Thank goodness, 'The Great Pottery Throw Down' is back
People say there's no appointment television anymore, but I'm not so sure. I might not watch things at the same time as everyone else, the way I did when I was young, but I do save my viewings of certain shows for just the right moments.
I had a long and irritating couple of weeks as a homeowner (suffice it to say sewer pipes and tree roots are a bad combination), which I topped off with some medical adulting (your basic preventative maintenance). By the time I got midway through this week, I was exhausted, grumpy, tired, and generally annoyed with ... everything. And then I remembered: I had screeners of the new season of The Great Pottery Throw Down that I could watch while I lay on the couch and tried to un-jangle my nerves!
I was telling a friend recently that I sometimes have the uncomfortable feeling I don't remember very much about 2020 after COVID hit; that because I was alone so much and just trying to get through it, I didn't retain anything. I was mentally hibernating to conserve power, if you will. So every time I look at something that was part of that first terrible year, it's like looking at a photo album that's a lot more than a couple of years old. And one of those things was my first exposure to The Great Pottery Throw Down, the BBC-produced Great British Baking Show cousin that has, if it's possible, an even more soothing and even more nurturing vibe.
I wrote about Throw Down in 2020 after I first saw it, and my high regard for it has only grown. Where GBBS has Paul Hollywood's slightly hostile, slightly snotty vibe that throws a bit of acid on its sweetness, Throw Down has Keith Brymer Jones as the primary judge, joined by Rich Miller, who was the beloved kiln man in early seasons before being promoted to a fantastic judge. (There's now a kiln woman named Rose Schmits who handles the job of taking the works in progress out of the kiln and hiding them under cloths, so that the potters can unveil them and see whether they are now piles of rubble.)
Jones regularly tears up at the work of the contestants, seemingly because he has an artist's genuine ability to be moved by other people's work and by their progress. The whole on-camera team is terrific, but Jones' weepiness helps push the show toward a level of earnestness that almost dares you to make fun of its aggressively kind way of treating everyone.
I love it.
There is so much skill here, so much care and art, and there are so many great ideas for household items that would be fun to own. (If you are an outdoorsy person who enjoys camping, I can't imagine you wouldn't pine for the wall clock fashioned into a tent that one of the contestants creates this season.)
But I haven't even told you yet about the part that made me certain that this season of Throw Down had been specially designed to be soothing to me in my precise moment of ... not need, but annoyance. You see, the fourth season introduced Siobhan McSweeney — from Derry Girls! — as the host. But it turns out she unfortunately had an injury to her leg and had to sit out a bunch of this season. Who did they get in her place? Ellie Taylor, a comic some of you may know best for her great work as Sassy, Rebecca's friend from Ted Lasso. It's obviously a bad circumstance, and I miss Siobhan, but ... but they added Sassy! What more could I have asked?
I was talking to a friend about the arrival of this season, and they reacted almost exactly as I did: They immediately started thinking about when to watch it, with whom, under what conditions. The fact that Americans who watch this show on HBO Max don't have a single appointed time doesn't mean they watch indiscriminately. Some things should be saved for exactly the moment when you most need them.
This essay first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations on what's making us happy.
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