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Opinion: The Canadian ‘Bake Off’ Has Charming Cakes, But a Half-Baked Personality

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The fun of the British original is MIA from this version

Judges Bruno Feldeisen and Rochelle Adonis (left), hosts Julia Chan and Daniel Levy (right) 

Canada gets its very own franchise of The Great British Bake Off, premiering tonight (Wednesday November 1) on CBC. For legal reasons, it’s named The Great Canadian Baking Show (General Mills’ dough spinoff company Pillsbury already runs a Bake Off in North America). But for all intents and purposes, it’s the same show.

This was deliberate: as a CBC exec told Eater last week, the plan was always to duplicate the successful baking competition format that has been a huge success, even through a major cast reshuffle and network change. And on the surface level, it’s a successful replica. Visually, it has that same pastoral feel: white aprons, a tent perched in an oh-so-green meadow. The structure of the game is perfectly identical, from challenges to eliminations.

More importantly, the show aims for the same tone as its British counterpart: while the norm for many reality-competition shows in this genre is to lean heavily on interpersonal drama and bickering (the “I didn’t come here to make friends; I came here to win” effect), Bake Off has always been a feel-good show, and CBC mercifully doesn’t throw that away to score cheap tension.

That said, while the British Bake-Off could be described as “gentle”, the local one heads in that direction, but it’s like somebody left the sugar out of the recipe: it looks right, but the flavour is kind of bland.

Here’s the good news: the bakers are eminently capable and creative (see: cupcakes incorporating beer or whiskey), and those looking to gawk at baked goods that defy the laws of physics will be sated. And thankfully, the CBC isn’t trying to Canadianize the show by forcing them to make Nanaimo bars and maple tarts.

But for those who want to engage with a story, there’s less to enjoy. By the end of the first 47-minute episode, dedicated to cakes, only about three contestants had remotely fleshed-out identities and characters, beyond the very simple delineations like “Terri is a stay-at-home-mom” or “James is a physics professor”.

Montreal contestant Sabrina Degni

There’s Jude, a scrappy retiree with a bit of a knack for engaging in witty repartee, Corey, a human rights lawyer who should be Very Serious™ but is in fact quite jolly (and maybe a slight overachiever), and Pierre, a rather Québécois retired dentist-slash-renaissance man. And seven other people who were difficult to differentiate from one another without watching. (OK, to be fair, Julian, who bakes a cake accompanied by chocolate tools, is recognizable, if only for his very apparent concern about looking tough and masculine). Not every contestant can get a fully articulated personality in one hour-long episode, but more vivacious characters would serve this premiere well.

To make things worse (vague spoiler warning), one of the three contestants granted a personality doesn’t make it any further than this episode. For viewers who want to be invested in a baker or character, that doesn’t leave much to seize upon, and it hardly dangles a cookie on a stick to tempt viewers to return for the next episode.

Then there’s the hosts and judges — unfortunately, they’re just okay as well. While the British version (including its newest batch of judges and hosts) uses seasoned media icons, CBC opted for lesser-known figures. Judges Rochelle Adonis and Bruno Feldeisen (whose primary personality trait seems to be “French”) are a little stilted and short on charm — their judging demonstrates that they’re eminently qualified on the culinary side, but in desperate need of some pizzazz. Host Dan Levy pops a lot more: he’s clearly a fan, but his gesticulating enthusiasm and cheesy lines verge on being a little cloying. Julia Chan strikes a better balance of fun, but calm.

While the issue could be a boring cast or lack of chemistry, problem seems to be the editing: the premiere plays things safe, not letting anyone seem too wild. The slightly shorter episodes (compared to the UK) mean the pacing is a little rushed, and it seems like interactions between the bakers were squeezed out here. Hopefully that means The Great Canadian Baking Show will find its groove on episode two, but with only eight episodes, there isn’t much more time for it to come to life for impatient viewers.

The Great Canadian Baking Show premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight (Wednesday November 1).