Take heart, friends. The kindest, goofiest, lowest-stakes, highest-return show on TV has returned — right when we need it most.
Nailed It! is back for a new season.
The Netflix reality competition series sounds, to the uninitiated, like a show that would have been invented by Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. It’s based on that meme in which someone shows off both a gorgeous tricky craft or project — say, a fancy cake — and an amateur’s botched attempt to remake it. “Nailed it!” proclaims the text superimposed on the image.
As with most things on the internet, the meme takes different forms. Sometimes it’s an attempt to shame or make fun of people who screw up. But it’s also possible to reclaim it with a healthy dose of irony, a triumphant cry in which one both admits defeat and proclaims victory. I didn’t do it, but I sure as hell did try!
When the meme was converted into a show, it retained the intent of the latter more than the former. Nailed It! is styled like one of those cutthroat cooking or baking competition shows (think Chopped) in which three amateur bakers with dubious skills show up to recreate absurdly complicated cakes in hilariously compressed timeframes. Three judges comment on the results and award cash prizes to the “winner.” In this case, that usually means “the one whose baking we could manage to swallow.”
You’d think, given the skill level involved and the setup, that Nailed It! would be snarky and mean. Instead, it’s emerged as one of the sweetest, most supportive, silliest ways to entertain yourself and your family, while also maybe learning one or two things about baking. The key: Nailed It! never, ever takes itself seriously.
The series is hosted (and judged) by comedian Nicole Byers, she of the infectious laugh, alongside world-renowned pastry chef and judge Jacques Torres, plus a rotating cast of comedians, actors, celebrity chefs, and sports personalities. (Jason Mantzoukas, Sylvia Weinstock, Jillian Bell, Maya Rudolph, Felicia Day, Antoni Porowski, and Lauren Lapkus have all appeared as judges on the show.)
And while you’d expect Torres to be the straight man in the group, over three regular seasons and two “holiday specials,” Byers and Torres have developed a hysterical rapport to rival any comic duo. The new season opens with the pair sipping cocktails while seated in fancy thrones. Their reverie is interrupted by Wes, the assistant director, who tells them to get back to work. “Four seasons of baaaaad cakes!” Torres intones in his thick French accent as he walks back to set; Byers slides slowly off her chair and rolls away like a log, whining, “But I don’t want to!”
The much-maligned Wes is Weston Bahr, the series’ actual, long-suffering assistant director, on whom Byers is always calling to bring out a drink or wheel out a prize (she pronounces his name “Hhhhhhwes!”). His presence on the show as not only a crew member but also a recurring character is kind of a window into Nailed It!’s sense of humor. Everybody knows this show is ridiculous, that it’s built a strange little universe for itself in which we’re shooting a baking competition show that’s for people who should never be on a baking competition show. The cakes they’re being asked to recreate would be a huge challenge for most professionals, let alone people who sometimes make some cupcakes at home; the point is that they’re supposed to fail, and fail spectacularly. And everyone is in on the joke — bakers, crew, judges, and Netflix itself. (Byers has addressed the show’s parent company as “Mister Netflix” before.)
Nailed It! is no The Great British Baking Show, most of which can also be watched on Netflix. The amateur bakers on that show are skilled. They know the difference between types of dough; they can tell you the difference between a pie and a tarte, a cannoli and a sfogliatelle, and even the worst of their creations is still lovely. On Nailed It!, panicking bakers forget to add butter to their dough, rarely leave the cake in the oven for the right amount of time, and suffer a truly startling array of mixer mishaps.
But nobody in Nailed It! is shamed for their lack of skills, at least not by the judges. Everyone tries very hard to say something nice about the “creations” the contestants come up with. Byers breaks out into amused giggles every time a baker reveals their results and says “nailed it!” The celebrity judge tries to find something funny to say. And Torres gently tells them what probably went wrong, and then heroically attempts to offer a positive note when he has to take a bite.
Season 4’s first episode is themed around “literary cakes,” meaning Shakespeare and Moby-Dick. (Other themes include fashion, Marvel, and the ’90s.) As the judges, including comedian and actor Matt Walsh, watch the contestants scurry around creating havoc, Byers asks Torres, “Do you ever find it ironic that you are a highly decorated, well-respected pastry chef and you have to eat trash every day for money?”
He smiles. “You know what I like about it?” he says. “When they mess up, I can explain why they mess up and how not to mess up. This is an opportunity for me to teach.”
I can bake, but only bread. I’ve watched all of Nailed It!, and I think the only thing I’ve actually learned is that royal icing is different from buttercream. But what Torres teaches might be a little better. You (and I) don’t have to be perfect at things. We don’t have to create elaborate cakes or brilliant works of art in order to be valued and valuable. We’re all trying the best we can — and Nailed It! celebrates our gameness to get out of bed every day and keep trying, and maybe laugh along the way, too.
Nailed It! season 4 is streaming on Netflix.
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