Netflix UK TV review: The Big Flower Fight
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2020
Gardening. Everyone loves gardening, right? It’s like baking, but with flowers. Or pottery, but with flowers. Or sewing, but – you get the idea. That is presumably the way the development meeting went for Netflix’s new competition series, The Big Flower Fight – and the fact that you can’t stop thinking about that while the show unfolds is a sign the end product’s not quite as well-risen as Bake Off.
Like RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bake Off set the golden standard for modern competition TV by understanding the key to what makes a universal and timeless tournament: inspiration rather than aspiration, and encouragement rather than exploitation. Instead of laughing at failures or stoking resentment between contestants, Bake Off found an international audience simply by celebrating the attempts of amateurs to do something that’s within anybody’s grasp, as long as they have a rolling pin and some flour.
The Big Flower Fight joins a number of imitators, such as The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throwdown, but where they focus on domestic (albeit niche) activities, Netflix’s aim to go bigger and better results in some less relatable activities: contestants here have to create larger-than-life flower sculptures, craft dresses from freshly picked foliage, build furry beasts, edible thrones or sea creatures from beach waste.
Overseeing this is Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht, owner of designer florists Wild Bloom Floral. Hailing from Detroit, he brings the American audience with him, making sure that he milks every stage for the maximum drama possible. “I’m quite offended and upset,” he begins in round one, before adding: “Because you told me this was going to be ugly and it’s stunning!” He’s joined by a rotating roster of guest judges who specialise in different areas.
The presenters, meanwhile, follow the convention of being offbeat but friendly. In this case, it’s Vic Reeves and Natasia Demetriou, who are the right level of mad for such a crazy premise: neither of them seem to take it seriously (Kristen gives Vic a playful wink when he describes him as “florist to the stars”), and Natasia is as frank as she is kind. “It reminds me of the hair I shave off my legs,” she observes at one point.
The contestants, too, are a welcome mix of genders, ages, professions and nationalities. “Henck is from the Netherlands and Yan is from Denmark,” we’re told early on, making for an eccentric couple who are only outdone by the adorable father-and-son duo, Ralph (a groundskeeper) and Jim (a student) from Eastbourne. Monet and Stephanie, the youngest, are friends from college, while Ryan (a curator from Vancouver) is joined by Andrew (an artist from Lancashire), and Chanelle (a designer from London) has teamed up with Raymond (a florist from south east London). And there’s a dancer, Rachel, from Minnesota, who’s buddied up with Delilah, who has a business degree.
Some of the contestants’ banter feels too forced to really work – “All my snails just eat my flowers,” says Natasia. “Well, maybe you’re not treating them right,” comes the reply. – and the set is also never knowingly understated, comprising one massive domed greenhouse near Kent, which seems to fill up with dry ice every time a camera appears. There are even cute hand-drawn illustrations of each creation, a la Bake Off.
If the result is not exactly effortless, it makes up for it with everyone’s exuberance and the very fact that they’re all creating flower sculptures in a geodome near Kent for the world’s entertainment. Even the camerawork is entertainingly over-the-top, creeping behind hedges and swooping around the artworks with a polished extravagance.
But the thorn in the show’s side is that it gets too carried away with that crafted presentation. In its rush to get from one spectacle to the next, it forgets the thing that makes competition TV work: the contenders. The editing fails to introduce each person adequately, and, worst of all, doesn’t even show us half of the finishing works each episode, focusing mainly on those who will be knocked out or be named “Best of Bloom”. It’s a jarring decision that leaves you wondering what exactly what went wrong with the others, or what they said on camera; if there’s no guarantee that we can see each competitor’s efforts, it’s hard to root for any one of them in particular. (Compare that to Love Is Blind, which also saw contestants edited out entirely, but in a way that didn’t stop you getting emotionally involved.)
The result is, much like Too Hot to Handle, another demonstration that Netflix can jump onto the reality TV craze with a knack for catching the globe’s attention, but hasn’t got much more to it than that. It’s a fun example of taking the Bake Off recipe to the extreme, but The Big Flower Fight is a few bushes short of shubbery.
The Big Flower Fight is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.