On the 9th day of Christmas … I pondered who’d be best in glass in Blown Away: Christmas (review)

(image courtesy IMDb (c) Netflix)

Christmas is beautiful.

Really, really beautiful. Look around you – lights twinkle, plain green trees (to be fair gorgeous unadorned too) are festooned in baubles and tinsel, and yes, more lights, lit sculptures hang over on streets with word like “JOY” and “PEACE” split out in festive colour … and in Netflix’s Blown Away: Christmas, talented glass blowers, recalled unsuccessful contestants, who lost the battle to become “Best in Glass” (get it? You get it), are conjuring ethereally beautiful items that recall their favourite Christmas foods or moments or that give a 7 ft. white abstract tree a whole new colourful lease on life.

There is no way to describe what results over these four episodes that gobsmackingly delicate, lusciously vividly colourful beauty.

Sure, as Cat Burns, Andi Kovel, Alexander Rosenberg, Edgar Valentine, and Nao Yamamoto all compete to be the Blown Away: Christmas champion, and to have their creative skills given the ultimate stamp of validation – for Alexander it’s deeply personal while Nao, who’s a delight, is simply happen to see how much she progresses creatively – it’s fiery, melty hell, with furnaces known as “glory holes” reaching 2000-plus degrees Fahrenheit, filling the Hot Shop as its known with blinding light and sweat-inducing heat.

But once the fires have settled, and the evaluators, Bobby Berk (Queer Eye) and university professor and glass blowing expert Katherine Gray, have gathered the contestants, or those that remain any way – it’s an elimination series with one person exiting in the first three episodes until only two remain – some far more transcendent takes over.

It helps of course that the Hot Shop is set in a snowy factory in Ontario, Canada, all winter wonderland outside and fairylight-dedecked trees inside, but more than that, the show itself falls on the Making It and Nailed It! side of the reality TV show divide, holding people to exacting standards, this is high art, after all, but without treating like crap in the process.

It’s refreshing to watch a show that’s all about making beautiful things step lightly and affirmingly on the lovelier side of human nature too, encouraging people to be and do their best all while pushing them to make the most amazing and technically proficient glass sculptures too.

Dropping on Netflix just before US Thanksgiving in late November, Blown Away: Christmas is the perfect antidote to a year in which the world has seemed against us on so many levels, and which has shown how terribly badly people can treat each other; watching someone like Cat, who works as a production glassblower in New Jersey (essentially pumping out non-customised pieces en masses though she is now making her own unique art), go from strength to strength with her art while pouring herself heart and soul into what she does is inspiring and a balm for the pandemic-pockmarked soul.

The same can be said for Nao, a 32 year-old Japanese expat now resident in Seattle who beams with the sheer joy of creating glassworks so ephemerally lovely that you gasp as the fragile but colourfully rich beauty of it all.

Her Christmas tree from episode three when the contestants have to fill the aforementioned huge white tree with anything up to 160 ornaments, all in about 5 hours, is all positivity, soft hues and arresting soulfulness, an installation of sorts that doesn’t just look appealing but which has a lovely story to tell.

Competing for $20,000 USD, split equally between a charity of their choice and themselves, a windfall for artists trying to make on their own, every single person on Blown Away: Christmas makes you glad to be alive.

Even Andi Kovel, who – SPOILER!!! SPOILER!!! – who gets eliminated in the first episode remains upbeat, thrilled she’s back in the Hot Shop and happy to be given the chance to strut her glass-blowing stuff again.

While everyone of the contestants is competitive in their own way, the feel throughout the show is one of collegiality and show, and while yes, it’s possible they all just faked that to meet the show’s required good vibes requirements, their reactions seem genuine since when you’re under the pressure they are, making great art in very tight timeframes in scalding heat, keeping up a bright, shiny countenance when you’re really snarling inside would be well nigh impossible.

Blown Away: Christmas is also fun if you’re a glass blowing novice.

It takes the time to explain what various techniques are and what they do to the glass and why that matters in the eventual creation of the art, and while Berk and Gray do often give too quick a summation of why someone has won, and someone else has not, a little frustrating if you’re new to the beauty before you, their enthusiasm for the task at hand – Berk as the novice glass blowing evaluator though he is wildly good at overall design and Gray as the professional who looks a little awkward in her role at times but is ultimately knowledgable and supportive of the contestants – is palatable and contagious.

Their love for design and art, and the contestants passion for their craft, which feels like a living, tangible thing so vitally alive is it, plus a gloriously enveloping, fairytale lovely aesthetic throughout the entire show – how do make furnaces feel Christmassy? Blown Away: Christmas somehow finds a way; could be all that luminously glowing, colourful glass – make this a warm (literally and figuratively) affirming show to watch, one which celebrates art, humanity, Christmas and the joy of doing what you love.

They do it in such a gloriously upbeat and accomplished that when you finish with the final episode, you’ll be glad there are people like Cat, Nao, Edgar, Andi and Alexander in the world and that they make such beautiful things, especially in a year where beauty has been scant and we all some Christmas, just a little glass-blown Christmas.

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