You Need To Watch ‘Nailed It’, The Most Delightful Reality TV Show Ever

Netflix's cooking show for people who can't cook is wonderful.

Nailed It

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Over the weekend I inhaled two things in one sitting: half a Sara Lee cake from a foil tray and the entire first season of Nailed It, Netflix’s new cooking competition featuring contestants who can’t cook.

Initially when an email from old mate algorithm landed in my inbox suggesting Nailed It! as yet another show I might like, I was skeptical: could the coming together of two of my favourite things — fails and reality cooking shows — really work? Aren’t cooking competitions a little stale these days? And the world is already a hellfire, do I really need to bask in human misery during my escapist hour? I already watch This Is Us.

Luckily, the brains behind Nailed It! have cooked up something really light, fluffy and all-round delightful — your new favourite TV snack for the overstocked pantry.

Schadenfreude… But Nice?

Over six half-hour episodes, enthusiastic host Nicole Byer (Loosely Exactly Nicole), French chef Jacques Torres and guest judges assess the skills of a rotating suite of unskilled bakers competing for a cash-prize.

Across two rounds of culinary challenges, contestants rely on personality over kitchen-based confidence as they emulate the breathtaking baked masterpieces of professional chefs. The result: a whole lot of lols at some amateur-created baked goods that look more like my innards post-Sara Lee scoff down than anything you’d willingly consume.

Unlike my diet, Nailed It is perfectly balanced. Schadenfreude has long been a massive part of the spectacle of reality television and TV generally (think Funniest Home Videos), but here contestants are equally optimistic and self-deprecating. Think of it as a saltier, more colourful version of Great British Bake Off with less syrup but just as much heart.

Nailed It contestants are truly characters, not passive participants to be pointed and laughed at — they’re real people who recognise their failings but try to beat the odds anyway. From hopeful mums who flub their kids birthday cakes to spirited, stubborn ex-cops who deliberately don’t follow the recipe (that they’re supplied!) to teachers who are used to excelling, the casting is on point.

Winners of the $10,000 (!!) prize often break down in happy tears, a rare sight in the reality competition genre that relishes sob-soaked humiliation. And losers aren’t condemned or saddened, rather they often close the show with a sassy comeback or seem elated by the general experience.

Owning Imperfection

Contrary to what the haters say, no matter how cheaply made or poorly produced or even grandiose, reality TV insightfully reflects human psychology.

The idea of ‘nailing it’ is based on satire and irony, taking both name and conceit from the meme that mocks pictures of failed baking or crafting recreations online. But the true joy of Nailed It comes from its mix of knowing imperfection and genuine acceptance.

When the world is turning to shit, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and find some pleasure in what was becoming mundane or miserable. Case in point: the final episode of Nailed It! had me cry-laughing with contestants remaking a baked-goods bust of President Donald Trump while contestants made comments like “don’t be sorry he ain’t sorry” at the outcomes.

Mirroring what contestants produce, Nailed It is an imperfect production with cheap glossy sets, deliberately bumbled lines and ultimately hilarious guest hosts who play by their own rules on set (like bespectacled octogenarian cake designer Sylvia Weinstock).

Perhaps the new recipe for self-aware reality TV involves removing high stakes and failure from the menu, where careers or self-worth are on the line (like Idol, The Bachelor franchise), and instead making the wholesome celebration of self-acceptance the hero of the dish (think Netflix’s other recent hit, Queer Eye).

And if this is the case, the first season of Nailed It has truly nailed the recipe.

Stephanie Van Schilt is a co-host of Sisteria podcast and former editor of The Lifted Brow. Her writing appears in VICE, Frankie and The Guardian. Follow her Twitter on @stephvanschilt.