It's chief judge Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht from Netflix's The Big Flower Fight.

The Big Flower Fight

Dept. of Florid Rip-Offs


This should have worked. A competition series called The Big Flower Fight, in which pairs of highly skilled individuals square off against one another to create giant floral sculptures. That’s a great elevator pitch right there.

I wish I was a fly on the wall of that meeting. I can just about see it play out. Go on and copy the formula and format of The Great British Bake Off. Get two comedians – Vic Reeves (of Reeves and Mortimer fame) and Natasia Demetriou (What We Do in the Shadows) – with absolutely no knowledge of floristry to host it. Find an American judge with what sounds like a posh made-up European name: Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht. (No. Really.) Throw in a couple of eccentric Scandinavians. Add a father and son story of self-discovery. And you should have reality TV gold.

Or not.

Unfortunately, all The Big Flower Fight did was remind me why The Great British Bake Off is so special.

Meet the contestants of Netflix's latest reality TV series, The Big Flower Fight.

This series doesn’t just use GBBO as a template. It is a carbon copy. From the massive, uncomfortably hot, tent in which the competition takes place (okay, fine, a geodesic dome, but it’s still a large white structure in the middle of the English countryside), right down to the host’s cues. Their scripts are startlingly familiar. The way they introduce each episode and how they carry out their eliminations are shameless imitations. Some of the words have changed, “Star Baker” being replaced with “Best in Bloom”, but almost everything else is designed to be so familiar as to inspire affection.

It doesn’t.

If anything, The Big Flower Fight is proof of why you can’t just take something that works, strip it for parts, and hope to replicate success. Not without a deeper understanding of what makes the original great in the first place.

The artists are hard at work on their floral creations in Netflix's latest reality TV series, The Big Flower Fight.

So what is it that makes GBBO stand apart in a television landscape inundated with competition shows? Come join me in the weeds for a while.

Some of it is because of the cunning way in which the show is produced. In how it is constructed, like a fine apple pie, to be homey, wholesome, and comforting. But mostly, it is in the random, unexpected, and nearly impossible ways the various elements of GBBO have managed to both capture and influence the zeitgeist.

The producers of GBBO have, over 10 seasons, fine tuned the tone of their show, knowing exactly when to show their hand, and when to let reality run its course.

The drama in GBBO comes purely from the cooking – from the anxiety of staring into an oven, to the elation of having baked the perfect crumb, to actually receiving a Paul Hollywood handshake. It doesn’t rely on the edit. Or those annoying pregnant pauses. It doesn’t manufacture tension.

Its charm comes from the all-too-human interactions that take place within the tent. Its contestants are genuine, well-meaning individuals, who aren’t above helping each other out when time is short and the bake is looking grim. They’re well aware that it is a contest, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be good neighbours. It’s this friendly, familial atmosphere, this fine balance of British eccentricity and their sense of fair play, that gives the show such a distinct feel. And it is something the producers have learned to lean into over the years.

The artists are hard at work on their floral creations in Netflix's latest reality TV series, The Big Flower Fight.

It is an awareness altogether absent in The Big Flower Fight. It’s clear from the very first episode when, during judging, Kristen drops an absolute groaner. “I’m so mad at you,” he says. And then, after taking an inordinately long pause, he adds: “you said it wouldn’t be beautiful, but this is beautiful.” You roll your eyes. You cross out a square on your reality TV bingo card.

In the fifth episode, there is a moment when some of the other contestants rally together to help a team that’s running out of time. Just then, one of the guest judges walks up and tells them to stop it and step off, because this is a competition. That was when I knew just how completely this series had missed the point.

Another picture of the judges of Netflix's latest reality TV series, The Big Flower Fight.

And then there’s the title, with both shows utilising dimensional adjectives to describe the relative extent of what they’re all about. The problem with The Big Flower Fight, however, is that the “big” of its title refers to the “flower” and not the “fight”. Eight foot floral creations, while absolutely gorgeous to look at, aren’t something many of us aspire toward. Unlike, say, baking that great loaf of bread.

GBBO thrives because of that singular connection with its audience. For when it comes to the art and science of baking, you at home, are as obsessed with perfection as everyone on the screen in front of you. You too have felt the dejection of a cake that just refused to rise. You too have been broken by just how long it takes to make croissants from scratch.

The judges take in a floral scene in Netflix's The Big Flower Fight.

All of us like flowers. We enjoy receiving them for birthdays and anniversaries. We’re more than happy to run through fields of lavender. But how many of us will look longingly at a giant throne constructed from fruit, vegetables, and edible plants the same way we would a beautifully glazed doughnut?

The Big Flower Fight lacks that emotional link. And if it can’t make us care about the “flower”, then there’s no way it was going to give us a good “fight”.

This isn’t a bad show. It’s perfectly competent. It does exactly what it says on the tin. But if The Great Flower Fight is going to model itself in The Great British Bake Off‘s image, it’ll need to do so in more than just a superficial manner. Right now, it’s just completely and utterly forgettable.

The Big Flower Fight
Netflix, Season 1, 8 episodes
Cast: Vic Reeves, Natasia Demetriou, and Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht

The Big Flower Fight is now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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