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Major ingredients missing in CBC’s Great Canadian Baking Show

It's getting fierce wintry in this neck of the woods. Overcoats are being worn in the streets. The trees resemble Canadian cultural policy – pretty colours to look at, then lifeless. Soon, the clocks will go back and people will be, you know, "SAD."

Not "sad" the way Donald Trump uses it on Twitter. But sad as in seasonal affective disorder – that depressive feeling which comes with shorter days and longer nights. The other day, I looked up "SAD" online and found this: "SAD is characterized by various symptoms including chronic oversleeping and extreme carbohydrate cravings that lead to weight gain." I mean, Jeez Louise, that right there is a depressing prospect.

We can call ourselves a winter country until Trump stops making faces that would curdle milk – which is never – but the truth is, many of us get wobbly at the onset of winter. Fed-up and fatigued, we search for solace. We ask, with good reason I think, what our national broadcaster is doing to help.

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The Great Canadian Baking Show (Wednesday, CBC, 8 p.m. ET) is what it's doing. It's the much-hyped local version of The Great British Bake Off, obviously. Knock offs of such a culture-specific phenomenon aren't easy. A good part of the charm of the original BBC series (now airing on a commercial channel over there) is the unstinting, unembarrassed Britishness of it. The setting is a tent in the countryside and the Union Jack is everywhere on it. People who missed Downton Abbey fell hard for it, if you know what I mean.

The CBC version is very much a literal, copycat iteration. There's a tent-like structure and the bakers toil away there. Pennants adorned with the maple leaf sit where the Union Jack sits on the original. If you're a fan of The Great British Bake Off, you will not feel bamboozled, but you might feel bewildered by the reverential copying.

Hosting duties have, inexplicably, been handed to Dan Levy of Schitt's Creek and British actor Julia Chan, who was on CTV's Saving Hope under the name Julia Taylor Ross. CBC's devotion to Dan Levy must be required by the CRTC or something. Chan does a formidably twee voiceover introduction to things, and the same twee twist on things occurs at regular intervals. This gambit is, I suspect, a silly ruse to make the viewers feel they are watching the original in all its tweeness.

Into the judging roles defined in Britain by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, CBC welcomes Vancouver pastry chef Bruno Feldeisen and Montrealer Rochelle Adonis. Neither is what anyone would call a natural in the reality-TV racket. Both are a tad stiff and nervous and little wonder – at any moment, they know they might be swarmed by the feyness of Levy and the tweeness of Chan.

There is a lot to mock in this overconceptualized, overly imitative show but, of course, the entire concoction rests upon the amateur bakers who compete. The format is essentially non-competitive, though, and the bakers are meant to be ordinary people whose first impulse is to support each other in their endeavours. That means the magic is in the choice of contestants. They are the essential ingredient.

Here it's a motley bunch, from old to young, from expansive to shy and, naturally, from across Canada – a human-rights lawyer from Toronto, a retired dentist from Quebec, a contractor from Halifax, a retired animator from British Columbia and so on. In the first episode available for review, the group didn't really seem to have a lot of compelling or charming personalities. All very nice people, mind you.

First, they are obliged to make two dozen cupcakes. Then a Battenberg cake and a chocolate layer cake. (Each of the eight episodes follows the format of the Signature Bake, Technical Bake and Show Stopper.) At the start of the cupcake challenge, two guys indulge in beer, for drinking and for inclusion in the recipe. That's about as vaguely Canadian as it gets.

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The Great Canadian Baking Show is meant to be as light and airy as a sponge cake. True, it is a meanness-free zone, but it is hard to justify its existence when it is so very watery, wishy-washy and tame. The power of the original was the sheer Britishness of it, with its eccentric bakers and the utter devotion to the British tradition of consuming cakes and biscuits. This version is missing the major ingredients of eccentric flair and idiosyncratic contestants. It tries to be British when it is, in fact, Canadian. It would defy judgment if it were not so boring. And as a cure for seasonal affective disorder, it falls as flat as a failed sponge cake.

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