The Heartwarming Side of ‘Comfort’ Television

Rachael Dunphy

This time of year, there’s a few guaranteed milestones. The evenings getting darker, Christmas sweets hitting the shelves in September, and the new season of television getting us ready for winter.

The last few weeks has seen the arrival of two new seasons of some of the biggest tv shows on our screens – Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off, and the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Often labelled comfort shows, it’s hard to ignore the power these television shows hold. 

In 2020, the 11th series of The Great British Bake Off aired to seven million viewers in the UK alone. The show, now in its twelfth season has become a fan favourite across the world, with celebrities such as Lorde, Snoop Dogg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson admitting to enjoying the show. 

“I think at one stage we had 22 million,” says Paul Hollywood in a recent interview with Thrillist, discussing the show’s strong viewership. “We were the most watched over an England football game, over the royal wedding. I mean it was just ridiculous.” 

This year’s Strictly Come Dancing launch show also aired to an estimated seven million in September. Holding a primetime Saturday night slot, Strictly has grown hugely in popularity in recent years, with sister show It Takes Two airing five nights a week.

“The show just gets better every year,” says Vicky Leyland, who plays host to a Strictly Come Dancing fan group on Facebook. Leyland’s private group boasts almost 90,000 members from across the UK and further afield. “It keeps up with the times,” she said, “for example having Internet stars like Joe Sugg, and now same sex couples.” 

Strictly Come Dancing has been praised for its inclusivity in recent years, and this year is no different. The firm favourite to win this year’s competition is Eastenders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis, who made history as the show’s first deaf contestant. The actor relies on counting the beats aloud when dancing, and is accompanied by a British Sign Language interpreter while on set. 

Last year, the show made history with its first same sex couple, with Olympic boxer Nicola Adams being partnered up with female professional dancer Katya Jones. This year sees the first all male pairing, with The Great British Bake Off alum John Whaite partnered with professional Johannes.  Speaking to the Daily Mail earlier this year, Whaite said he hoped his stint on Strictly Come Dancing could soften toxic masculinity, “If I was a child and I’d seen that, I wouldn’t have grown up with so much shame about my sexuality or so much confusion.”

Rachael Dunphy

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