Some people are still processing the Red Wedding; others are still working out theories of what happened to Tony Soprano; and then there are some of us who watch several bakers' rye loaves proof and think it's the most riveting thing on TV. These are the fans of The Great British Baking Show.
Produced by the BBC and aired in the U.S. on PBS, the show has earned the reputation of being the politest reality show. Twelve amateur bakers from across the U.K. assemble in a tent on the grounds of one of England’s great houses. They complete three bakes each episode around a different theme — biscuits, sponges, breads, etc. — with one baker going home each week. And it rains a lot.
Fans like learning about baking, even if they will never in their lives bake a 20-layer schichttorte. They like seeing a baker who’s finished early help another who’s frantically piping under the gun. They love Paul Hollywood’s frosty gaze and Mary Berry’s taunting optimism; they love Mel and Sue who are sometimes there to help, sometimes there to hinder, and always there to make puns. (When we’re lucky, those puns are terrible.)
They're all back in the tent this summer, which means you’re going to start seeing words like “croquembouche” take over your social media for two months. So let’s fire up our provers and meet this season’s bakers.
A travel photographer from Cambridgeshire, England.
What to watch for: His wife told him not to make any jokes on the show, which means he is going to make jokes, and they will be terrible, and that will be wonderful.
A bodybuilder from Lithuania, now living in Essex.
She went for broke right out of the gate with her black forest gâteau, and it paid off. Mary and Paul are often skeptical when a baker pulls out, say, balloons, but then become fans when it works out. Well, Paul more than Mary, who's a little more encouraging. I predict her creativity will keep her safe for a while.
A mom from Leeds, and now a columnist for The Times Magazine.
I've avoided reading anything about this season since it aired in the U.K. last year, but I couldn't resist reading one headline about a Baking Show contestant who baked the queen her 90th birthday cake. We know she'll be around for a while at least.
Learned to bake between shifts as a London firefighter.
He uses booze for his very first challenge, a gin and tonic Madeira cake — with seven shots of gin. Mel flocks to the contestants who use booze, and we in turn get extra-saucy commentary. For this reason, I want Mat to survive a few episodes.
A grandmother to five from Perth, Scotland.
Baking show trope hunters know that grannies usually go far. Her performance this week seems to suggest she'll be getting a lot of rail miles in commuting from Scotland to England over the 12 weeks.
Also from Perth. At 19, Season 3’s youngest baker.
She's reminiscent of Martha, from season one, who was studying for her A Levels between bakes. But Flora shows more confidence than Martha did, which may take her further. I'm calling her an early favorite.
An accountant from Lancashire.
Remember Iain's baked Alaska and the resulting #alaskagate from season one? Dorret's black forest gâteau made me revisit those feelings, and this is just episode one. That Dorret presented anyway — thanks, Sue! — makes me think she will have learned from Iain's mistake and has the mettle to soldier on for a while.
A nurse and father from Berkshire.
Putting dried figs in his madeira cake, Paul suggests he chop them; Alvin doubles down on chunky figs. If past seasons are any warning, resisting Paul isn't going to set him up for many Star Baker awards.
From Leeds, a child welfare officer.
“If they’re at the bottom, they’re meant to be there,” Sandy tells Paul of her chunks. So basically, she's Alvin but with claws. I predict she will be this season’s accidental quipper — the “soggy bottoms” bearer of Season 3.
The lead singer of a dubstep band.
My first thought when we met Stu was that he would be to Baking Show what Marcel was way back to Top Chef. But Marcel went on to become his season's runner up and Stu, well, didn't.
An anesthetist from Manchester.
As early as the first challenge, Tamal’s applying his medical training to his baking. If I thought Stu was Baking Show's Marcel, I thought Tamal was Baking Show's molecular cooking fan, Richard Blais. For Tamal's sake, I hope I'm at least right about that.
Mary and Paul
Baking Show may be thought of as TV’s politest reality show, but its editors have a taste for blood. They allow approximately half an hour to elapse between Mary Berry taking a bite and having a reaction. And if you look to Paul's blue eyes for comfort, be warned: a calming sapphire blue, yes, but they're shark eyes. A silver fox of a shark if you'll allow me to mix metaphors, but a shark all the same.
Mel and Sue
PSA: You might have the idea to turn these hosts' quirks into drinking games. You’re going to hear Sue tell the bakers things like, “It’s time to reveal your cracks” with no outward wink or nod, and you will think: drinking game. Similarly, Mel will meddle with the bakers and eat their ingredients, and you will want that to become a drinking game, too. Do not do either; your liver can't handle it.
And now that we've met everyone ... on your marks, get set, bake!
Season 3 of the Great British Baking Show airs Fridays on PBS. Twelve amateur bakers test their mettle with Madeira cake, frosted walnut cake, and black forest gateau. Find your local schedule here.