I’d say it was the British accents, for which I’m a sucker — but then Gordon Ramsay has one and his over-bleeped culinary combats (in their endless iterations) have grown tiresome.
I think it’s mostly down to the contestants. Somebody with the show has a real knack for finding the most authentic, likable people in all of the UK. The amateur bakers span the gamut of age and background, and there isn’t one I wouldn’t love having over for dinner. Especially if they brought dessert.
I dig the format too. Unlike most reality TV, it doesn’t try to gin up fake conflict or personal meltdowns. (The two hosts, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, actually threatened to walk in Season One when they thought the contestants were being manipulated to create drama.) As a result, the show feels more like a county-fair bake-off than a high-stakes clash of prima donnas. If you see tears on the show, it’s because a souffle collapsed — not because of some maudlin backstory.
Then there’s the photography: Lovely and lingering. And the judges: Tough but unfailingly polite. The hosts, Sue and Mel, have an unfortunate tendency toward ribald innuendo — but I think that’s pretty British too.
Finally: Baking. I think it’s fair to judge a civilization less by its technology than by the importance it attaches to pastry. Britain has its problems, but there’s always hope for a country that prizes handmade eclairs.
We’ve been streaming the 2014 season via Netflix. I believe that’s the first one to be available in the U.S., even though the BBC show has been running in the UK since 2010. If you have any interest at all in watching nice people bake wonderful things, this is a show you’ll like.