ABC’s The Great Holiday Baking Show is a partial import of the amazing BBC series The Great British Bake-Off. It brings over many things to love — namely Mary Berry — but leaves much of the good — hosts Mel and Sue — back in Blighty, as if Downton Abbey came over for an American remake but the family accidentally left the Dowager Countess on the pier in Southampton.
Nonetheless, we’re happy for what we have, with Nia Vardalos and husband Ian Gomez replacing the saucy, mischievous, wonderful Mel and Sue as our hosts, and Mary Berry here accompanied not by the dreamy blue eyes of Paul Hollywood, but by the different charms of celebrity chef Johnny Iuzzini.
The structure remains intact, with six amateur bakers running the gauntlet of Signature, Technical and Showstopper Bakes. Mary and Johnny may have chosen their own winner and loser last night (Lauren and Grace, respectively), but Paul and Matt have chosen a few superlatives of their own.
FIRST THING THAT MADE ME GO AWW:
PAUL: The zoom-out at the opener to reveal the hosts and bakers standing in front of the tent — just like on Great British Bake-Off. Aww!
MATT: Eddie, “the classically trained vocalist who brings soul to both his music and his baking,” and his Mississippi grandmother who wants to eat his cookies, like, now.
MARKED IMPROVEMENT OVER GBBO:
PAUL: It’s “Cookie Week.” On GBBO it would be “Biscuit Week,” which frankly always makes me feel like I’m at Red Lobster.
MATT: Wait, I don’t understand why a week of biscuits would be a problem.
BEST ASSURANCE WE ARE STILL IN GOOD HANDS:
MATT: Nia licks the bowls. You know on GBBO that if you turn around for one second, Mel or Sue would rip your paddle right off your damn mixer and lick your batter.
PAUL: Ian is already making the food “talk.” Oh, and Johnny pseudo-proposed marriage to Mary Berry.
I HAVE A FEELING THERE ARE GOING TO BE A LOT OF:
PAUL: Jokes about the way people talk.
MATT: Jokes about the way people talk.
QUESTIONABLE PUN ALERT:
PAUL: Nia describing Johnny as the man who put “sexy into a pastry shell.” I think that’s illegal.
MATT: Actually I want to point out the noticeable lack of a pun: Eddie the singer brings soul to his baking, and Hollywood Lauren’s stars are her family members; but, when they get to Grace, who lives on Staten Island, Nia’s all, “Um. She lives on Staten Island?” Remember when Wayne and Garth were magically whisked away to Delaware?
MOST DELICIOUS-SEEMING SIGNATURE BAKE:
PAUL: Nicole made a cookie with candied bacon!!! To quote Nia, “What’s your address? We’re coming to your house!”
MATT: Lauren’s Tangerine-Chai Sugar Cookies. We should really be putting chai in everything. In our cookies, in our Red Lobster biscuits, on our Red Lobster lobsters.
I CAN’T HELP BUT WONDER…
PAUL: …why didn’t Nia Vardalos just say “rugelach” instead of calling it “a traditional Jewish cookie.”
MATT: …what kind of 1% nonsense is this that Ian doesn’t know what a cellophane-wrapped peppermint looks like?
FATAL FLAW ALERT:
MATT: Ainslie says of her Orange and Cardamom Sugar Cookies, “I’m not worried about how they look, just how they taste.” This is a solid way to keep yourself safe in the middle, but that’s not Star Baker talk. Then again, the American contestants are probably all angling for their own media brands, so maximizing series longevity may do her well.
PAUL: The minute Grace informed the judges that she would be providing the most basic bakes, I knew she was roadkill. Sure, Mary gave her stock, “If it’s simple, it’s got to be perfect!” reply but (A) these people live for bells and whistles and (B) simple or not – they almost never manage perfect.
BRINGING SEXY TO THE TABLE:
PAUL: Ruggedly bearded contestant Tim — I love a baking bear.
MATT: Mary Berry. Look, we all have our types.
BEST U.K. VS. U.S. CULTURAL AWARENESS MOMENT:
MATT: “There was always a glass of sherry [left for Santa], none of the milk you leave in America.” —Mary Berry
PAUL: Mary Berry said, “That was an awesome cookie.” Ian expressed admiration that Mary had very deftly referred to the all the day’s goods as “cookies” rather than “biscuits.” Johnny rightly pointed out that he was more impressed she called it “awesome” — a superlative I’ve never heard her use before. I wonder if she’ll bring some American slang home with her to the next GBBO?
BEST BON MOT:
PAUL: Ian, instructing the bakers, “Remember, the liquor is for baking — not for Nia.”
MATT: Also Ian: “Nothing’s sadder than a soggy bottom.” Don’t worry about context.
PAUL: The voiceover saying specifically that they should not boil the ingredients for the Brandysnaps followed by Ainslie saying, “I think boiling it is the way to go.”
MATT: The music in the Showstopper act was jolly little Christmas melodies…played over bakers’ gingerbread houses falling apart. Read into that whatever you wish.
MOST INSPIRED SHOWSTOPPER BAKE:
PAUL: Lauren making a Gingerbread Pagoda in honor of Jewish families going out for Chinese food on Christmas.
MATT: Nicole’s Eiffel Tower. At first I was all :rolls eyes:, but taking on that piping in a timed challenge reminds us to reach higher, work harder, dream bigger.
MOST WTF MOMENT:
PAUL: Tim asking Mary Berry, “You never just sat back in front of the TV and eaten a tube of raw dough you bought at the market?” No, sir. She certainly has not. Thank you, Johnny Iunizzi, for covering Mary’s proper British ears.
MATT: Grace: “It’s just cookies.” If that’s your attitude, you GTFO of this tent and back on that Staten Island ferry right this minute. “Just cookies,” indeed!
NOT SURE I NEEDED TO KNOW…
PAUL: …that one of Nia’s boobs is larger than the other, but she balances them out with padding.
MATT: …that Johnny Iuzzini “drives a Land Rover Defender,” from his Wikipedia page.
I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF:
PAUL: The adorably tense string music between each segment — imported directly from GBBO.
MATT: Whenever Mary Berry is impressed. When she validates a baker, like in telling Lauren her gingerbread is what a Showstopper should be, I cry. Two seasons ago of being a GBBO watcher, I would have been embarrassed; no apologies anymore.
DID THE RIGHT PERSON GO HOME:
PAUL: Yup. Her hospital gingerbread house was a wreck. Plus, I didn’t need anymore jokes about her accent. She’s from New York. We get it.
MATT: Oh yes. “It’s just cookies.”
YOUR STAR BAKER:
MATT: Nicole. Solid in the Signature and passable in the Technical, but that gingerbread Eiffel Tower was not only bigger than a toddler, but had to travel from the back of the tent. Bien fait.
PAUL: Tim. Mostly because I want to jump his bones.
LESSON THAT GHBS IS NOT ABOUT BAKING, BUT ABOUT LIFE:
MATT: Sometimes we burn our caramel. A fighter puts on a new pot and builds herself a showstopping bake.
PAUL: If you have to wait for someone else to say “I smell something burning!” before you notice that you created a roiling pot of black waste in front of you — maybe you ought to be watching your own stove a little more carefully, bakers.
The Great Holiday Baking Show airs Monday nights on ABC. Next week is “Cake Week,” and Paul and Matt will be here to slice it up.
Last modified: April 17, 2018