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British Baking—Mel and Sue

Our family loves to watch The Great British Baking Show. We’re now catching up on the first two years of the show (2010–11), before it had quite settled into its format, which we found on The Roku Channel (a/k/a “tons of free crap with annoying ads”).

We had started watching with season three (the first available on Netflix some time ago). As GBBO fans know, the hosts and one of the judges changed after season seven, when the show’s U.K. distribution shifted...and gradually, in recent years, the core audience has complained that the show hasn’t been as good.

Well, they’re right—and watching the original line-up reminds me why. It’s not just that the challenges have become more exotic, but the overall atmosphere has become carnivalesque, with the hosts more like nihilistic comedians than affectionate companions.

Our family agrees that Mary Berry and Prue Leith (Mary’s replacement as judge) are both fine—but really, it was original hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins who gave the show its unique, understated magic.

If you’ve ever watched any baking competition shows—especially the American ones—they tend to be gaudy, loud and obnoxious. The contestants are pulled aside for cutaway interviews to declare, “I’m in it to win.”

But British Baking went in the other direction: It was gentle, decent and kind. It snuck up on you because it was just nice.

And it was really Mel and Sue’s doing. Apparently they almost quit on day one, because the show’s producers wanted typical reality–show tastelessness, and they said, no way.

I admit I didn’t get Mel and Sue’s appeal at first. As an American I’m not familiar with their careers, and I didn’t find their innuendo particularly funny.

But I did appreciate their warmth and compassion to regular people trying to bake on television—and their dry wits. They are, it turns out, quite hysterical.

It takes a deceptively large amount of talent to make decency into appointment television. But most of all, it just takes decency itself.

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In Britain both Mel and Sue have had long careers as comedians, both singularly and together, before appearing as presenters on Bake Off. Their laid back style of presenting fitted Bake Off perfectly, and it was a pity they did not move with Bake Off when it transferred from the BBC to Channel 4. One of their replacements, Sandi Toskvig, has a very similar style of humour, and fitted in with the programme beautifully. The other presenter, Noel Fielding, has a very different style, and although he's not bad presenting the programme, he does jar with me at times. British humour is something that doesn't travel across the Atlantic particularly well; it tends to be laid back and self effacing,…

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