We live in a reality TV world of Real Housewives, cutthroat competitions, manufactured villains and showmance couples. It can be a dark and depressing slice of humanity, one we can only hope researchers won’t rely on to assess our society years from now. So when something genuine and nice comes along, you want to treasure it.
That’s the cozy feeling you get after watching CBC’s latest reality foray, The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down. The eight-part series premieres Feb. 8 on the public broadcaster, introducing the nation to the art of pottery – in contest form.
You’d think a show about pottery would be too niche or akin to watching paint, er, clay, dry. Not so. The series, which hails from the same creatives as the beloved hit The Great British Baking Show, is a surprising gem.
First of all, you don’t need to know a lick about pottery to get into it. Host Jennifer Robertson (best known to audiences as Jocelyn Schitt from Schitt’s Creek) certainly doesn’t. She guides viewers through her own learning experiences, breaking down terms (who knew throwing off the hump was a thing or that toilet paper is a great patching agent?) and explaining intricacies as the tasks progress.
It’s a smart way to bridge worlds while building interest, and it helps viewers appreciate the required skills to execute these beautiful works of art.
Then there are the contestants, who bring diverse backgrounds and colourful stories to the Vancouver set. If Ghost is your best entry point to pottery, that image is immediately shattered when you see what these potters can do. These 10 Canadians are among the country’s best, and watching them rush to complete tasks is an engaging mix of ASMR and downright stress.
In each episode, they must produce an intricate creation from a mound of clay, such as a tribute to their hometown or a glazed chess set that speaks to their personality. While their creation dries and before they glaze it, they’re also challenged to a quick skills competition.
You’d think those challenges would bring out the contestants’ competitive nature, but this is Canada, darn it. Even our reality shows are nice. In the first episode, one potter shares a special cracking salve she’s brought from home to help another competitor. Someone else stops what they’re doing to advise a fellow potter how to fix a critical mistake. Even the eliminations are a woeful affair, with Robertson looking like she just wants to hug everyone and keep them in the competition after all.
It’s a refreshing change to use the craft to drive tension rather than relying on conflict. The stress is palpable after the creations go into a kiln to dry under the supervision of a specialist named Vin. In the premiere, one contestant calls the room a house of horrors, where clay can crack, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Naturally, the cameras capture every inch of relief or disappointment on each potter’s face as they lift their sheets to find out how it went.
The show’s real secret weapon, and the best utilized one, however, is the addition of executive producer and guest judge Seth Rogen. At first the Emmy-nominated actor seems like a strange and larger-than-life addition to a show like this. But the Canadian is a talented potter in his own right, and he’s quick to whip up impressive creations: a bong, an ashtray or a nearly perfect tulip cup in a matter of seconds. His love for the art further translates in his critiques of the potters’ works, which are thoughtful, informed and cut with the actor’s signature laugh.
Rogen doesn’t physically appear in all episodes, which is the right call. In most installments, he appears instead via taped video, offering tips, explaining the next challenge or guiding the potters through specific techniques. By minimizing Rogen’s onscreen appearance, the artists shine even more as other notable figures from the pottery world stop by. Meanwhile, permanent judges Brendan Tang (an award-winning artist and instructor) and Natalie Waddell (an educator and renowned ceramicist) offer thoughtful and engaging critiques that leave you feeling slightly smarter for having watched them.
It all adds up to a nice little slice of Canadian life that sheds light on one of the world’s oldest art forms. Much like The Great Canadian Baking Show can encourage you to bake fresh bread or pastries on the weekend, Pottery Throw Down may inspire you to get a feel for that wheel the next time you decide to tackle a new hobby.
Or, perhaps you’ll just walk away with a new appreciation for local vendors on your next visit to a market or craft show. Either way, this series will fill your (potted) cup and leave you content at the end of a long day.
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