The Great British Bake Off is the moral palate cleanser we need after a summer of Love Island
The diametric opposite to ITV2's gladiatorial romance show, Bake Off will smother you with cheerfulness – possibly to the point of suffocation
It’s been eight years since the Teletubbies were run out of their natural habitat. Young parents with a penchant for baking may have taken over their utopian world instead, but aside from this population overhaul, it looks much the same – vibrant bucolic surroundings, mild sense of delirium. The Tubbytronic Superdome was demolished, a less claustrophobic marquee put in, and sentient blue vacuum cleaner (“the Noo-noo”) replaced with an equivalently surreal Noel Fielding, but otherwise little has changed.
Yes, The Great British Bake Off is back for a ninth series. The nation’s Cath Kidston comfort blanket and sugar-coated anxiolytic. Channel 4’s great acquisition and ratings behemoth. The fondant terrible.
The show’s refusal to depart from Teletubbian dogma, a sort of “everything is wonderful” optimism beloved by fans during its time on the BBC, is probably for the best. In part, this is because Britain already has its hands full with Brexit, and might buckle under the weight of more protest, but it’s also because Bake Off is the moral palate cleanser we all needed after eight long, hateful, and fiercely enjoyable weeks of Love Island.
Bake Off and Love Island have proven to be the two shows capable not only of surviving a general reality TV fatigue that’s set in, but of thriving in spite of it. They both dominate social media conversation and fill the “well it’s something to watch isn’t it?” hole, which is all the more surprising because one is the diametric opposite of the other.
On Love Island you must reduce another contestant to tears, thereby to attain enough notoriety to eke out a career on ITV2 panel shows, while on Bake Off, the possibility of escaping a return to mundane reality through future TV fame rests on your character, honour, and support of your rivals. A fellow baker drops a layer of sponge cake? You better hurl your own in solidarity and draw a smiley face in the splatter.
This is in stark contrast to Love Island, where distressed islanders are met with scepticism over whether they really have anything to be upset about. On Bake Off, the only gaslighting happening is on the brushed chrome hobs.
In episode one of GBBO series nine, former teacher Imelda is introduced with a short, wholesome VT showing her skipping stones into a lake with her son. In the opener to this year’s Love Island, private trainer Adam bragged about how on the outside he can swallow 20 sambuca shots whole, before firing the glasses out of his mouth rapid-fire to incapacitate the nearest female.
I suppose the two shows do have in common the fact that they are somewhat aspirational – assuming, that is, you’ve long craved to either sculpt The Bridge over the River Kwai out of shortbread, or achieve both a metabolic and mental age of 14.
Neither Great British Bake Off or Love Island are necessarily better or worse than the other. After 60 minutes of the former, I feel comforted but somewhat lobotomised, my brain a mush of innuendos and ganache. The same amount of time spent with the latter leaves me slapping my thighs with delight, the shagpad-cum-laboratory study of human interaction and anguish fascinating me, but infecting me too with a sense of guilt, of being an accessory after the fact.
It’s a yin and yang thing going on with the fanaticism for the two shows, a balancing out of best and worst impulses. On prime-time television, at least, you can have your cake and eat it.