An ordinary guy has a chance encounter with an internationally famous woman. Something about him intrigues her, so she pulls him into her exciting and glamorous world, but because she is beset at all times by paparazzi, they have to do some sneaking around. Also complicating matters are his loved ones, too starstruck to be cool about the situation; and her equally famous ex, recently dumped for publicly cheating on her, but arrogant enough to think he can talk her into reconciling. Yes, it's the plot of the 1999 Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts feature film Notting Hill... and also the premise of ABC's new dramedy series, The Baker And The Beauty.
Despite the commonalities between the movie and the show, The Baker And The Beauty has a more direct ancestor: it's a remake of the critically acclaimed (and wildly popular) Israeli sitcom The Baker And The Beauty (which Amazon Prime members can stream for free). In this version, the titular baker, Daniel Garcia (Victor Rasuk), works in his family's shop in Miami. As the series opens, he's taking his girlfriend Vanessa (Michelle Veintimilla) out to an outlandishly fancy restaurant for their fourth anniversary. Everyone — Daniel himself included — knows that Vanessa expects him to propose soon, and he's in the bathroom having a conversation with himself when he's interrupted by another restaurant guest: supermodel and entrepreneur Noa Hamilton (Nathalie Kelley). Their flirty conversation sends Daniel back to his table in a different mood, so when Vanessa shocks him by calling the rest of the dining room to attention, singing to him, and proposing to him (though with a ring she expects him to put on her), he shocks her by turning her down.
Vanessa dumps Daniel's soup all over him and storms off, and a sodden Daniel is walking home when Noa pulls up alongside him and invites him to spend the evening with her squad. They rappel down her father's hotel to deface a poster of her that he erected without her permission; they go for dinner, after which she asks Daniel to teach her how to make pastelitos; they end up at a club, where Noa's scumbag ex Colin finds them. When he's pulled Noa aside to talk, Noa's manager Lewis (Dan Bucatinsky) tells Daniel she does this after every breakup: finds a "normal" guy, gives him the time of his life for a few hours or days, and then has Lewis get rid of him. Daniel stomps out. But is Lewis overstepping this time? Is Daniel maybe... special? The show isn't called The Beauty And Her Bevy Of Average Beaux, so you can probably make an educated guess.
From the trailer, you might get the whiff of a Hallmark production from some kind of alternate universe where the leads don't have to be white, and it definitely has those elements: the dialogue is overly polished; the conflicts are short-lived; hard workers are celebrated; and everyone is basically good-hearted — even Noa's ex Colin, who's humiliated her on a world stage, is treated gently.
Where it departs from the Hallmark formula is in its acknowledgment and portrayal of mature human sexuality. Daniel tells Noa that his parents, Mari and Rafael (Lisa Vidal and Carlos Gómez), are his model for the kind of marriage he wants someday, and we see why: though early scenes establish that Mari is going through menopause, we also see them later that night, totally horny for each other and taking advantage of the fact that all their kids are out for the night. One of those kids — Natalie (Belissa Escobedo), newly enrolled in a more demanding high school and expected to be the first member of the family to attend college — is gay, apparently out to her older brothers but not to her very Catholic parents. As befits a Cinderella story, Noa and Daniel's first kiss is delayed by drama, but unlike a Hallmark movie, the kiss is not the final destination on their path to physical affection.
Beyond sharing its Miami setting with Jane The Virgin, The Baker And The Beauty seems hopeful you will find in it some of the attributes that drew you to The CW's recently concluded love story. The Garcias are also Latinx, although they're Cuban-American where the Villanuevas were Mexican/Venezuelan, and the story is dotted with specific details about their heritage. In the third episode, for instance, Noa brings Daniel with her to Puerto Rico for a gala she's throwing to raise money to build schools there. (In fact, the whole production shoots on the island, with Puerto Rico doubling for Miami as well.) When she's finished doing interviews, Daniel brings her to sample the wares from some local food trucks and banters with a chef, who greets Daniel as a brother once he learns Daniel is Cuban. Daniel translates his aphorism for Noa: "Puerto Rico and Cuba are two wings of the same bird." But whereas Jane The Virgin didn't shy away from taking strong stances on contemporary political issues that affected the communities it portrayed — U.S. immigration policy in particular — Baker gets through a whole episode in Puerto Rico without calling out the woefully inadequate federal response to Hurricane Maria's devastation, which would be the reason a private citizen like Noa would be stepping into build schools in the first place. And speaking of Rafael and Mari's origin story: if they've been together for 30 years, then they would have established their business in the U.S. sometime in the early '90s; why does it look like it was last painted when Che Guevara was still alive? And: will we ever hear the story of how they got to the U.S., given the constraints on travel between the two nations at that time?
The biggest problem with The Baker And The Beauty is, unfortunately, the baker and the beauty. Rasuk has a nice, relaxed energy in his scenes with Daniel's family, and Kelley is convincing as an Elle Macpherson type (although maybe not as a model, since she's barely taller in heels than the noticeably short Rasuk). But considering they're at the heart of this love story — and \viewers can remember Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts effortlessly charming their way through what is essentially the same story — Rasuk and Kelley's chemistry isn't great. Through the first four episodes provided to critics, I was much more eager for the scenes featuring all the supporting players, who were more compelling — even Vanessa, who transforms from the cartoon she is in the pilot into one of the show's most sympathetic characters.
Bottom line, can I recommend The Baker and the Beauty? If it were premiering on January 13, 2020, I probably wouldn't; it strains where its touch should be light, and nailing the casting on the romantic leads is pretty much your most important job when you're making a romantic comedy. However, it's premiering on April 13, 2020, at a time when some of us may be more receptive than usual to a little mindless, inoffensive escapism — punctuated, by the way, with footage of absolutely scrumptious-looking desserts in every episode. If that sounds appealing to you, go ahead and grab a fork; just expect things to get a bit flaky.
The Baker and the Beauty premieres on ABC tonight at 10:00 PM ET.
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.