While some sick people comfort themselves with plenty of rest and fluids, when I caught my daughter’s eviscerating stomach bug this week, I consoled myself with episodes of Season 1 and 2 of the Netflix series, Nailed It! Sure, I could barely stand upright, keep my eyes open, or consume anything, but somehow watching (or in some cases, just listening to) famed chocolatier and pastry chef Jacques Torres and comedian Nicole Byer console out-of-their-depth bakers through feats of mediocrity soothed this “unruly body,” as writer Roxane Gay puts it.
Perhaps it was the cold comfort that while these wannabe bakers could not tell the difference between sugar and salt, how to pronounce fondant, or the necessity of greasing a baking pan or how to work a convection oven, I also could not resemble a human being for anyone who depended on me. It was all I could do to zombie-shuffle my now healthy child to preschool on Monday so I could simply close my eyes and not feel the world spin.
And, honestly, schadenfreude was not the main emotion that reassured me as I nap-watched Nailed It! contestants bomb the overly ambitious baking projects of wildly embellished three-tiered cakes, fairy-tale inspired cake pops, or pancake art. What was inspiring was the contestants usually, intimately knew their weaknesses and still carried on, knowing their final creation was likely adorned in “dog shit for frosting,” as Steve Jobs once famously said, for all the world to see.
“The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive,” social work professor and researcher Brené Brown wrote. “It’s uncomfortable but it’s adaptive.” While I cannot control sickness, of course, seeing others careen headlong into failure without animus or remorse reminded me that all of us are often just doing the best we can. As The New Yorker’s roving food correspondent Helen Rosner put it in June, “Nailed It! has the same warmth, the same feeling of baking just for the fun of it; it is a joyous testament to the power of laughing with instead of laughing at.” And that notion of laughing with means so much, especially when you realize just how mortal and laughable most of us are.
Laughing at absurd pastry creations and the all-too-human contestants doing their damnedest to dismantle the impossibility of perfection, made me feel a little less alone in a time where all I wanted was to be left alone. Nailed It!’s appeal reminded me in many ways of Cervantes’ titular character Don Quixote. While many of us appreciate a good underdog story, the true enjoyment of Nailed It! is knowing that failure is imminent, tilting at windmills and underbaking cakes notwithstanding. The unifying ethos of Nailed It! is something Quixote said best, “Thou hast seen nothing yet.”