It's very easy to explain the appeal of The Great Pottery Throw Down, which comes to HBO MAX on September 17: It's The Great British Bake-Off, but for pottery, and it has the same gentle, good-hearted energy.
Throw Down began on the BBC in 2015, so there are three seasons in the queue, and HBO MAX has all of them. That's six episodes from season one, eight from season two, and ten from season three. I gobbled all 24 episodes eagerly over the space of a few quarantined days.
The format is Bake-Off (known to U.S. viewers as The Great British Baking Show for legal reasons) with only very modest adjustments. A host (Sara Cox for the first two seasons, Melanie Sykes for the third) brings warmth and support, two judges (Keith Brymer Jones in all three seasons, joined by Kate Malone for two seasons and Sue Pryke in the third) evaluate the results, and a lineup of lovely contestants with a spirit of teamwork rather than cutthroat competition works through a series of challenges.
I know far less about pottery than I do about baking, but it didn't matter. The host and judges are good at explaining what goes into making a beautiful pot or a graceful handle for a pitcher. Each episode has one major challenge, plus one or two smaller ones that are easy to incorporate into the progress of the episode, since large pieces of pottery take so much time to dry and fire. (This is a thing I know all about now, you know. Ask me about outdoor kilns and pit-firing!) When you think about pottery, you might be envisioning plates and cups and bowls, and there's plenty of that. But the judges also challenge the potters to create large garden sculptures, light fixtures, and—intriguingly—working toilets.