Episode 31: Nailed It! Or so we can hope…


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At this point, I'm not quite sure what you think this podcast is. And maybe that shouldn't matter. Because I've always said this podcast was going to be based entirely on my experiences and by an extension of that my whims. And with there being a clear disconnect between a podcaster and their audience stemming from a lack of a comment section for most if not all podcast players, that should be the end of that. Simply put, this is my show, and I'm free to make it what I want, and you are free to stick around if you want to or leave if you don't.

But that doesn't make me any less aware of the supposed norms I'm about to violate when I decide to make a different kind of episode. And because I don't quite know how to best handle this awkwardness, I draw MORE attention to it by trying—and likely failing—to explain myself. That's just how I am. And I am also the type of person to seldom learn from past mistakes. Apparently.

Because, look, up until this point, I've focused largely on works of fiction. When you go into some of the episodes I’ve made on musicals or songs, it’s possible that those episodes fall into a little bit of a gray area, but it's an acceptable gray area to most people.

And now, sharp left turn. Today, I want to talk about something that would in no way fall into the mold I've supposedly been making. I could have picked something else to discuss this week, yes, but when the idea came to me, this problem didn't. It came so late to the party that I had already decided to lock the door and proceed anyway. In fact, I'm only talking about it now because it keeps peering into the figurative window, and everyone else now has questions.

Here's my answer. I think all forms of media reflect something about ourselves and the way we related to each other. Fiction or not. Do I love fictional stories? Yes. And because this is my show, it will gravitate towards the fictional, but it doesn't always have to.

So it won't today.

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Hi. It's M. Welcome to episode 31.

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So, lately Netflix has been turning out a massive amount of original content. Some hit and some miss. And that's working out for them. Not everything needs to be a hit when you've already got such a massive audience. You just need to find a few gems every now and then. And to that end, some strategies work better than others. And Netflix is trying to be smart about it. To their credit, they're putting their figurative hands in a lot of different pots rather than putting all of their figurative eggs in one basket. (Pause) Yeah, I'm not super proud of that sentence. But I guess you know what I mean.... Netflix is taking a chance at every single trend or popular genre, hoping for the best each time.

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Of course, Netflix has an advantage what with it also being a content distributor and not just a content producer. They know what's being accessed when and by whom, making it possible for them to pinpoint trends before we all become aware of them, so their originals can be launched just as the wave hits its peak. Rather than after the trend has already passed. Some trends are pretty obvious yes, but others we may see or may be in mild denial about. And one of our societal guilty pleasures right now is baking competitions. It seems oddly specific, yes, especially when you say it aloud, but I've binged more than my fair share of them, so I have no business being judgmental in the slightest.

But obviously, Netflix was going to have to jump on this, which they did with a show called Nailed It! A baking competition unlike any other. Because its competitors aren't particularly that good. Nailed It! brings together.... Well, I wouldn't even call them average bakers. They are the inexperienced dreamers of the baking world. They see something on Pinterest or Instagram and decide to throw themselves headlong into recreating it, against overwhelming odds, and it goes about as well as you would expect.

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Rather than looking for the best baker from a group of competitors, Nailed It! is looking for the one who sucks the least. Or the one who makes the fewest rookie mistakes.

And if you're anything like me or your social circles are anything like mine, you've probably heard all of that before. Or something similar to that. Nailed It! as a Netflix original isn't being formally publicized and marketed to the same degree as some of its other originals are. Instead, it almost seems as if Netflix is relying almost entirely on word of mouth for this show, which is working. I had numerous people suggest this show to me numerous times each, and that got me to look into it. Whereas I don’t think an ad would have had that same effect. It’s a tidal wave of social pressure, you could say, something I am likely contributing to by making this review.

The cynic would be greatly displeased to have a corporate strategy to manipulate the populace like this work out so well. That's not an argument I'm entirely unsympathetic too. But at the same time, Nailed It! is worth talking about, even and especially on a superficial level. After all, the show is genuinely hilarious both in its premise and in its practice. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and neither does anyone involved.

Yes, it's a funny show, but more than that, it's a show that derives its laughter from those involved in making the show. If participants aren’t having a good time, the audience won’t. And like that laughter, the show has taken on this highly infectious quality. It's something we are drawn to and evolutionarily wired to want to participate in, spreading it as a result of this participation. We become a willing carrier of this supposed disease. "Disease" in the sense that that it is mildly disruptive to an otherwise sterile and unappealing order of things. But that statement is going to require an explanation some other time.

Point being, this show is going to be talked about. On one hand, we all like laughter and feel the irresistible urge to share in it. On the other, this show not only stands up to re-watching, but it's also the rare type of show that lets you re-experience the magic of that first viewing vicariously through a friend or family member's sheer shock at the unexpected yet expected way the episodes go.

So it's a perfect storm of sorts. Or a storm that is definitely strong enough to change the landscape.

Cue dramatics.

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But before any melodramatic shenanigans, let me cut to the actual chase of this episode. Nailed It! is a Netflix original that sought to cash in on a craze in a very specific way, a way that wouldn't have HAD any competition right away, leaving it a frontrunner for any Netflix user with a very specific but maybe unknown craving. I'm not going to deny that odds are, this is all the Netflix executives and producers wanted to make: something easily and eagerly consumable for the average Netflix user. Something that could keep them coming back for more and more and more. That's not a bad thing. Look at my review of Twilight but overlook the amateur editing. Things don't have to be perfect to matter. Stories don't need to have grand messages in order to be enjoyable. Things are what they are, and if we respond to them, great.

You see, Nailed It! might have been intended to be a lighthearted romp through the kitchen, but while its production team made that, they also made something delightfully and surprisingly subversive. In an innocent way. But still.

Cue chaos. Ever loving chaos and hilarity. Also some nightmares when the cakes go REALLY bad. Like there are some horrible ones in there…. But still, not the point.

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I rewatched all the episodes before outlining the script. And yes, the show is clearly this harmless, basic competition show with very charismatic people left to cause as much culinary destruction as they unintentionally can in pursuit of this ten thousand dollar cash prize. If you take out the skill level of the participants, it's just a normal competition show. You have people striving to be the best at something for the sake of their personal benefit.

It's just that the specific detail you pulled out is the one that matters most, not just because it is the defining characteristic of the show, the thing that makes it so marketable, the thing that... Or maybe that’s all the same thing…

Most competition shows focus on being the absolute best or the best of an already selected and screened group, which creates the perception of being the absolute best. To win that competition is to be a pinnacle of something or other. The details aren’t all that clear, but it’s not something we’re thinking heavily about, anyway. We can take it for granted. We can take it at face value. It's a more obvious thing in some cases than others, but you know what I mean. The unsaid part of whatever prize is being able to say that you are an amazing chef or athlete. That you are better than your peers and the rest of the world at this specific thing.

But that's clearly not the case here. When sometimes the only reason you won is that everyone else did a worse job than you did. That some didn’t know how their oven worked or that someone didn’t know how to fill a cake pan. You weren’t the best, you were least worst. And that's a critical distinction.

Not that I think perfection is a horrible thing, which if you were to straw man anything I say in this episode it would be that. For one, I don't even mean to talk about perfection. Even the winners of the most intense competitions make mistakes and are at peace with those mistakes, as long as they win. Instead, I'm talking about a very specific type of achievement: rising to the top of a select group in a very public forum, that onward momentum and only that momentum. It’s a glimpse into an ongoing journey, a narrowing in on the larger picture. Which is fine. I'm not going to condemn this desire for achievement or this love for any qqrelated narratives. And it's something I too experience and enjoy from time to time. Problem is. That's not all there is in my life, and it shouldn't be all there is in yours.


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These type of shows broadly and generally speaking are great. But they shouldn't be all anyone watches. Obviously. That would be annoying and unsustainable, but shelve those real limitations for a moment or two. And just consider what it is I’m saying. What if this was all you had? What if these shows were the basis of your entire worldview? What would you think then?

That can sound farfetched at first glance. Which isn't as unbelievable as it may seem. After all, that's all there was in the genre for a while. And if you take it out of this medium, if you take it out of this specific realm, that's pretty reflexive of our view as a whole. Although, chicken and egg and all that.

            But it could be said that this is self-perpetuating in some ways. Or it was always there. Once again, chicken and egg. It's something I talked about in one of my episodes on Les Miserables. Vaguely. More like three steps away from it, I guess. But for some reason, it's like we're evolutionarily hard wired to avoid being wrong or admitting that we are wrong, which leads us to dig our feet into the ground far longer than we have any business doing so. And what is being wrong but being mistaken or making a mistake in what belief you hold. Really, we’ve just grown more obsessed with perfection and looking the part or being perceived in that way. Being perfect is the ultimate goal, of all that we do, more accurately. And it’s not like perfection as defined in this context is something you would in some sort of sci fi dystopian film. Compared to that, it’s actually something far more reasonable than that.

Perfection is just having everything together. Tied nightly with a little bow. We need to be good at life and all related things. Like cooking. Like physical activities. You need to be good naturally. No time for struggling to end up on your feet. Just take off running.

I've been wondering lately how much of it is learned behavior. Not that we are taught to do this thing, that we were sat down as children and lectured that we need to believe one, two, three, and four while we nodded and scribbled down notes. No, obviously it was never anything that formal. Rather, it was like an ongoing conversation we just walked into when we grew up. The premises were laid out, and the words were defined. All before we got there. The train was and in is in motion. And sure, we could have always changed the subject or adjusted the subject, but it feels too late, and we aren't that brave. So we let things move on as they are. No matter what.

And what does that conversation entail? Depends on the context, I guess. Here, it is that there is good, better, and best. That's what it means to exist in the human realm and to be human. Good, better, best. Strive to be the best but at least be good. That's all there is, and that's all that matters. No need to think about everything else. No need to discuss anything else. And maybe those first few steps when you’re still learning how to walk and are thus bad at it, are not explicitly cast side to the shadows or into the realm of the lesser then, but if it had no place reserved for it in the normal world or lighted space then where is it going to go? If you are at that phase at something, where are you going to go? It's not something you want to think about, so you better make yourself great quick. Just skip over that beginning stage when all you have is blind enthusiasm and get to the part when you're good.

Oh wait, that's not possible? Well, that sucks for you. Everyone else has already managed it. Supposedly. Or that’s what we’ve agreed on. Don’t ask any more questions.

It seems absurd, I know, but if we want to focus only on one part of human experience, specifically the end part of an ongoing journey inevitably, we create some sort of distortion in how we understand the world. We paint the illusion that this is all that there is in the world. People being good, better, or the best. That’s it. It's an inaccurate picture and one that is incompatible with the reality of human nature. But at the same time, it’s the one we have.…     Maybe we should know better. I grant you that. But let me just point out that it’s hard to know better. But we felt much the same thing during our formative years in school when our grades and our extracurricular successes determined what colleges we got into, which determined the trajectory for our lives. So when were we going to learn this or have this knowledge confirmed and validated? When was that window because I might have missed it? I can’t find a timeline of my life. Can you?

And this is where Nailed It! unintentionally comes in. Here's a show that highlights and celebrates blind enthusiasm outside and iindependent of success. No one on that show is particularly good, and spoiler alert: nobody ever manages to succeed in any of the challenges. Sometimes everybody spectacularly fails.

But everyone is having fun with it. And when they yell “nailed it” as they reveal their sometimes horrible creations, it’s not an exaggeration or a lie. They did what they set out to do, and that is try something that is beyond them without burning down the set. Seriously as long as you don’t hurt anyone or like seriously break their equipment, the show is fine with it. Everything is fine. The contestants are enjoying themselves. They are enjoying their newfound craft and art. And the social judgment or rules that we all subjected to don’t matter. Not to them. And not in that context.

And maybe that's the part we are all responding to. It's a small corner of the entertainment world where perfection is irrelevant and excitement and joy rule instead. It feels like a dream in some ways. This is the image of the world that we want to see and live in. If only we were afforded it more often.

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This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening! If you like what you heard, consider subscribing, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Player FM, and other players. Find us and transcripts at miscellanymedia.online or on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects, including Night and Ink. Do you want to maximize your productivity? Do you want to create all the things while balancing your day job and personal wellbeing? Let us sort through the advice found across multiple dimensions and bring you the best and the worst, if it’s funny.