The streaming platforms have so far seemed suspicious about reality TV. Netflix's vast budgets have been far more likely to end up with the auteurs of film (David Fincher) and television (Ryan Murphy, who set a new bar with his US$250m+ deal earlier this year).
They appear to want flagship series which confer prestige upon the platform, and will pay (almost) anything for the privilege.
What reality there has been on Netflix has largely been kooky and aimed at a niche audience: Ultimate Beastmaster, a kind of Ninja Warrior ripoff, and the delightfully weird Japanese domestic Terrace House were the main contributions until the revived Queer Eye transcended expectations.
This has left reality mostly to the networks, where it can be relied upon to fill multiple nights and create a sports-like 'event television', which generates headlines and controversy to keep audiences away from the internet's grasp.
This has functionally meant that stylistic innovation has been somewhat slow in reality. The formal daring of Married at First Sight hasn't been matched by a creativity in its expression. The same shots, the same tinkling music, the same endless recaps. Even when the drama is explosive, it carries itself too heavily.
What makes Nailed it! such an unalloyed joy is that its presentation is precisely calibrated to its subject matter. It's light, it's sweet, it's on a boozy lean – just like its cakes.
The show takes the work of extraordinarily gifted cake makers and has regular home bakers try to replicate it, before being judged by master bakers. The charm is in the amateurism – after years of watching experts do things on television, it's a massive relief to see people make recreations so bad they could be your own.
It's not just the conceit that works, though – it's the casting. Host Nicole Byer is interfering, shockingly loud and extremely engaging. She yells, she cajoles, she can be deployed to run interference on another contestant, which she does with extreme gusto. The diversity doesn't end there – the first episode features Sylvia Weinstock, an 88 year old wedding cake legend from Queens with glasses bigger than her head, joined by the head regular judge, 59-year-old Jacques Torres.
They collectively break the tanned-blonde-rictus-grin stereotype of TV hosts in a way that is deeply liberating as a viewer. And there's plenty more which is different – the camera will crash zoom in and out, meme-style captions pop up, and the edit is distinctly relaxed: at one point a camera catches Weinstock stealing a frying pan from a prize cupboard; at another her charming flub of an autocue read is left in – because it's funny, and why not?
The stakes are distinctly low – the prize is $10,000, or a shiny hat. The contestants are chosen not for their skill but for their relatability. The sensibility is very internet, but without feeling cringe-y or forced the way that influence has often been worn in the past.
What it adds up to is a reality show which bucks the trend for seriousness and drama, and rather than leaving you on tenterhooks, invites you to indulge in another episode. It suggests that Netflix and the streaming platforms are still very much in building out mode, experimenting and powering up when formats succeed.
The small but bright success of Nailed It! suggests that they will come to all formats in good time.