Over the weekend, Netflix dropped what might be the most absurdly niche television show in recent memory. In Blown Away, 10 people compete in a glassblowing competition where only one of them can win Best in Blow. (Seriously.) There are giant tools, multiple sources of fire, a special glass refrigerator, several conversations about gender in the workplace, and one fiery feminist who is potentially cosplaying as Edna Mode from The Incredibles. Netflix’s Blown Away is the one must-watch reality series of the summer (sorry, Love Island).
What initially drew me into the competition reality series, which begins and ends in a succinct four-hours, is the series’ cover photo featuring a woman blowing molten glass out the end of a pipe. Done. Count me in. But what actually works about the series is that it’s a bit like your friend who got too into magic growing up. The host, judges, and cast of Blown Away exist in a [glass] bubble where there is nothing more complex and important than glassblowing. Even when describing a “glory hole,” a furnace opening where blowers reheat their glass, no one so much as smirks at the camera. If you step into the arena of glassblowing, leave your giggles at the door. Each installment is a 20-ish-minute episode with one goal: build a glass piece that encapsulates the week’s theme. The worst piece of art gets kicked out of the competition. The best piece of art wins each episode, and the finale comes down to one big challenge where the judges also consider the two finalists’ entire bodies of work. There are no twists or alliances—just craft.
The series waffles between the innocence of Great British Bake Off and the dramatic gravitas of American Ninja Warrior. Host Nick Uhas, former Big Brother contestant and science YouTuber, is perhaps the most accessible part of the series, acting as a mouthpiece between glassblower and the rest of the world. But the true stars are the competitors. Deborah Czeresko, a Brooklyn artist who has been blowing for over 30 years, gives an impassioned description of why her Venetian taco holders are fit to sit on Beyoncé’s table. Leah Kudel, a younger artist, constructs a wine decanter designed to be a fanny pack with a matching glass meant to fit in a woman’s cleavage—because, as she notes, what bartender at the club is going to have the time to decant your wine? Solution: stick it in your wine fanny until you’re ready for your next glass.
But interwoven in the sweet absurdism of competition glassblowing is a true dedication to art. Janusz Pozniak, a Seattle-based artist, smugly claims that he’d be surprised if there’s anyone in the competition with his level of experience. His attitude isn’t unlike his peers—Blown Away‘s competitors come with an unbridled sense of confidence that you won’t find on Bake Off. All of these people believe they should win, and that’s what makes it all the more worthwhile, especially when you step back and consider that part of this competition requires rubbing molten glass with nothing more than a mitt. Their pieces are picked at and torn apart, with judges routinely calling pieces pedestrian or “out of a gift shop.” Maybe it’s my “Millennial” coming out, but if you manage to turn liquid fire into a relatively lifelike orca without searing your hand off, you should just win.
All of this is to say that in an era when there’s often no middle ground between mindless TV fodder and prestige television, Blown Away manages to be neither. It’s a creation of its own, both too absurd and impressive to fit into any existing category.
You might come for the absurdity—and believe me, it’s absurd—but what will keep you around is the sheer talent and artistry on display. Beyond that, in its many surprisingly poignant moments, Blown Away manages to have real conversations about sexism and representation in the glassblowing community—be it through Momoko Schafer’s Japanese-influenced art or Czeresko’s proud feminism. On the surface, Blown Away is a quick look into the strange world of glassblowing, but by the time you’ve finished, much like a magic trick, it’s clear that there’s much more to glassblowing than what meets the eye.