One of the saving graces of this pandemic year has been comfort TV, and few shows provide comfort quite as well as Netflix's Nailed It! The cake fails on display in any given episode of Nailed It! defy simple schadenfreude; they're a jubilant celebration of the joy to be found in failing big, and the show and its hosts Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres have maintained the perfect laughing-with-you tone throughout the series' run. This week Nailed It! is returns with its first filmed-under-COVID season, complete with all the social-distancing precautions that have allowed us to keep a semblance of television normalcy during all this madness. But rather than pare down, Nailed It! is doubling up, delivering a special season called Nailed It! Double Trouble, where our intrepid but overmatched bakers will compete as teams of two.
So what do the COVID precautions mean for Nailed It!'s new season? For starters, it means Byer and Torres must keep a bit more distance from each other — don't worry, their infectious chemistry bridges the distance. It also means that the occasional rewards and punishments that the bakers get in the second round (a helping hand from Torres, say, or Byer running down to distract someone) aren't really possible with the judges required to keep at least six feet of distance. But since Jacques and Nicole can't mix it up with the contestants, the show decided to let the contestants mix it up with each other by introducing a teams concept. Now, three teams of two — friends, relatives, in-laws — compete to re-create elaborate cake designs, which makes the social distance feel a bit less lonely. With twice the bakers, you might think the tasks of baking cakes, whipping up buttercream, and molding yards upon yards of fondant would be easier, but that would make you a gullible fool. As Byer and Torres realize in the season's opening skit, two times the bakers often seems to mean getting cakes that are two times as bad.
In singing the praises of Nailed It!, it's impossible to oversell the appeal of Byer and Torres as hosts. You get the feeling they were meant to be this mismatched pair — she the bubbly comedian, he the stuffy French professional — but from the very beginning they've been so thoroughly enchanted by each other's vibe and enthusiasm for the shenanigans of the show that they instead play like a pair of chatty best friends who are both fascinated and scared to see what kind of confectionary horrors the contestants deliver this time. And once again, Nicole is having a ton of fun with producer Weston Bahr, bellowing "WHEESSSSS" at every opportunity, waiting for him to trudge dutifully on the stage to deliver a prop of some kind of another.
The teams twist yields some fun results. In the season's first episode, a brother-and-sister-in-law team face off against a pair of best friends and a mom and daughter, designing cakes with a vague Greek mythology theme. Cupcakes that are meant to look like gods and goddesses end up resembling toilet plungers, things are done to baklava that should never be done, and Nicole's going to let rip with that infectious laugh of hers. Nailed It! is of course a competition show — and a rather lucrative one for its constestants, with a $10,000 prize to the team that makes the least bad cake — but the emphasis on actual competition is so low that there's no risk of actual failure for the teams since failure is expected. This way the show can instead focus its energies on, say, creating a Medusa cake with curlers in her hair ("even a gorgon gal likes to get her hair did").
The other good news is that Nailed It!'s COVID season doesn't preclude guest judges, with the likes of Andrea Savage, Lil Rel Howery, and Ron Funches, all joining in on the fun. Howery seems the most fascinated by everything that happens but also the most eager to taste these unholy creations. Funches, meanwhile, is quickly becoming Nailed It!'s best recurring judge, just continuously delighted and confused by everything that's happening. He is to Nailed It! what Byer has been to RuPaul's Drag Race, and we love him for it.
Comfort TV like Nailed It! is both welcome and necessary in this year of strangeness, and if doubling the number of contestants and doubling the kitchen chaos is what helps the show deal with its socially distant present, here's to a format that very much does not fail.
Nailed It! Double Trouble drops on Netflix March 26th.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.