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"The Great British Baking Show" does it right

Lately, Steph and I have been relaxing with / falling asleep from exhaustion to back seasons of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix.  There's nothing specifically original about the concept - a bunch of bakers gather and complete challenges given to them by the hosts, and then each week one of them is the winner and one of them is sent home.  Literally the exact same premise as every other competitive cooking show ever made, also known as "25% of all modern television."

But where TGBBS really stands apart from most of the other stuff is in how it presents its drama.  It's a surprisingly good lesson for anybody who's putting together a story and wants to make sure they set it up right.

Y'see, TGBBS, like any cooking show worth its salt, doles out a lot of unexpected obstacles to its participants.  They'll be given incomplete recipes for obscure dishes and judged based on their technical skill in filling in the blanks, or maybe they'll have very little time to pull off some huge spectacle of creation, or so on and so on.

A concept like this gives you basically three possibilities for drama:

1) Contestants struggle to meet the demands of the challenge itself.
2) Contestants fight with each other because of their inherent propensity for drama.
3) The editors put sound effects and bombastic music over minor incidents.

It's pretty hard not to get at least some of option 1 in there - ostensibly that's the point of competitive shows - but virtually all reality television in America goes for options 2 and 3.  And you know something?  Those options are garbage.

If I can stretch a bit with an analogy: American reality TV is to the Divergent films as TGBBS is to All Is Lost.  The former don't have any confidence in their subject matter and feel the need to dwell on shitty people being shitty while dressing them up with melodramatic special effects.  The latter just goes, "Huh, this is pretty interesting.  Let's watch it."


The most incredible thing about TGBBS - to me as a brutish American, anyway - is that everybody is so friggin' nice.  The contestants don't yell at each other and lose their shit like frenetic maniacs. They all treat each other with respect as friends and professionals.  Nobody goes off about how they "came here to win" while tugging at their fedora with one hand and metaphorically grabbing their dick with the other.  No, TGBBS is classy.  The contestants are classy.  When they screw up, they admit as much, and when somebody succeeds, they cheer for each other.

Interpersonal drama is all fine and dandy, and certainly there's a time and a place for it.  But when it's forced, you can spot it easily.  The lesson here for writers is, "don't add shit you don't need."  If you've set up a good conflict already, let it take the spotlight rather than throwing in some dumb subplot about the protagonist cheating on his wife or whatever.

This is literally the first time in my life I've seen a competitive reality show that I can't dismiss as "trashy."

So, yeah.  I recommend that you go watch it.  Especially if you're not usually into that kind of thing.