Your new reality TV addiction? A show about artisanal glass-blowing | Television & radio


MasterChef is old hat. The Apprentice has been rendered unpalatable thanks to its tendency to validate genuine monsters. Quite frankly, you have room for a new knockout reality television show in your life. So let me introduce you to Blown Away, the Great British Bake Off of artisanal glass-blowing tournaments.

A Canadian series that arrived on Netflix this morning, Blown Away has been rammed to jiggery with every reality show cliche imaginable. There are two dispassionate judges. There are rounds where the glass-blowers have to create something that emotionally translates to a photograph. There is incidental music that ranges from plinky-plonk whimsy to end-of-the-world cluster migraine. There is a host who walks the line between “everyman” and “legitimately concussed” (one of the very first questions he asks is: “What exactly is glass?”). In one sense, Blown Away is such a generic reality show that it could have been designed by algorithm.

And yet I am fascinated by it. I can’t stop watching it. I am only writing this to make you watch it, so I can have someone to talk to about it. My fascination in part stems from the fact that glass-blowing is an intricate, high-level skill that combines artistic vision with physical heft. This isn’t MasterChef, where you can wander into the kitchen after an episode and replicate some of the techniques in your own home. This is just about as niche as it gets. The equipment is vast and expensive. The processes can only be achieved after years of intensive training. Everything about glass-blowing, at every step, screams: “This is not for you!” So on this level, it’s incredible to watch talented people do something that you could never do.

However, my fascination has another strand, and here it is. I think all glass-blowers might be jerks. Obviously this is a judgment that I have made from watching a television programme, which is a bit like watching DuckTales and coming to the conclusion that all waterfowl are embittered millionaires. I am sure plenty of glass-blowers exist in the world who aren’t jerks. However, that said, Blown Away does seem to have exclusively recruited from the jerkier end of the spectrum.

The judges ponder one of the contestant’s creations



You got to hand it to them: the judges ponder one of the contestant’s creations. Photograph: David Leyes/Marble Media

What I love about the contestants is that they all appear to have been plucked from different but very specific eras in time. Edgar is a mid-90s skater boy; Janusz is a Peaky Blinder; Kevin has been dragged by the goatee from 1967 San Francisco. Leah looks like the presenter of a late-night 2002 Channel 4 awards show about architecture. Benjamin is a farmer from the 1860s. They are all, without exception, so self-consciously “creative” that it makes you worry about a potential deficit of drama teachers in Canada.

Which isn’t to say that what they do isn’t incredible. It is, almost to the point of redundancy. Glass, it turns out, is a very silly material to work with. If you move the wrong way, if you grab the wrong thing, if the temperature is just a couple of degrees out, then everything smashes into smithereens and you have lost hours of intricate toil. This is bad enough if you are only making a basic vase, but if you are pouring your heart into creating an abstract series of tubes that represents the idealism of the young artist while dealing with the horror and struggle of the Aids crisis, then any sort of error has to be unbelievably frustrating.

Leah struggles with a bit of molten glass



Leah struggles with a wiggly bit of molten glass. Photograph: David Leyes/Marble Media

That example is real, by the way. One of the contestants really did try to filter the totality of the decades-long Aids crisis into a lump of curly glass. And this brings me to my absolute favourite thing about Blown Away; the utter, nonstop, turbocharged, million-percent, face-melting pretension of it all.

A huge part of glass-blowing, which I didn’t even realise until now, is the ability to name your work after some sort of potentially seminal lost prog rock album. At one point, someone announces that they’ve made something called No Peace Without Struggle. Another names their piece A Framework for Unconditional Inspiration. Then there’s Lachrymatory View (For Cleo), and Existential Awakening, and – my favourite – a rudimentary cartoonish killer whale simply entitled Duality. It’s so ridiculous. The whole thing is so hilariously ridiculous.

Oh God, please watch this. Someone please watch Blown Away with me. It is one of the most absurd things I have ever seen. I really do need to talk to someone about it as soon as possible. Please?



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