The most insufferable part of nearly every half hour cooking competition show is its haughty attitude. Very Serious Celebrity Chef Judges evaluate dishes made from the dregs of a pantry with the straight face of a restaurant critic, not before wincing in a huddle as, inevitably, a frenzied contestant desperately chucks raw pieces of an unsavory ingredient onto their plate in the clock's final seconds. The outcome doesn't feel as authoritative as it does condescending to the competing chefs who also tend to take their losses hard. Representing the antithesis of that pageantry is Netflix's foray into original cooking competitions, Nailed It!, which breathes starkly opposite vibes into the formula by requiring its competitors to embrace their fuck ups.
If The Great British Baking Show is the original, subdued alternative to high-octane American competitions, Nailed It! is its flippant millennial protégé born from a Pinterest meme of baking failures. Instead of competent trained chefs, the contestants are all mediocre amateur bakers who proclaim the medium to be their primary creative outlet and a favorite way to burn off steam after a long day. They're tasked with two different challenges: the first is a recreation of a simpler baked good like an emoji cake; the second is an intensive multi-tier cake designed by a guest judge. The outcome of Bake No. 1 has no bearing on the second, though the losing contestant acquires a field-leveling advantage, like a freeze button that stops the other two competitors in their tracks for three minutes. The winning contestant gets to wear a gold sparkly hat, crowning them the "one to beat." Whoever best imitates the second layer cake best wins $10,000. There might be significant money at stake, but all of the bakers generally get that they're not there to impress the judging panel with a masterpiece. Their job is just to make something overly complex not look entirely awful.
Big Boi From OutKast Introduces Cliff to Atlanta’s Food Scene
Relatably bad bakers are one half of Nailed It!'s winning equation. The other is the host-expert duo of the endlessly energetic and extremely online comedian Nicole Byer and the super French, super charming pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres. Byer's warm personality exudes support even when she's laughing at a disastrous effort, a quality she's effectively turned into a catchphrase ("I don't mean to laugh, but…," she says in every episode). And for being one of the most famous master pastry chefs in the world, Torres is a nonjudgmental voice of encouragement to the significantly less adept home bakers.
The guest judges, which could have easily been a throwaway casting job, add dimension to each episode through personality, repute, on-camera rapport. In the pilot, iconic celebrity cakestress Sylvia Weinstock wanders the kitchen during extended downtime (in other shows, she'd be forced to sit and watch) and misses cue cards. Her aloofness is clearly a welcome quality that immediately sets the tone of Nailed It! as a self-aware show with no interest in imitating the cooking shows that have come before. Rather, it's more content as the goofy outlier replete with a hearty sound effects palette at the ready.
Sometimes, however, its gimmicks feel like they're there only for gimmicks' sake. One of the first-round loser's advantages in round two, the annoy button -- wherein Byer runs around shouting into the two other bakers' faces -- is very annoying and seemingly minorly effective. The script laced with 2012 Internetspeak -- "epic" is up there with "rawr" in the category of words that are better left in the past -- sounds like a brand's misguided effort in staying relevant.
But its few flaws are outweighed by the sheer delight of watching the bakers gleefully struggle. The setup isn't particularly cruel like so many other cooking competitions -- though the replications are surely difficult, chances to succeed are baked into the formula. There's an iPad at each cooking station with a recipe to follow, and during the second challenge, each baker gets a panic button that buys them three minutes of one-on-one coaching from either Torres or the guest judge. The lighthearted nature of Nailed It! pays off most in the final moments it crowns a winner by shooting a stream of money from a cash cannon. It's a reminder that perfectionism is neither an attainable nor a worthwhile pursuit, and an affirmation that, yes, you can do this at home.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Leanne Butkovic is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow her @leanbutk.