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The Best Episode of Netflix's 'Nailed It!'

By Kristy Puchko | TV | December 11, 2018 |

By Kristy Puchko | TV | December 11, 2018 |


With the coming of Nailed It! Holiday!, Netflix has not only given us the gift of more of the hilarious Nicole Byer, more of the cuddly Jacques Torres, and more endearing cake-tastrophes, but also, they have given us the best episode of Nailed It! yet. And it’s not even the one with Jason Mantzoukas!

The episode “Toying Around” features three scrappy and enchantingly high-energy contestants. There’s Alicia Figliuolo, a Marine Corps veteran who has a snazzy sense of style and a delightfully gung-ho attitude, Joseph Cogshell, a sales manufacturing manager who loves baking with his young son and sometimes suspects fridge doors are pranking him, and Jill Briganti, a chipper elementary school teacher who declares, “Even if my students watch me tank, I know that they would still see it’s worth trying something hard.”

It’s this kind of attitude that Nailed It! and this yuletide collection Nailed It! Holiday! is all about. And things get hard at the start, thanks to the tricky Baker’s Choice challenge: a cookie that is a three-dimensional toy figure with moving parts! As you might imagine, such edible playthings are fragile. Promptly, Alicia accidentally breaks an arm off of the cookie-doll she’s meant to recreate. But fear not! The show cuts to a “Please Stand By” title, while Torres sweeps in to save the day with a quick cookie repair. It’s okay! Mistakes are part of the process, even of making Nailed It!


As the competition gets cooking, this episode proves to be peak Nailed It in every respect. With comedian and “Christmas troll” Ron Funches as the guest judge, the jokes come fast and festive, whether they’re about the baked not-so-goods or Byer’s beloved childhood toy, Mousey Mouse. There are simple pleasures to be found in the judges’ banter, like the fancy way Torres pronounces “assemble,” the shocked faces Byer makes when tasting a confounding cookie, or the abject pleasure Funches experiences when he realizes he gets to penalize contestants for going off-recipe with their bakes. And there’s a unique delight in watching Torres explode with glee at the revelation, “I can skip!” But the fun isn’t just for the judges.

“My mindset for Nailed It! is to reflect on the Fun Joe, who hasn’t been out in a while,” Joe explains in his interview, “because I have stage four chronic kidney disease. I’m currently going through the process of trying to find a living donor. And this is an environment where I can just have fun.” And Joe does. His dough is a disaster, lovingly compared to sand by Byer. But he rallies and makes some mix of flour, sugar, and sheer gumption that produces a cookie that may not be good, but certainly is memorable! The judging for his helicopter cookie is quintessential Nailed It! Watch it below.

Warning: you will belly laugh

This is what Nailed It! is all about, condensed into two minutes. It’s about the joy of baking. Look how much fun Joe is having with the judges! Behold the genuine pride he has in overcoming his missteps to present something that is vaguely helicopter shaped and does move! Even with its flaws, this is a success! And because of the radiant enthusiasm of the bakers and the judges, we get to revel in this victory along with them, with smiles wide and eyes glittering with happy tears. Sure, Joe’s cookie won’t win this round. But as he and all the bakers in this ep make clear, this show isn’t about the big prize. It’s about sharing in the love of the process—mistakes and all—with a community that totally gets it and gets you.

Per usual, the Nail It Or Fail It challenge was a real doozy: a light-up robot cake, made of four layers of red velvet, a head made of Rice Krispies treats, and covered in metallic fondant. But instead of panicking, the bakers look stoked, especially Alicia. Over the 75-minutes of the challenge, there will be some setbacks and silliness, including a Nicole Nags segment where she’ll play a slew of annoying instruments to distract two contenders. But Alicia lives by the Marine Corp motto, “Adapt and overcome.” And so she will. As she creates the silver paint, she’ll cheer with excitement, “Magic!” She’ll learn you can “over chill” a cake (or freeze it)! She’ll sing as she paints her confection, even as it crumbles. And in the end, she’ll present a cake that looks a bit “like it fell into a trash compactor,” but still looks like a robot!

When presenting it to the judges, this Marine is overwhelmed, sharing that she feels “like a million dollars, because it’s not pretty but I’m just really proud of it.” With emotional support from Byer, she shares more. “I was in a really dark, ugly place,” Alicia says, referring to a serious brain injury she suffered recently. “I had my independence taken away from me. I was no longer allowed to cook or bake or use a kitchen. When Nailed It! first premiered, the first time I belly-laughed in seven months was watching you two (Byer and Torres) banter back and forth and building people up, who didn’t know how to cook.” Her plucky smile quivering with tears, this brave and resilient baker concludes, “So Nailed It! is the greatest experience that I could ever have, because I no longer feel like I can’t do it.” Then, Byer hugs her. And we at home feel the warmth of the hug, of this moment, of this personal victory, more radiant than any trophy and more satisfying than any baked good.

A lot of reality competition shows feature talent at the top of their game, pushing their medium to new awe-inspiring heights. There are plenty of baking shows like this on Netflix, The Great British Baking Show, Zumbo’s Just Desserts, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. But Nailed It! is for the rest of us. It’s for those of us who didn’t know there was a specific kind of chocolate made for melting or that cold spray is a thing, much less a thing you’d use in a kitchen. And it’s a place where our humble talents and grand aspirations are celebrated with encouragement, love, and a bit of good-natured ribbing. But the joke is never on the bakers. Instead, Byer and her fellow judges’ cackles and critiques allow us to laugh with the bakers, and not take too seriously something that is meant to be fun. As Alicia articulated, Nailed It! allows the contestants a place to feel deep pride in what they’ve accomplished. Because sometimes no matter how hard you plan or work, things fall apart. But no matter who takes home that willfully mangled trophy, the real winners are the ones who found joy in the journey and pick themselves up to try again.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Netflix