a reset for a program that had seemingly lost its way. The early weeks certainly did go down a treat, thanks in huge part to the positive energy brought by new co-host Alison Hammond. However, as the season’s gone on, there have been signs of judging shenanigans and some pretty disastrous bakes. For context, Paul’s comment that he’d lost all faith specifically followed what is probably the worst Technical Challenge in Great British Baking Show history. Tasha Stones was the only baker to produce anything remotely edible for the judges, which is wild when you consider steamed puddings are sort of a classic staple of the Bake Off tent.
So what’s going on? Is this year’s edition of The Great British Baking Show a lost cause? Or are we — like Paul — overreacting?
As a long-time Great British Baking Show fan and professional critic, I’m of two minds over this year’s season so far. The good news is I think The Great British Baking Show Season 11 is a massive improvement over last year’s trainwreck. I’ve only found myself occasionally frustrated this season, while last year I was regularly screaming at my screen. In case you forgot, “Mexican Week,” wasn’t the only crime committed by the producers, judges, co-hosts, or bakers last year. We also got a pizza challenge that illustrated how far the show had strayed from the light and Paul and Prue made it a habit to undercut the season’s eventual winner, Syabira Yusoff, because she was so determined to be creative with the briefs!
This year, the producers have eschewed the challenges that veered away from baking and into cooking territory — thank goodness! — and have kept most of their rude critiques on a subtle, passive aggressive channel. We haven’t seen a single nation’s culture ripped to bits by Paul Hollywood and the challenges have emphasized substance over style. Furthermore, the casting this year felt a bit closer to the earlier seasons, when the tent was full of understated nerds versus camera-ready influencers.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room. I love The Great British Baking Show. I will probably continue to love The Great British Baking Show for the rest of my life. However, I’m fully aware that The Great British Baking Show might never be able to recapture the lightning in a bottle magic it wielded about five years ago. The show was a modest cult hit when it came to PBS and then Prime in the mid 2010s, but exploded in popularity when it landed on Netflix. The zeitgeist was not just ready for it back then, but hungry for a sweet alternative to the madness of the late ’10s. That moment in time has shifted and no matter what changes the producers of The Great British Baking Show make to adjust the show’s winning formula, they can’t turn back the clock.
This is, overall, a pretty decent season of The Great British Baking Show! But that might not begood enough for a very different, much more discerning, 2023 Netflix audience.
There are only three episodes left in the 2023 season of The Great British Baking Show. Only five bakers remain in the tent: Dan Hunter, Josh Smalley, Tasha Stones, Cristy Sharp, and Matty Edgell. All of them have done enough throughout the season to earn their spots (even if that means they’ve forced our beloved Saku out before the Quarterfinals). Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith haven’t been perfectly fair in their judging, but overall, they’ve been better than some years past. Noel Fielding still gets the giggles and causes mayhem in the tent, but Alison Hammond’s kind energy makes it feel more tolerable than in years past.
This has been far from the worst season of The Great British Baking Show, but it’s not the best, either. The Great British Baking Show might never again reach the heights of its critical and commercial glory days, but then, I’m not sure that matters to me. I’m just thankful it’s still there for me every fall as the days grow colder and the nights stretch longer. Because even a mediocre season of The Great British Baking Show is still damn fine TV.