To look at the world of baking through the lens of Instagram is to gaze upon an unending stream of beautiful birthday cakes, gorgeous pies with complicated latticework crusts, and new ways to make chocolate chip cookies. That’s a lot of well-lit perfection. Coupled with Pinterest and YouTube—where there seems to be an equally insatiable demand for ever-more-complicated and ingenious desserts—it’s enough to send a home baker screaming from the kitchen without ever cracking an egg.
Nailed It, a new cooking show on Netflix, is here to deliver us from social media-induced perfection phobia—at least as far as baked goods are concerned. More Double Dare than Great British Baking Show, Nailed It invites three not especially accomplished home bakers to make two different tricky cakes for a panel of judges that includes Jacques Torres, haute chocolatier; Nicole Byer, comedian; and a special guest, usually a professional baker, cake designer or YouTube sensation.
This is really a decorating show, not a test of culinary ingenuity. Contestants are presented with a creative, and elaborate, cake design and provided with step-by-step instructions for reproducing it. First season highlights included a giant volcano, cocktail-themed cupcakes and an epic shark cake.
The problem, as anyone who’s ever watched a YouTube video of a baker producing a multi-tiered rainbow cake, or a unicorn creation, or a geode cake, can attest, is that techniques that look simple when done by pro are often quite challenging in reality. Fondant is hard to work with, molding chocolate far harder, and even perfect frosting swirls made with a pastry bag take time and effort to do well. And that’s all assuming you have the actual equipment and space and time to complete these slightly deranged sugarscapes.
On Nailed It bakers who have never used a simple stand mixer are tasked with recreating enormous cakes that require mastery of a wide variety of decorating skills. They usually have about two hours to produce something that a professional would spend multiple days crafting. This makes it sound like a sad exercise in futility, but it’s actually really rather sweet and energizing.
For one, everyone is having fun, even when things go badly. Byer’s years of improv at places like The Upright Citizens Brigade serve her well—she’s always looking for the opportunity for hilarity in an unfolding disaster—and she and the far more reserved Torres have a surprisingly lively chemistry.
Nailed It really succeeds in pointing out just how much work goes into our made-for-social media moments. The show contends that a willingness to fail–and do so in plain view—is ultimately a valuable and interesting personal trait. Ultimately, the show suggest that that we all just need to relax a little—especially when there’s cake to eat in the end.