Judges and hosts of The Big Flower Fight

Fun, Fancy, Frequently Flaky — “The Big Flower Fight”

“The Big Flower Fight” is unabashedly influenced by “The Great British Bake Off” (aka “The Great British Baking Show”). Is Netflix taking the formula from flour to flowers worth your time, though?

I have annoying expectations for reality shows. For the most part, I dislike the genre, but there’s a range of reality competitions I really do enjoy. These focus less on personality and more on the creation of art and the work and expertise behind that creative process. “The Big Flower Fight” falls squarely into this niche, so let me get this out of the way. It’s enjoyable. It makes me smile. I like watching it. It also could be more, and it’s that next step that really interests me most. Basics first:

“The Big Flower Fight” pits 10 teams of two against each other in a weekly competition. One team is eliminated every week. There is only one challenge per episode, and each is singular and daunting. Teams might create a giant animal out of flowers one week, and a throne out of edible plants the next.

Interestingly, what they create can take a back seat to the specific approach that’s being asked that week. One week might be using living plants, the next cut flowers, the next grasses, the next edible plants. I never really stopped to think about the number of various disciplines within floral design.

This means specific competitors have some specialties and some weaknesses. This raises and lowers expectations for certain teams by the week. For instance, florists better excel at a challenge using cut flowers. There’s a good range of skill sets, too. Just to name a few, there are florists, garden designers, Instagram houseplant celebrities (yes, that’s a thing), installation artists with less direct floral experience, and a team of Irish landscapers who engineer every challenge as much as they design it. It all adds up to enjoying a very wide range of approaches to floral design, rather than every team doing variations of the same thing.

The show’s also superb in its representation. While I don’t want to single competitors out, it is still important for audiences to see themselves represented and succeeding on TV. Two teams are same sex couples, and one competitor is trans. Unlike the approach in certain other reality shows, their stories aren’t exploited. They aren’t posed as emblematic or held out in any way that’s different. They’re treated as competitors and artists like everyone else. “The Big Flower Fight” does a very nice job on this front and in terms of other aspects of diversity and inclusiveness.

The big elephant in the room is just how much “The Big Flower Fight” is like “The Great British Bake Off”. That invites comparison, but remember that “Bake Off” had a rocky, mixed start to things. It took a while for it to find its footing. “The Big Flower Fight” already understands many of the things “Bake Off” had to learn and develop. At the same time, “Flower Fight” lags behind in terms of the genre-leading elements “Bake Off” boasted at its high point.

More than anything else, “The Great British Bake Off” is a triumph of editing. It is superbly organized to the point where it can deliver contestant narratives, inform you about foods and ingredients you may not know, and allow the hosts and judges the time to consider every single recipe across multiple challenges. The magic of “Bake Off” is that it wastes no time, but it never feels like it’s in a rush.

I’m going to be really weird and cite a saying often attributed as a Navy SEAL mantra: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. Before anything else, “The Great British Bake Off” sits inside each moment. It delivers itself calmly and smoothly. Once it does that, it avoids the risk of skipping information or rushing the viewer. Because the viewer never feels hurried, the information and narratives delivered are easy to digest. That allows the show to pack in more and more information because the audience is given a clear pace at which to absorb it.

“The Big Flower Fight” does not have this down. There’s only one contest per show, but in the first two episodes, it completely skips over some of the final sculptures entirely. You never see them, except perhaps in the background of another being discussed. Once a few teams are cut and the introductory narratives are out of the way, it finally starts showing us every final piece in Episode 3, but it’s frustrating to hear competitors talk about their artistic approach and technical decisions only to never see the final result.

You can see this reflected in other elements of the show. Most episodes, they’ll briefly highlight a specific flower or grass, where it comes from, and how it’s useful…but that’s it. They’ll include this once per episode. The types of reality show I enjoy watching most are all about understanding the technical side of art better. That includes teaching us a bit about the materials.

In my humble opinion, the best reality competition yet shown was SyFy’s special effects make-up show “Face Off”. I dearly miss it because it made you understand so much about the technical aspects that help artists achieve their creations. When you understand the technical aspects as an audience, from materials used to techniques applied, you can better understand what’s happening when a competitor takes a misstep or succeeds beautifully. That’s what makes a show like this worthwhile.

There’s drama in whether artists will be able to achieve their art in a way that satisfies themselves, as well as an audience who judges them. That’s valuable because it burrows to the heart of the impostor syndrome, struggle, and internal and external doubts that many artists in all fields face on a daily basis. That is human, and it is one of the very few places where reality shows can have value that exceeds most other genres. Unfortunately, most of the reality genre overlooks this and pursues whether semi-scripted people like each other or whether we like them, which is simply a pale emulation of what fictional drama already does better.

Thankfully, “The Big Flower Fight” avoids interpersonal conflicts – the artists seem supportive of each other, and I always love when this is shown in a competition show. At the same time, the lack of focus on educating the audience about technical aspects means that it’s not on the level of “Bake Off”, “Face Off”, or my favorite currently running: the extremely technical weapon-smithing competition “Forged in Fire”.

“The Great British Bake Off” also benefited from just how much it took on the empathy and wit of the hosts for its first seven seasons, Mel Geidroyc and Sue Perkins. “The Big Flower Fight” is hosted by (very) talented comedians Natasia Demetriou and Vic Reeves. Their presentation style is thus far cheesy and brief, with far more time given permanent judge Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht and a different guest judge every episode.

This is fine, but the show could use more structure and the usual way to deliver that structure is to use the hosts and judges to shape how each episode is compartmentalized into segments. “Forged in Fire” and “Face Off” both deliver clear segments that take us through design phases, and then component phases leading up to the completion of the full piece. This allows technical education of the audience to shine through in clear descriptions. This is often done by the judges explaining techniques to the hosts.

“The Big Flower Fight” is a bit more like “Bake Off” in that it handles this team by team, jumping back to each team’s concept even as the other phases keep on progressing. It might benefit from having more clearly demarcated segments that introduce us to everyone’s concept earlier in each episode. Yes, many reality competitions blur these segments and start to lose them as they evolve, but there’s a reason that so many start their runs with these segments intact.

There’s an A to B to C that reality competitions need to either use or master well enough to surpass:

  • This harder compartmentalization into phases shapes how you visually present pieces of art as they progress through those phases. This leads regular shot choice and editing. That makes it easier for an audience to follow how something is made. There needs to be more regularity to how “Flower Fight” does this.
  • That regular shot and editing presentation constructs a sort of visual grammar through which the audience understands every piece’s progression. It’s a shorthand that can be connected to the judges’ and hosts’ dialogue with each other, which offers the opportunity for educating the audience in the technical.
  • That technical familiarity is what then helps the audience better understand how artists are pursuing creative goals, and that ultimately helps an audience choose what they like and who they’re rooting for.

It’s hard for a show to blur the definition of these segments in a functional way before it’s established how they’re useful to an audience. “Flower Fight” seems to be skipping a step. As enjoyable as it is, it doesn’t follow, ““Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. There’s just a hair too much, “Chaotic is staggered, staggered is frenetic”.

Does this mean it’s not good? No, I really like it. It’s an enjoyable show in a light, delectable, stress-relieving way. If you’re going to follow the course of “Bake Off”, that is the quality that’s more important than anything else. The rest may need a bit of work, but that core element of helping an audience breathe easier and appreciate something beautiful is there. The rest is more about grinding out the rough spots.

What’s here is lovely and graceful…perhaps in a stumbling way, but that doesn’t exactly hurt its endearing qualities. “Flower Fight” might best be described as a manic pixie dream show, after all, so being kooky and imperfect is something that rolls off its shoulders pretty easily.

My critiques here are holding it up to some of the best reality competition has to offer, because right now this is a good show. Yet it’s a good show because the art is so good and the artists themselves bring diversity and a wide range of expertise to the fore. The show itself is a functional way to display the superb quality of the art, but you can see the improvements it could make to be more than that.

With some of the rough spots developed and a calmer, more deliberate presentation that lets it control its chaos just a bit more, “Flower Fight” could be one of the great ones. It’s worth your time and its art already gives it moments both enjoyable and poignant. The places it can improve are really about whether it’s a nice, rewarding, relaxing show, or one that can also begin to define its genre.

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