"The Great British Bake Off" judges Dame Prue Leith (left) and Paul Hollywood and co-host Noel Fielding on a 2021 episode of the show.
After recent seasons that have slid off course like a cake falling off of a cake stand, the executive producer of “The Great British Bake Off” promises the feel-good baking competition show will be “warmer, kinder, sillier” and “one of the best series we’ve ever done,” when it returns this fall.
In an interview with the Guardian, executive producer Kieran Smith said the show’s production team took note of the widespread criticism surrounding its use of embarrassing and culturally inaccurate theme weeks, including Japanese Week and Mexican Week.
“We didn’t want to offend anyone but the world has changed and the joke fell flat,” Smith said in a preview of the show’s new season, published Friday. “We’re not doing any national themes this year.”
In 2020, the show (known as “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S., where it airs on Netflix) featured a Japanese Week. In theory, it was supposed to task the bakers with Japanese recipes and baking techniques. But many of the bakers conflated various and wildly different Asian cuisines. The challenges were set and judged by the show’s longtime judges, Dame Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood, who are both white. The latter explained the theme was inspired by a recent trip to Japan.
Last year, the show bungled another culturally specific theme week: Mexican Week, which resorted to many lazy stereotypes, making a mockery of the richness of Mexican food and culture. Among the many cringe-worthy scenes: Hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas did a comedy bit in which the two donned sombreros and serapes, shook maracas and embarrassingly quipped they shouldn’t make any Mexican jokes, “not even Juan.”
— British Bake Off (@BritishBakeOff) October 4, 2022
The theme weeks illustrate a growing sourness on the show, known for its sweetness and warmth. In recent seasons, the show has lost some of its charm by introducing tactics that have felt like stunts and spectacles. For instance, some of the show’s challenges have veered away from baking and more into cooking territory, like asking bakers to grill a veggie burger or make pita bread and dips on an outdoor fire pit.
Smith acknowledged this misstep as well, telling the Guardian the new season’s challenges will be “very traditional,” returning to the show’s standard themes, like cake, biscuits, bread, patisserie and chocolate weeks.
Hollywood added that “we chose this year’s challenges very carefully to be approachable,” he said. “In a way, we’ve returned to the philosophy of the first three series. There are some beautiful classic ones and they’ve been a big success.”
The culturally inaccurate theme weeks were particularly off-putting because of their contrast from the diversity of the show’s bakers. Compared to the show’s primarily white slate of hosts and judges, each season’s bakers have typically been a much more inclusive group, with bakers of color, queer bakers, disabled bakers and neurodivergent bakers.
According to the Guardian, this season will feature the show’s first deaf contestant.
— British Bake Off (@BritishBakeOff) August 30, 2023
Another major change at the show’s helm is new host Alison Hammond, who joins Fielding after Lucas announced his departure last year. A celebrated TV host in the U.K., Hammond is the first person of color to host the show in 14 seasons. (Spinoffs of the show have featured a more diverse slate of hosts and judges.)
“I suppose that is a big moment,” Hammond told the Guardian. “My mum would be very proud indeed. But it’s also nice if it gets to a point where it’s not a big deal and I’m just Alison.”
The new season of “The Great British Bake Off” premieres later this month on Channel 4 in the U.K. For U.S. viewers, Netflix has yet to announce a release date, but typically, new episodes have premiered the Friday after they air across the pond.