We come to The Great British Bake Off, or Baking Show, whatever — we come to it for comfort. There’s stress, yes, and there’s frustration. There are contestants we didn’t want to get eliminated who have a poor showing in the technical challenge and never manage to recover. There’ve been changes to the judging and hosting cast, and that’s a tough readjustment. There was the whole Baked Alaska kerfuffle, the Rahul stopped-clock fiasco, and the time James Acaster started baking, had a breakdown, bon appétit. But these are the tyranny of small dramas. They are beautiful tempests in a teapot that are, in their own ways, just as comforting as all the gingham and spun sugar and interstitial footage of babbling country brooks.
But this season begins with a scene that is so jarring, so upsetting, so deeply unheimlich that it calls into question everything we thought we knew about this series. Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, and Matt Lucas stand on a field, dressed in mullet wigs and cowboy boots, and “perform” a baking-related version of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart.”
Here are all of the ways this will mess you up, possibly forever, in order from least to most nightmarish.
9. Goofy baking lyrics
This show has always been full of puns, so this registers very low on the disturbing scale. Is “Achy Breaky Tart” good? No. At the same time, will the line “you can fill your donuts up with jam” make you feel queasy in the sort of way that’s usually associated with double-checking how to contact someone from human resources just in case? Yes, it will.
8. The shaky camera movements
This segment is only 86 seconds long, so it’s honestly impressive that it manages to be quite this off-putting just in terms of cinematography. Bake-Off camerawork is distinctive, and one of the hallmarks is that you never have to worry that a close-up of someone’s facial hair will come zooming in out of nowhere. Everything about this segment, though, is alarmingly unpredictable.
7. Prue’s mustache
Speaking of facial hair: Prue Leith is relatively blameless in this whole thing. She’s sitting behind the piano, and in the few shots we get of her, she seems to be mostly laughing at everyone else. No big deal! Except that especially right at the start, her enormous fake mustache appears to gain sentience, realize what these people are doing, and decide to make a break for it straight down the middle of Prue’s face. The crooked mustache itself is not all that upsetting; it’s really the visual impact of knowing that mustache is being held against its will.
6. The jumping cupcake
The cupcake they get to bounce over the lyrics like this is a damn sing-along? That cupcake did something. No one knows what, but that thing is too jaunty by half.
5. Knowing that everyone said yes to this
After you get over the initial shock that this is happening, which lasts for at least 30 seconds, it starts to dawn on you that you’re not watching true-crime footage. Everyone involved in this agreed to be there. Someone wrote it. They all decided it was a good plan. There must’ve been a dozen points where someone could’ve stepped back and reconsidered, but no one did.
4. Paul Hollywood’s low-cut shirt
The man often has a suspicious number of shirt buttons undone, but his standard Bake-Off outfit is a collared shirt. This? This very low U-neck tank top? This shirt makes you wonder … and then feel almost certain … that this is actually his own shirt, and that he was delighted to wear it for this.
3. The voice of the person actually performing this song
The lip-sync performances are all out of whack, which makes the musical element of this even more distracting than “Achy Breaky Tart” was already going to be. Really, though, it’s the voice of whoever they got to actually sing this song that sends it over the top. It’s the energy of the co-worker you least like doing his third karaoke number in a row. It’s like an adult cartoon doing satire of children’s cartoons. If I told you this was being performed by an off-brand mascot in Times Square, you would believe it.
2. The wigs
Ha! You thought the wigs would be No. 1, didn’t you! Yeah, well, they’re bad. The height is bad, the texture is bad, but mostly it’s the hairlines, which look a little like you cut the hair off one Kristoff from Frozen doll then glued it on top of the hairline of a second Kristoff from Frozen doll.
1. Eye contact
Why are they all looking at us like that. It’s concerning for Noel, it’s unpleasant for Matt, but dear lord, why on God’s green Earth would they let Paul Hollywood stare deeply into a camera this way, especially while singing the words “my flaky pastry tart.” It doesn’t matter that no one is actually touching anyone else — it just can’t be sanitary. You might need to wipe down your screen with those Lysol towel things. On the plus side, it really takes the air out of the dreaded Paul Hollywood judging demeanor. Attempting to look at him without laughing will now be the biggest challenge in Bake Off history.