The Great Pottery Throw Down isn’t a competition. Not really.

Pottery, Keith Brymer Jones, Siobhan McSweeney, reality TVYou know … competition is a whole different thing in Great Britain. I mean, sports, yes – your soccer, your rugby, your Olympic events – in sports, the British are so competitive they’re downright dangerous. But when it comes to … what would you call it? Recreational competition? Cooking shows, fashion competitions, crafts. Yes, they have plenty, and yes, there are winners and losers. There’s a Baker of the Week and a trophy at the end of The Great British Bake Off, and somebody walks away with the bars of silver at the end of The Traitors, but… but the people on those shows? They genuinely seem to like each other. We see pictures of them palling around together after the show is over. They celebrate each others’ wins and cry real tears when they get kicked off the show. It is so unlike most of the competitions here in the United States… and it is never more obvious and – okay, I admit it, attractive – than it is on The Great Pottery Throw Down.

This strange and slightly wonderful competition is all about pottery – throwing pots, slab pottery, coiling little ropes of clay, and even raku. It’s been going on for seven years now, taking place in a truly remarkable pottery factory, the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, hosted by the wonderful Siobhan McSweeney – the hilariously sarcastic Mother Superior from Derry Girls, now with the wildest haircut and best clothes this side of Alan Cumming – all overseen by a couple of master potters who set the challenges and judge the work of the amateur craftsmen who clearly, clearly would not want to be anywhere else the world than right there, in front of the impossible to hate Keith Brymer Jones.

The first five seasons of the show are on HBO Max these days The most recent two, for some damn reason, are not, and that seventh season is underway right now. But no matter the season. you really have to experience Keith Bryner Jones to understand the show in general.

He’s a big guy, looks like a working man, and he seems incapable of cruelty, dishonesty, or ego, despite being, by alll accounts, one of the greatest potters working today. And he loves, loves, clay. And he’s also a great teacher who takes very little crap… and believe it or not, this big ol’ guy cries at the drop of a hat. Sincere artwork, and authentic emotions from his students, moves him, and every week on this show – for seven seasons now – the greatest thing that can happen is to make Keith cry. It’s right up there with a handshake from Paul Hollywood or a job offer from Gordon Ramsey.

Keith and his co-judge Rich Miller like the contestants as much as their work. They and Siobhan talk about their personal lives, ask them what’s important to them. They check in even after the judgments are made, and ask after their families. And no, this isn’t a joke and it isn’t a satire. This is a real guy who loves what he does and is absolutely unembarrassed about showing it, and the people who clamor to be part of The Great Pottery Throw Down all feel the same way. The ‘competition,’ such as it is, is more about doing your best work and hanging with others who feel the same. Everybody gets teary-eyed when competitors have to go home. Everybody applauds, with complete sincerity, when somebody other than them wins Potter of the Day. It’s wonderful. And it so … unAmerican.

The Great Pottery Throw Down is playing now – past seasons and the current one — on Channel Four in the UK. And until Max or somebody else grows a brain again and imports the last couple of seasons, the only ones you can watch are the older shows…. Or get yourself a good VPN, like NordVPN, then log in to a server in the UK and watch to your heart’s content.

Give it a try on Max, and if you like it, consider a VPN and eavesdropping on British TV. It’s a whole new – and in some ways, a better – world.

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