'The Great British Baking Show: Holidays' is a Festive Return to the Tent
The problem with a weekly series with a hardcore fanbase is that in time, every season ends. How does one convert these viewers into staying the course and tuning in every week even after the show is over? There's no easy answer for those who air the once-a-year The Great British Baking Show. Channel 4 is trying The Great Australian Baking Show to see how the popular down under spinoff edition flies in the U.K. For Netflix, it's better to let us down easy, with a double-entry arrival of The Great British Baking Show: Holidays.
As always, this two-episode special edition is 11 months old, comprised of the Christmas and New Year's specials from December 2020. (Since Netflix wants its holiday specials to stream before the holiday itself, this is how it has to work.) But though these episodes are merely "new to us" (and do not match what the official Twitter feed is advertising as the specials for 2021), that doesn't make them any less delightful. Think of it as Netflix's version of Masterpiece tacking on the Christmas specials for Downton Abbey or All Creatures Great And Small to function as a season finale.
Last year, there was a vast difference between the Holiday editions and the regular season, as one was post-pandemic and the other from the before times. This season also has differences, especially The Great Christmas Baking Show, which Noel Fielding sat out due to paternity leave. In his stead, host Tom Allen joined the tent from GBBO: An Extra Slice, which Netflix does not carry. (If this is the first you are hearing of Extra Slice, please seek it out, it's delightful.) But perhaps the most significant difference from Holiday specials past is that, due to the Bakeoff Bubble, the Christmas episode was filmed directly after Series 11 (Collection 8), making it a very summer-looking holiday special.
Unlike 2019's specials that aired in 2020, GBBO kept it in the family for both BakeOff Bubble sessions instead of attempting another round of celebrities from a hit series. (Don't worry, this coming year, they'll be going back to it.) The Christmas edition brought back fan favorites James Hillery from Series 8 (Netflix Collection 5) and Ruby Boghal from Series 9 (Netflix Collection 6), both Channel 4 editions of the series, as well as the recently departed Jamie Finn and Rosie Brandreth-Poynter from the prior year just before the pandemic, Series 10 (Collection 7).
Jamie is probably the oddest choice of the bunch. Though memorable, he also went home really early. (He didn't even make it to Bread Week.) But the difference in hosts is probably the most notable. It's been a running complaint that there's been far too "boy energy" in the tent with Noel, Matt Lucas, and Paul Hollywood as naughty boys and Prue Leith as the scolding schoolmarm. Tom's much more mature energy somehow managed to sidestep that feeling and was probably the most pleasant host of GBBO since Mel and Sue exited the tent. (His anti-Paul energy was also welcome, demanding to know why Panettone was set as the Signature anyway since they are godawful.)
As for the bakes, the Holiday edition, unfortunately, follow's Series 11's tendency to lean into the Nailed It version of the show. The Panettone Signature was a disaster for everyone but Rosie, especially Jamie, who served his raw. Prue's Technical was a microwaved Christmas Pudding, which James and Rosie scored high on, and Jamie came in dead last. As for the Showstopper, it was Festive Feast Illusion Cakes. James managed delicious Yorkshire puddings even if his ham looked like a cake trying to be a ham; Ruby's pasta platter was the only bake she turned out that wasn't a failure. Jamie's KFC bucket was a leaning tower, all of which left Rosie to take Star Baker.
The Great New Year's Baking Show was filmed later, with Noel back in the tent after his paternity leave ended. (The rainy atmosphere and the grey sky suggest it's autumn.) This batch includes a pair of 2019ers, the gothy Helena Garcia, and that season's youngest contestant Henry Bird from Series 10. But the real stars of this series are two former winners. The recent fan-favorite Series 9's Rahul Mandal captured Netflix fans' attention when the show first moved to streaming permanently. And there's Series 5 (Collection 1) winner Nancy Birtwhistle, for whom this was the first time in the tent since her 2014 win and her first time appearing on the Channel 4 version of the show.
Having two winners in the tent, plus Henry, a quarterfinalist, made this tent a far more competent one than the Christmas bakes. It may have been close to a decade since Nancy's last round in the tent, but she's also become famous in that time, as the first winner from the BBC One edition of the show (and the first to air in the states) and her self assuredness seemed to help everyone else calm down. Rahul, meanwhile, was famous for his nerves during his season and still turning in amazing bakes anyway.
As for the results, everyone stuck to their expected lanes for the Signature Crumble, the Technical Bao, and Showstopper birthday cakes. Helena made graveyards and witch's altars while gothing it up with Noel. Henry turned in solid entries that never quite broke out of "good enough," while Nancy seemed surprised she wasn't skating. (Her failure in the Technical was a sign she wasn't taking the win a second time.) And as always, Rahul was a baker on the verge of a nervous breakdown while getting fantastic feedback and took home Star Baker just as he always does.
But as always, the real winners of these episodes are the viewers here in America, who finally get to see the holiday specials that aired last year. It's a double dose of The Great British Baking Show to see us on our way until the show returns in 2022.