Following a recipe is easy.
A dash of this, a pinch of this, a cup of this, and a handful of that and voila … something that looks nothing at all like the picture in the book (or, of course, on the iPad).
NOTHING AT ALL.
For most of us, it’s not a big deal – our recipe sprung to life is missing the visible shreds of parsley that make everything look like a deliciously herb-y wonder, or our cake is not quite the smoothy-iced Instagram moment we were aiming for.
But for the people who compete on Netflix’s Nailed It! Holiday!, the second of season of which has just dropped on the insanely popular streaming platform, what results is in an order of magnitude so bad that no amount of self-talk or trenchant helpful self-belief is enough to make up for the glaring deficiencies in form or taste.
Which, naturally, makes for brilliantly compelling TV.
The delightful thing about Nailed It! Holiday! is that, like the regular editions of the show, it doesn’t have a meanly-constructed cake layer in its whole giant confected Scrooge face (the transformed protagonist of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features heavily in the first episode of the six-episode series, appropriately-entitled “We’re Scrooged!”
Does this rob it of biting drama, you ask, addicted as you are, you mean soul, with the cruelties and faux whipped up machinations of reality television?
Not for a buttercream second, my drizzling caramel friends.
For Nailed It! Holiday! chooses to spend its time giving us some genuinely-affecting background on the contestants, all of whom want desperately to become the dreamily-perfect cooks they are in their heads.
They aren’t, of course, which is where all the fun comes in, but rather than pillory them mercilessly and leave everyone crying into their badly-warped fondant, hosts Nicole Beyer, “Christmas Carol Nicole” who’s wrapped in a succession of festively-hued fabulous dresses, and chef Jacque Torres (“Bah hamburgers!”; yep he misreads the autocue and it’s genuinely goodhearted fun for all concerned, including animated first guest host Jason Mantzoukas who stars in FX comedy The League) make merry, in the gentlest way possible, with the yawning gap between the contestants’ earnestly sweet (in many case, literally) baking intentions and their hilariously malconstructed realities.
The joy of it all, in this case joy to the kitchen (although thanks to Netflix, the world gets a gut-bustingly funny look in too), is that every single last one of the many gaffes is simply fodder for “We’ve all been there!’ quipping.
Well, let’s be fair, maybe we haven’t all been there.
As Torres effortlessly, and without a hint of irony, talks about how the item/s should look, describing techniques so complicated as though they’re a walk in the proverbial that you, like Maya Rudolph (guest host in “A Classic Christmess”), wonder how anything on earth ever gets made, you come quickly to appreciate that Torres, who acts as a 3-minute mentor to a lucky contestant, likely would fail to qualify as an entrant on his own show.
Even so, and while he and Beyer and said guest host all make merry and bright with their observations about the look and taste of everything from the Scrooge face cake – it’s two-way with a mean and a happy face, tasty and existentially enriching! – there’s more of a spirit of benign hilarity than vicious jocularity.
The contestants don’t get off scot-free though – watching the red-hued backside fall out of contestant Bob Postage’s Santa’s Lap Cake (a fondant red St Nick, sits with the butt of many jokes, production assistant Wuh-Hess!, who can produce margaritas and guacamole if you yell loudly enough (right Maya?!), surrounded by cake-y presents) is the source of many a joke – but it’s not like their good selves are eviscerated, just their sloppily-bad reproductions of the cake tasks at hand.
Which in episodes 1 and 2, involved the aforementioned Scrooge cake, vintage toy cakepop ornaments, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future cupcake toppers and a sugary sweet visit to Santa’s grotto.
They are devilishly hard, and you know that while likes of lovable Bob, gloriously gung-ho Candice – who simply wants to win the $10,000 first prize to take her special needs daughter to Disneyworld; yeah, awwww – and mum Flora Aleman who simply wants her kids to be proud of her, won’t even come close to matching them, no one will be trash talking themt to tears.
There will, instead, be good-natured jokes, all kinds of manically silly moments – Beyer, in particular is a hyperactive gem; watching her play up to the moments when contestants hit the “PANIC!” button, triggering Torres’ minutes-long mentoring, which usually results in no discernible change in the path of the Titanic cake to the iceberg, is a JOY! – and a general sense of, in this case, festive mayhem, the likes of which will make you glad you commissioned someone else to make your special Santa something for The Big Day.
To cries by Jason of “Nicole, you’re going to have to put something strange in your mouth again”, Nailed It! Holiday!, the second season of which takes us from Christmas Eve (“We’re Scrooged!”) to the New Year (“New Year, New Fails”), is a festively flubbed pleasure on a host of very silly levels from the garishly gorgeous set decorations, to the fun made of crew and contestants, and cakes so misshapen they make Tiny Tim look jauntily athletic, to the shared sense that, but for the grace of a modicum of cooking talent, there go I.
Nailed It! Holiday! is the perfect fondant-topped accompaniment to any season – we came across it while my Mum lay dying from cancer, a traumatic event we nursed her through, the only real diversion being the giddy silliness of Beyer and Torres and their cake-challenged contestants who saved us all from some pretty dark moments – a gloriously-loopy Christmassy reminder that while we may not ever nail the recipe, there is a great deal of very-watchable fun in trying … Ho! Ho! Oh no!