‘The Great Pottery Throwdown’
I am thrilled to announce that we as a society no longer have a need for “The Great British Bake Off.” Instead, we can focus all of our energy on the vastly superior “Great Pottery Throwdown.”
When “The Great British Bake Off” first debuted on American Netflix, it felt like a breath of fresh air. A quaint show, without animosity, that was just competitive enough to hold interest without ever lapsing into the intense competition of American reality shows. At the end, all they got was flowers and a cake stand! Lovely!
As the seasons went on, there have been high points in the series’ run, like Nadiya Hussain’s win in 2015 or the tale of three twinks that culminated in David’s surprise win in 2019. Yet, by 2022, the show has had continually diminishing returns.
The hosts of “Bake Off” are currently Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding, and it isn’t working. Fielding was a competent enough host when his partner was Sandi Toksvig, but Lucas and Fielding are simply too similar, too naturally biting in their humor to work as hosts.
What’s worse is the evercreeping sense that this show is no longer quite as quaint as it once was. Yes, the bakers still only win a cake stand, but they have much higher sights than that now. Nadiya has become a shining beacon of hope for the contestants, with her own show and cookbooks. The bakers’ competitiveness seems to be at an all-time high these days. It’s not that they are mean, but the quaintness is feeling forced in ways it didn’t previously. Instead of a casual show that is a good thing to do, these bakers see this as a life-changing career move, and the “Bake Off” cannot accommodate that tonally.
The biggest problem, however, is the current judges. Paul Hollywood, especially, has an air of self-importance to him that throws the dynamic of “Bake Off” way off. The way he smirks before giving his patented “Paul Hollywood handshake” is not only aggravating, but feels out of line with the kind aesthetic of the show.
The judging continues to feel off when faced with other cultures’ cuisines as well. Season 10 of the show included a Bread Week challenge in which two contestants chose Indian spices in line with their cultural heritage, and both of their respective narratives for the episode included making sure they had the “right” amount of spice for their white, British judges. This constant catering to the palettes of only white judges makes the judging feel more sinister than it should. I don’t leave “Bake Off” happy anymore.
Luckily, my hunger for quaint, British reality TV has been satiated by “The Great Pottery Throwdown.” “Throwdown” has five seasons currently on HBO Max, the last of which was added on March 16 of this year. It has an extremely similar format to “Bake Off” — they are made by the same production company — but manages to feel fresh and fun in a way that “Bake Off” never seems to live up to anymore.
For one, the judges are, simply put, much better television personalities than any “Bake Off” has produced, despite having less flashy names than “Paul Hollywood” and “Mary Berry.” Keith Brymer Jones is the current de facto head judge, having judged the show for all five seasons, and he is an actual delight. Jones is a great bear of man, not unlike Hollywood, but his highest praise is not a selfsatisfied descent from on high like Hollywood’s handshake, but instead to cry. Which he does. Regularly.
The crying can, and did for me when I began the show, come off cloying. Too quaint for its own good. And then it just kept happening. Jones just cried and cried at the beautiful pieces of pottery in front of him — as well as the truly valiant efforts that didn’t pan out — and eventually I was smitten. The crying feels perhaps less saccharine because of the level of critique given. Jones, as well as his current partner in crime Richard Miller, are always polite but stern in their critique. As experts, their observations allow me to see both pros and cons in the work that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to discern, which is the express goal of their positions.
It also helps that the stakes feel correctly high on this show. Perhaps because “Throwdown” has nowhere near the success of “Bake Off,” the quaintness feels in line with the situation being played out. The eliminated contestants often remark that they are disappointed with their eliminations specifically because they were learning a lot, and they’d like to remain in pottery to continue that work. On “Throwdown,” being on the show is its own reward, which can no longer be said for “Bake Off.”
Ultimately, though, what matters most is the sense of genuineness that emanates from “Throwdown.” The most recent season featured Miller, who rarely cries, get emotional at the work of one contestant who made the fairy in a fairytale themed work of hers a person of color. Both the contestant and Miller are non-white, and their moment of connection, as Miller spoke about wanting his young daughter to see images like the pottery in front of him, felt unique to “Throwdown.” For the first time, I welled up too, a remarkable thing for a show primarily about pots. In that moment, I understood that what makes “The Great Pottery Throwdown” special is not the quaint tone, but the connection shared by the judges and contestants over artistry. Maybe “Bake Off” needs to remember why it loves baking.