I am not a fan of reality TV (with the exception of the newer “Queer Eye” series on Netflix). I have never watched “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” “Real Housewives” or even most game shows due to a general lack of interest. The only reality TV show I avidly watch and obsess over is “Making It,” a wholesome crafting show hosted by dream team Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. I get as passionate and intense watching Amy and Nick hand out award patches for winning creations as normal people get about “The Bachelor” and roses.
So did I literally scream at the top of my lungs when I saw that a holiday spin-off of “Making It” was released earlier this month? Yes, I did. And it turns out it was an appropriate response.
“Baking It,” an original series presented by Peacock, is a holiday baking show set in the same rustic barn as its crafting counterpart. I never thought any host pairing could compete with Amy and Nick, but this show is hosted by the iconic Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg, two of my favorite hilarious Jews.
Already, we are off to a great start with these two phenomenal Jewish hosts. But to my further delight, they kick off the very first episode with a focus on Hanukkah, because, according to Andy, “This is a Christmas show. And everyone knows that every great Christmas starts with Hanukkah.” The first baking challenge is even dubbed “Festival of Bites.”
Throughout the episode, Andy Samberg references his own Hanukkah observance, telling Maya he has “a menorah and everything.”
In a cut scene, Maya asks Andy if he knows the Hanukkah story, launching Andy into the best explanation of Hanukkah/Jewish holidays I have heard thus far:
Maya: Andy, do you know the story of Hanukkah?
Andy: I do, yeah, but I don’t wanna tell it right now. You know, I don’t want to spoil the end for anyone who is still reading the Torah.
Maya: Ah, good point.
Andy: I mean, you could pretty much just, like — like, bad stuff happens to the Jews, then God does a miracle thing, and then, you know, we all get together like seven times a year and complain and drink wine.
Maya: Sounds fun.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. [With forced cheerfulness] It’s not.
Since Andy brought up Jewish holidays, I have to say dayenu — all this would have been enough to fill my Jewish-pop-culture-loving heart to the bursting. BUT THERE’S MORE.
Andy and Maya host, but they aren’t the judges. The judges are introduced as the Panel of Opinionated Grannies. Um, hello — does it get more Jewish than a bunch of opinionated grandmothers judging someone’s cooking?! Turns out, IT DOES. One of the judges is presented to us as Bubbe Norma. She tells us right off the bat: “I’m Bubbe Norma. I’m Jewish and half Italian. So I am tough — but fair!”
When tasting the first dish, Bubbe Norma says, “I just have one comment,” and the contestant’s eyes grow wide and anxious. Bubbe Norma continues, “If this was a man, I would marry it!” When judging a baked good that includes a bacon garnish on top, she comments, “I’m loving the bacon. Yeah, nice Jewish touch on there,” and everyone at the table bursts into laughter. She’s the Jewish grandma we all know and love (whether or not we are actually related to her).
One pair of contestants makes a noodle kugel, and another makes shortbread raspberry bites set atop clear glass cups to look like a menorah. The pair that created the menorah dessert introduce themselves as Irish-Catholics from Boston, but explain that they had neighbors across the street who celebrated Hanukkah: Anytime their neighbors would light their menorah, they would rush to their window to see it, and it became a beloved holiday tradition for their family. What did Bubbe Norma have to say? “The creativity is really impressive. I mean, to come up with a menorah that’s edible? I don’t know why my people didn’t think of this years ago. We needed the Irish-Catholics to tell us how to get more food into a Jewish person — I’m shocked!”
At the end of the first challenge, Maya asks Bubbe Norma which pair of contestants made her proud like a grandchild going to med school. Then Andy chimes in and asks cheerfully, “And who made you disappointed like a grandchild going into show business?”
Spoiler alert: It’s a happy ending and a happy Hanukkah, y’all: THE MENORAH WINS!
While the second half of the episode is markedly less overtly Jewish, Bubbe Norma carries us through with her distinctive, lovable Jewish humor. My favorite example of this is when the grannies are all sitting in a circle of rocking chairs, blankets on their laps, and chatting. One of them asks, “What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?” To which Bubbe Norma retorts, “Get a boob job.”
I didn’t realize this spin-off was out until a couple days after Hanukkah was over, and it’s honestly helping me cope with how early the holiday ended this year. It’s the belated Hanukkah gift I had no idea I needed.
I have a feeling that the rest of the episodes will be less thematically Jewish moving forward, but I so greatly appreciate the beautiful irony of starting off a Christmas show with a heavy slice of Jewish culture, humor and fun. I also have faith in Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg and Bubbe Norma to carry us through with brilliant Jewish humor and heart. I can’t wait to sit on my couch with a plate of post-Hanukkah latkes and dig into the rest of the series this holiday season.