Television

The One Person Who Can Save Celebrity Baking Shows From Themselves

Marshawn Lynch rescues the American GBBO, holiday edition.

A man stands at a counter in front of a stand mixer.
Screengrab from The Roku Channel.

The UK’s popular culinary competition show The Great British Bake-Off has had a transatlantic counterpart for some time now, but its record in America has been anything but glowing. After flopping in 2013 as The Great American Baking Competition, the series changed its name slightly and re-debuted with a holiday-themed season in 2015, which caught on, inspiring the current version we know today: The Great American Baking Show. Even this newer iteration has had some trouble finding its footing: it was canceled by ABC and acquired by the not-exactly-first-tier streamer Roku Channel, which is producing a new season, set to release next year. To celebrate, Roku has developed a holiday-themed special with celebrity contestants: The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday.

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There are many theories as to what’s kept The Great American Baking Show from emulating the success of GBBO. Perhaps an American version of GBBO was unwarranted, considering a lot of the original’s appeal stems from witnessing matter-of-fact British charm on display. (It’s the type of charm that only gets charming-er when put under pressure—except for that one time.) American reality competition shows never feel quite the same, usually providing glitz, glam, and over-the-top drama. Perhaps the titles—the confusing, impossible to remember, “basically just adjectives” titles—of the GBBO spinoffs have made it hard to discern which iteration was which.

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While the merits of The Great American Baking Show remain debatable, the new celebrity holiday special has one major redeeming quality: Marshawn Lynch. Affectionately nicknamed “Beast Mode,” the former Seattle Seahawks running back retired from the NFL (for a third, but maybe not final?) time after the 2019 season. Lynch has had a complicated history with the media—he was fined tens of thousands of dollars by the NFL over the years for avoiding his press obligations. But he wasn’t “camera shy” per se—rather, understandably choosy. He has had plenty of run-ins with the law, which, at times, played out harshly in mainstream media.

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However, much to the confusion of fans and the press, Lynch remained publicly engaged during those years, on his own terms, and he wasn’t just active: he was a delight, a ball of hilarious and easily-lovable charisma. At that time that Lynch was so expensively tight-lipped in the context of his NFL job, he was selling Skittles (yes, literal Skittles) on a home shopping network and making fun of his press aversion in an ad for Pepsi. Lynch has guest-starred in shows that run the gamut from Brooklyn 99 to Westworld, more recently showing off his improv skills in a highly-praised guest spot on Netflix’s comedy show Murderville. However, my favorite Marshawn Lynch clip has got to be this one, where he delivers a hilarious impression of Darth Vader.

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The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday really, really needed Marshawn Lynch. As it turns out, Marshawn Lynch is not the best baker, but he’s the best storyteller out of the special’s celebrity contestants—which also include Joel Kim Booster, D’Arcy Carden, Liza Koshy, Nat Faxon, and Chloe Fineman—and he’s the only one whose professional career doesn’t actually involve telling stories. For their first challenge, the contestants have to make cream-puff holiday characters. Lynch attempts choux pastry elves, cracking the judges up by claiming he won’t “snitch” on them if they give him some tips. They ask what exactly it is he needs help with. “All of this—I’m in the kitchen with a hoodie on!” he explains. And when it’s time to score the first round, judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith are treated to an elven war scene. Lynch explains how the elves from the south caught the elves from the north “lackin” on a smoke break from making the toys, leaving the Northern elves vulnerable to a snowball attack. Lynch’s explanation of the scene makes up for any possible presentation issues—and the judges agree. He lets out a boyish giggle when they tell him “Well done.”

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For the blind technical challenge, the contestants are given limited directions, told to make a meringue wreath with blueberry coulis, sugared berries, and mascarpone cream. Lynch makes many mistakes: he puts all of the provided vanilla bean paste into the cream and compares his meringue (as he pronounces it: mer-ayn-gay) to the poop emoji. By the end of the technical, Prue calls his wreath a “feral disaster,” and we find out that Lynch didn’t know what the term “whisk” meant the entire time. Even though he’s ranked last in the technical challenge, he still gives an incredibly adorable sheepish smile.

For the showstopper final challenge, the celebrity guests are tasked with making a sponge cake that represents their personal favorite holiday tradition. Lynch tells this heartwarming tale of how his grandfather, PaPaw Lynch, would make a lemon drizzle cake that he would bring to Marshawn’s games when he first started playing football as a kid, as acknowledgement of a job well done, win or lose. Apparently, PaPaw Lynch’s lemon cake became famous, to the point where, years later, when Marshawn would play in the NFL against players that he went to college with, they would still ask if his grandfather had made a cake. Though his grandfather never taught him how to make the confection, Lynch gives it his best shot: the end result is a (perhaps too) simple-looking cake, with fondant dice on top to represent the dice game his family would play every holiday. When Prue likens his drizzle to a glacé icing (just water and sugar) he responds in admiration: “Ooh, I like the way you described that! You saying a lot of words I don’t know, but they sound good, baby!” When they say the cake, though simplistic, has a perfectly-made sponge, he dramatically rolls a pair of dice in celebration.

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Much like fellow media favorite, Keke Palmer, Marshawn Lynch is just astoundingly good on camera. He always says the right things, getting a laugh even out of someone as stoic as Paul Hollywood, and he makes everyone—audience and fellow guests and hosts alike—feel as though hanging out with him is the best use of their time. The special has many boring moments, failing to deliver hilarity akin to the famous appearance of the Derry Girls cast on a holiday celebrity special of GBBO. The only person who even comes close to providing that level of entertainment is Marshawn Lynch, and he nails it every time. And in the end, Lynch, who (mild spoiler) didn’t win, says he’s proud of himself for representing the Bay Area, his hometown, and completing the task. Then we get my favorite quote of the whole special: “I fosure fosure enjoyed myself—forreal forreal.”

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