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There’s something really hypnotic with watching glass-blowers at work. As a child I vaguely remember watching these incredibly talented people at a medieval battle reenactment, sculpting a beautiful blue swan which remains on the window-sill at my Mum’s house. Netflix’s latest reality show Blown Away brings this talented profession to the masses in a well paced, simple reality competition format. With humble professionals at the helm and a profound lack of over the top drama, Blown Away plays much closer to The Great British Bake Off in tone, offering some real home comforts in the process.
After a brief introduction to the profession and the craft itself, we begin with our 10 glassblowers entering America’s biggest Hot Shop for a competition that sees them collaborating and competing in a series of difficult challenges. Split into three core parts (Create, Design and Present), each 20 minute episode splits the focus into three parts, with the artists designing their showstopping piece, crafting it with glory holes and puntys, and eventually presenting their beautiful and oftentimes abstract piece. Each episode sees someone eliminated at the end until we reach the finale where two finalists compete for $60,000 and a lucrative prize that’ll help catapult them to glass-blowing excellence.
Given how precious and fragile this material is, there are inevitably breakages and things do go wrong. It would have been easy for Blown Away to devolve into the usual tropes you’d expect in this genre with overly dramatized shots, zoomed close-up cameras and a myriad of emotionally charged segments. Thankfully, Blown Away learns from The Great British Bake-Off and instead shrugs, proclaiming “Que Sera, sera”. There’s something really refreshing about the way this is shot and it helps to keep the feel breezy and entertaining throughout the ten episodes.
By the end we learn a lot about each of the artists and the showstopping pieces are obviously personal, drawing inspiration from each person’s life experience. The final glass pieces are stunning, to say the least. From a glass hand holding a globe to intricately detailed body parts showing off the movement of dance, each episode pushes the contestants to their limits and really shows off what can be made with this material. The final interactive piece in the finale really typifies this, as the creme de la creme pull out every trick in the glass-blower’s arsenal to deliver truly incredible spectacles.
The judges themselves are experts in the field too and help add some depth when explaining their thought processes around each contestant’s piece. They’re also not afraid to project this on the artists themselves either, with the first episode seeing one judge proclaim “Your piece looks like it should be in a gift shop”. The judges are never rude or harsh for the sake of it though but their input is enough to spur each of the competitors to drive that little bit harder.
Blown Away doesn’t reinvent the wheel and sticks closely to the usual structure you’d expect from this genre. Having said that, Blown Away’s simple but effective tone coupled with some educational content around the whole process of creating glass sculptures helps to make this a reality show well worth checking out. If you’re looking for an engrossing but breezy competition to tide you over until The Great British Bake-Off returns, Blown Away ticks all the glass boxes.