“The Great Pottery Throw Down” has blessedly returned to HBO Max — and it’s the truly comforting competition TV show we all need right now.

The show’s fifth season is streaming now, and newcomers may spot its resemblance to “The Great British Bake Off,” also made by Love Productions (on Netflix as “The Great British Baking Show”). With judges guiding contestants through a series of challenges, both shows present moments of suspense and wonder, as viewers wait with bated breath to see if a bake has collapsed in “Bake Off” or if fired pottery has left the kiln unscathed in “Throw Down.”

Yet there’s something the pottery-focused “competition” show offers audiences that its sister series lacks. Call it cozy, feel-good vibes or a knack for inducing ASMR tingles, “The Great Pottery Throw Down” just makes viewers feel … nice.

A large part of this feeling of splendid well-being radiates from the way the contestants, host and judges treat each other. Regardless of its seemingly baked-in goodness, “Bake Off” seems to encourage more acrimony than there could ever be in the soothing, community-driven “Throw Down.”

In fact, in its latest season, “The Great Pottery Throw Down” seems to disregard the competitive aspect entirely.

When a contestant struggles under the literal weight of their creation, fellow potters come running to assist them in getting the piece to the drying room on time. As one contestant is ousted by judges, upon leaving, he remarks on how the show wasn’t the sort in which everyone “elbows each other out of the way.” And in the final episode, when pressed to admit whether they think they will be the season’s winner, a finalist (no spoiler!) beams: “We are all winners here.”


What a contrast to “Bake Off.” The baking show’s apparent British niceties have repeatedly been shown to conceal an unattractive underbelly. Behind the scenes, there were such significant rifts between the judges and hosts that several in the original lineup left the show when it moved from BBC to Channel 4. Compare this with the latest season of “Throw Down,” when host Siobhán McSweeney, temporarily replaced by Ellie Taylor due to an injury, is welcomed back with open arms.

Both hosts usher in a feeling of friendliness, while Keith Brymer Jones, aka “the crying judge,” sheds tears of joy every time someone surpasses themselves or learns from their efforts. Jones’ weepiness seems to hail from his unselfconscious ability to be moved by another artist’s work. His sincerity and kindness remove any awkwardness from the scene, and one can’t help but hope students being evaluated in the real world could be treated with such care. What a departure from Paul Hollywood, the Simon Cowell of “Bake Off,” who often leaves contestants anxiety-ridden or sobbing themselves.

“The Great Pottery Throw Down” is simply delightful, focused more on craft and genuine triumph than ruthless competition. Contestants work together in a spirit of camaraderie; the show is about renewal, growth and strength.

In a challenge in which all the participants had to create abstract self-portraits, contestant Christine Cherry completed a piece exploring her 32-year-old self’s battle with breast cancer. Heralded for its poignancy, the work roused tears from more than just the crying judge.

This isn’t the only time the show explores identity. In the first episode, Cherry, a woman of color, painted a fairy figurine featuring brown skin, a conscious choice that Rich Miller points out, celebrates and champions. “Throw Down” seems committed to a fuller portrait of the pottery world. Beloved “kiln guy” Miller was promoted to judge, becoming the show’s first person of color in that role, and trans woman Rose Schmits took his place as pottery technician. This season also features the show’s first nonbinary person, AJ.


While the show explores themes of identity, that isn’t the sole focus. Many of the tasks and challenges prove to be engineering feats in clay, as every project proves more involved and ambitious than the last. Jones and Miller both offer assessments that are rigorous and honest, although markedly focused on encouraging the contestants’ continual growth. “Throw Down” isn’t a show with judges who play to the audience or provoke triggering, emotional responses from contestants. Jones and Miller are potters themselves and understand everything that goes into the work of being a great potter.

Over time, the contestants’ confidence grows, and we as viewers delight in their achievements.

Perhaps the best thing about working with clay is that it can be shaped into anything. There is no exact recipe to follow, and in the end, the path to success can be reached in a multitude of ways. It’s up to the potters to figure out exactly how they want to undertake their best efforts — and on “The Great Pottery Throw Down,” every contestant is a winner.

“The Great Pottery Throw Down”

All five seasons of “The Great Pottery Throw Down” are now streaming on HBO Max.