Reality competition shows all operate under the same hyper-specific unreality, one where the point of life is compressed into a singular purpose: It’s about winning. It’s about being the best. Nothing else matters. These high stakes catch on… when they’re rooted in reality.
There is (or in some cases, was) genuine cultural cache in taking home the title of American Idol, Iron Chef, America’s Next Top Model or the Sole Survivor. The rewards of winning Netflix’s glass-blowing competition “Blown Away” and becoming Best In Blow — yes, that’s really the title they chose — are less sweeping. But that doesn’t make this 10-episode series any less enjoyable to watch. If anything, it might actually heighten your viewing experience.
“Blown Away” is a Canadian series and, as a result, lacks some of the edited-in rancor present in American reality TV. This works in the show’s favor. Drama in the “hot shop” (the place where you blow glass, apparently) is minimal and mostly glass-related, which allows viewers to focus on the show’s biggest asset: the fact that glassmaking and glass art are sick to look at. It’s just cool! There’s no way around it!
Each episode is a little more than 20 minutes long and consists of a single challenge. The competing glass artists are given a prompt, an assistant or three, and then set loose in the hot shop for hours. Once the clock stops, the artists display their work and are judged by host Nick Uhas, a former Big Brother contestant and current “science influencer,” Katherine Gray, an art professor and glass artist who gives super harsh feedback, and a third guest judge.
Uhas is the perfect host for “Blown Away,” because unlike all of the other seasoned professionals or dedicated enthusiasts who populate the show’s landscape, he admittedly does not know anything about glassblowing. He’s quippy, bland and incredulous, and he seems to judge entries entirely based on whether or not he personally thinks they are cool — which is exactly what pretty much anyone willing to dedicate their time to watching a reality TV glassblowing competition would do in his stead.
The show’s tone is serious to a degree that is, at times, comical, given that the stakes aren’t so high. But it’s also authentically moving to see the passion the competing artists feel for their work, and for the work of glassmaking as a whole. The most realistic thing about “Blown Away,” and about reality TV competitions in general, is that for the contestants, this matters. The constraints aren’t real, but the contestants are — and they’re all pretty talented to boot.
Like all good reality TV, “Blown Away” does the work to explain the glassblowing process so as to imbue its viewers with a (temporary, artificial) sense of authority on the topic. Even without personal glass-blowing experience, we as an audience can cast a stern eye on a subpar vase in the same way that frequent “Shark Tank” viewers are able to call out an unreasonable sales pitch, even if they had to cheat their way through a college economics course.
Overall, “Blown Away” is a pleasant, visually arresting watch. The appeal stems from the fact that, again, it’s dope to look at glass art. It’s even more dope to watch skilled artists go through the process of making a piece of glass art.
Also, because it has to be said: No, they don’t make bongs. Yes, that would be sweet. Sorry.
But this series is best viewed when one is 75% of the way to uncomfortably high. Clear out a four-ish hour window in your schedule (you can probably binge this thing in a sitting or two), throw it on and get ready for a pleasantly mild ride.
Who knows — you might even feel like you learned something.
TELL US, have you seen “Blown Away”?