The TV landscape is cluttered with competitive cooking shows. And no matter how many you watch, the narrative is always the same. A handful of amateur, yet insanely competent chefs scramble to bake the fanciest of confections under the tightest of time constraints. Sometimes they’re not even old enough to drive. When the clock runs out, they still manage to present a perfectly put together platter of cookies or three-tiered wedding cake—the kind of desserts that most of us would waste half a day to achieve and still not come up with a result that spectacular. Even at their worst, these cakes are only slightly under-baked or missing a fondant flower or two, or some other minor detail that barely even translates on screen.
“Nailed It” completely flips this script. The show, which premiered on Netflix just last week, revels in spectacular failure. These contestants can’t tell the difference between powdered and granulated sugar. They forget to put frosting between layers of multi-tiered cakes. They couldn’t use an air brush if their kid’s birthday party depended on it. For once, those of us who’ve struggled to make brownies out of the box have a show we can relate to.
The premise of “Nailed It,” which gets its name from internet cake fail memes, is simple. A trio of amateur (and we mean really amateur) bakers attempt to replicate Pinterest-worthy dessert creations. You know the ones—towering volcano cakes, pirate-themed doughnuts, and super-fancy cake pops—they’re all treacherously emulated by the chefs on hand. After two rounds, the winner is awarded $10,000, which they are literally showered with via a gun that shoots dollar bills.
While a minor detail, the money gun is emblematic of the fun and festive atmosphere the show fosters. The bakers are bad, but they know they’re bad. (In one episode, a contestant named Sal doesn’t even turn on the tablet that contains the recipe he’s supposed to consult!) But their self-awareness is second only to their enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter that none of these people know cakes are supposed to cool down before you frost them, because they’re too busy drinking the vodka that’s supposed to go in the buttercream. Also the winner of the first round also gets to wear a gold, bedazzled chef’s hat, just because!
There’s a lot of good-natured goofing around, which is half the fun. While total noobs in the kitchen, these contestants are just as ego-less as anyone on “The Great British Bake-Off.” (After half his shark cake collapses, the aforementioned Sal insists his competitors should win; an obvious, yet endearing sentiment nonetheless.) Host and comedienne Nicole Byers keeps the energy high and the banter hilarious throughout as well. And an impressive roster of guest judges, including wedding cake designer extraordinaire Sylvia Weinstock and Piecaken creator Zac Young, do their best to offer constructive criticism while trying their hardest not to laugh at the ugliest Rapunzel cake of all time.
Meanwhile, legendary chocolatier Jacques Torres is on hand every episode to guide viewers through the pastry-making process and offer practical advice along the way. If nothing else, I’ve learned that you should always grease your baking pan with butter instead of non-stick spray!
It all adds up to an entertaining, and dare I say, inspirational half hour of television. If these folks are willing to burn chocolate in the microwave in front of a national audience, than maybe I can attempt to make this Black Forest beauty from scratch? Plus, as is often the case in these episodes, even if it doesn’t come out looking anything like an aspirational social media post, it can still taste great, right? If nothing else “Nailed It” celebrates the art of trying. Even the ugliest monstrosities garner rounds of applause. The mere fact that these cakes exist at all is triumph enough.
Header image courtesy of Netflix.