Let’s face it: 2022’s Great British Bake Off was something of a disappointment. With overly complex challenges, the horrors of “Mexican Week”, and hosts who were often less than funny, the episodes were often cringey and sometimes culturally appropriative.
However, the 2023 season is a breath of fresh air, returning to the basics that make the show shine. They have finally gotten rid of the national-themed weeks, which were uninformed at best and perpetuated stereotypes at worst. Themes so far have included Cakes, Biscuits, Bread, and Chocolate; the brand-new theme Party Cakes is set to appear in a future episode.
The challenges themselves are also staying traditional. One of the flaws of the 2022 season was that challenges would vary wildly from the theme of the week in an attempt to find something that had never been done on the show before. For example, during 2022’s Bread Week, the showstopper challenge was a smorgastrata, an elaborate sandwich cake with a focus on fillings and little focus on bread itself.
In contrast, the showstopper for Bread Week this year was all about bread: a braided bread centerpiece, made with at least two types of flour. Other challenges have included vertical layer cakes, custard creams, and chocolate tortes: all difficult enough to be interesting, but not so difficult as to be unrealistic.
One flaw still remains — the bakers are still not given enough time for the challenges, especially the technicals. “You didn’t cool it for long enough” is a useless piece of criticism when you didn’t have the time to do so. However, the challenges are still a big improvement over the previous year.
Host Alison Hammond, replacing Matt Lucas, is far better than her predecessor. She’s so excited to be there, and it shows in how she interacts with the bakers: her natural warmth and easy banter make her genuinely funny and engaging, from dancing to cheering the bakers on to even playing improvised cricket with baking materials. She’s there to support the bakers and make them laugh, which makes her comedy much more genuine. Her fellow host, Noel Fielding, seems to be following Hammond’s lead; their interactions feel spontaneous and friendly rather than scripted, and Fielding’s comedy improves with having Hammond as a partner.
Additionally, the kindness and camaraderie inherent to the show’s early success continues to be present. The bakers sometimes help each other during challenges; the hosts will offer hugs or encouragement. While judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood are still critical, they’re not immune to the good vibes — during the fourth episode, when one of the bakers fell sick and had to miss two challenges, the judges chose to not eliminate anyone and to eliminate two bakers the following week instead.
Will it keep its charm even as the season goes on and challenges become more difficult? That’s still to be determined. But whether you’re a long-time fan of the show or just want to watch something relaxing, it’s definitely worth giving this season a shot.