As the British like to say: "Keep calm and carry on." Not letting the failure of their first try at an American version of their internationally successful baking competition discourage them, the people behind "The Great British Bake-Off" are back. This time they are bringing their brand of nice reality TV to our screens with "The Great Holiday Baking Show."
Anything with holiday and baking in the title is going to make me happy around this time of year and this show is no exception, despite a few weaknesses. Hosts Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez are not as funny as their British counterparts and Johnny Iuzinni lacks the charisma of past judge Paul Hollywood but his fellow judge Mary Berry's wry sense of humor makes up for it. Plus, one of the contestants makes a gingerbread pagoda in the first episode. Not a house. A pagoda.
The program format, a kinder, gentler cooking competition, was a failure for CBS in 2013 when it was called "The American Baking Competition" with judges Hollywood and Marcela Valladolid. ABC is hoping that adding a dash of holiday cheer to the recipe will draw viewers. Well, that and Mary Berry. The original judge from the U.K. show and a charming baker with 80 cookbooks under her belt joins American pastry chef Johnny Iuzinni. Hosts Vardalos and Gomez announce the tasks.
The show's creative team would have been better to import Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the original hosts who have an easy chemistry with one another and the contestants. And they are actually funny which is always a desirable quality in a role that requires you to make people laugh. The good-natured camaraderie that works so well between Hollywood and Berry in the British version is lacking with Iuzinni who comes across like he just met Berry and is self-conscious about being polite.
Berry is herself. But then on the first episode she uses the word "cookie" instead of "biscuit" and fans of the original show, now airing on PBS and renamed "The Great British Baking Show" vented their outrage on Twitter. When she then describes a cookie as "awesome," it was practically pandemonium. Maybe Berry actually thought the cookie inspired awe or maybe she sold out for just a minute and tried to appear more American. Either way, Twitter should calm down. It's Mary. She makes Victoria sponge cake and Brandy snaps. Her Britishness is secure.
As in the original, bakers must complete three themed challenges per episode. The person who makes it to the end is named Holiday Baking Champion. The title means nothing really unless you are the lucky person who shares a house, office or neighborhood with said winner in which case I'm going to need your address.
It's not a great sign that ABC has opted to air only four episodes of this ode to sugar. Is pleasant reality TV doomed to fail in the US? Perhaps. Get your fix while you can.
"The Great Holiday Baking Show" is on Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.