Review: The Great Pottery Throw Down : Pop Culture Happy Hour The Great Pottery Throw Down is one of the gentlest, kindest and warmest competitive reality shows you will ever see (even when things literally explode). The UK series is now streaming on HBO Max. The dishes, the bowls, the handles, the crying — it's all right there to help you relax at the end of even the longest day. Plus, we take a moment to remember rapper DMX, who died today at 50.

Is 'The Great Pottery Throw Down' The Most Relaxing Show On TV?

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

"The Great Pottery Throw Down" is one of the gentlest, the kindest, the warmest competitive reality shows you will ever see, even when things literally explode. Three seasons that had already aired in the U.K. arrived on HBO Max last year, and now there's a fourth. The dishes, the bowls, the handles, the crying - it's all right there to help you relax at the end of even the longest day. I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're talking about "The Great Pottery Throw Down" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

I am so excited about this panel. Joining us from her home in Maryland is Petra Mayer, an editor for NPR Books. Welcome back, Petra.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hey. Happy to be here.

HOLMES: Also with us from her home in Los Angeles is Shereen Marisol Meraji, the co-host of NPR's Code Switch podcast. Welcome back, Shereen.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Thank you, Linda.

HOLMES: And with us from Los Angeles is Tre'vell Anderson. They are an entertainment journalist and co-host of the podcast "FANTI." Welcome back, Tre'vell.

TRE'VELL ANDERSON: Hi.

HOLMES: (Laughter) This is so exciting for me. "The Great Pottery Throw Down" is, in a lot of ways, "The Great British Bake Off" with pottery. That is true. They start out with a bunch of contestants who, each week, do a couple of projects. And based on those projects, one person goes home in each episode. The judges this season are Rich Miller, who was the kindly kiln guy in the previous seasons, and Keith Brymer Jones, aka the judge who cries very real tears whenever he loves someone's work.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GREAT POTTERY THROW DOWN")

KEITH BRYMER JONES: Well, my initial thoughts are (crying) you've done really well.

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT: Really?

BRYMER JONES: Really. The cheese stone is a perfect size. Feel the weight of that. It's brilliant.

HOLMES: Projects can be anything from a place setting to a casserole dish to a water feature in a garden. The contestants are often called upon to try unusual decorating or firing methods, sometimes to experiment with pottery inspired by the work of different cultures around the world.

Shereen, you are a "British Bake Off" person, right?

MERAJI: I am.

HOLMES: And then you found the pottery show.

MERAJI: I did, 'cause I was looking for something else. I was finished with "GBBO's" back catalogue. I needed something new. I stumbled upon "The Great Pottery Throw Down," and I am so happy I did. Dare I say it? I think I might like it better.

HOLMES: Oh, fighting words, fighting words. What do you like about it?

MERAJI: Well, first of all, I love the fact that they're taking this raw material, clay, and they're making something absolutely beautiful and utilitarian out of it that will hopefully, if you don't break it, last a lifetime. And I think there's just something really inspiring about that. Obviously, I love cake and pie and all of those good things, but it's gone. You put all this effort into it, and then it's gone in however many bites. But this is lasting. It's forever, hopefully. And I just - I think that's beautiful.

HOLMES: Yeah. All right, Tre'vell. "Great Pottery Throw Down," how do you feel?

ANDERSON: I feel very great about it. It was one of the shows that I discovered earlier in the pandemic when I just needed to throw something on the TV. And I was like - I thought I was going to watch a whole bunch of, you know, European white folks, you know, get their hands dirty. And that's my good time, you know, reality TV competition type of stuff. And then I was like, oh, there's some folks of color up in this mix. Oh, it's really nice and warm. And Keith cries every episode. Like, I can get into this.

And, you know, I used to be one of those people - when I was a young spring chicken back in the day - who was very into "Trading Spaces" and "While You Were Out" and "Extreme Home Makeover"...

HOLMES: Oh, for sure.

ANDERSON: ...Where folks get their hands dirty and do stuff and used to be into crafts. And I feel like this is, like, my opportunity just to kind of get back into that world just a little bit.

HOLMES: I agree. I actually - when I was on vacation once, I went to a little pottery studio where the woman gave lessons. And I spent, like, a couple hours with her and threw a couple pots. It was really - it's kind of fun. I still have them in my kitchen. They are - they vary in quality, I would say. But it was fun for me to kind of watch all this and think, I know a little bit about what that feels like.

Petra, what is your - what are your feelings about the show?

MAYER: Oh, I love it. But I have to say to Shereen - like, if you're going to sort of compare this to "Great British Bake Off," you know, you have to compare it to the "Great British Bake Off" on the BBC versus the Channel 4 version 'cause there's a distinct difference. Right?

MERAJI: Ah, OK. Yeah, Mary Berry.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: So like, I think this is between them. Like, it's not better than, like, Mel-and-Sue-era "Bake Off." It is better than the Channel 4 version.

I love this show. It is - it's for the same reasons that everybody else loves it. It's warm. It's comforting. It's this beautiful snow globe world where there's no pandemic, and everybody is cheerful and friendly and hugs each other and cries a lot. But I also love it because I love reality shows where the judges have to demonstrate their own expertise, which is actually something you don't really see on "Bake Off" unless you watch the "Masterclass" stuff.

HOLMES: Right, right, right.

MAYER: You know, say what you like about Gordon Ramsay, there's always a moment where he demonstrates some dish for the contestants, and you get to watch him work. And it's like poetry in motion 'cause whatever else this man is, he is a trained chef. And it's really cool. And it's the same thing with Keith and this season with Rich, the kiln guy, making bricks. To watch the judges demonstrate that they know what the hell they're talking about is always really cool for me.

HOLMES: I agree.

MAYER: And then just incidentally, I love the music. It's very - you know, because the show pays homage to the, you know, the industrial heritage of that part of England and the music is very, like, skiffle, Merseybeat, Northern-sounding. Like at one point in Season 1, I thought I heard a brass band covering "808 State." I was like, what is this? It's amazing. I love it. Like, I really want them to release a soundtrack album.

HOLMES: Yeah. I think one of the things that has always gotten a lot of attention on this show is Keith because - when I first saw him cry - and he doesn't cry because, like, people get eliminated or whatever - he cries because he loves what you made. Like, you'll uncover a bowl that you made, and he'll just start weeping. And the first couple times I saw it, I just sort of thought, this is a little much, buddy. This is just, like...

MERAJI: No, Linda.

HOLMES: But later I realized, like, no, that's just his personality. It legitimately is just his personality, right?

MERAJI: Yeah.

MAYER: And I love it because, like, it's so organic, right? Like, with "Bake Off," like, the Hollywood handshake, they tried so hard to make that a thing, and it just got annoying after a couple of seasons.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MAYER: But Keith is just - I mean, yeah, that's just him.

HOLMES: Yeah. And I loved the way that they promoted Rich.

ANDERSON: Yes.

HOLMES: Like, I loved the fact that he was, like, the friendly, nice kiln guy. And then when he came back and he was a judge I was like, Rich, you got promoted. I'm so happy for you, buddy. This is great. I also want to ask you - Tre'vell, I want to ask you, what are your favorite kinds of projects to see them work on? - because I have opinions about this, and I want to know what you think.

ANDERSON: So I was just watching the current season, and I was very into them making the bricks. I don't know why. And I was thinking about them actually earlier in the pandemic as well. I was going through the "Amazing Race" catalogue, and one of the challenges that they had to do on a couple of the seasons was this making of the bricks. And so I felt like I was a pro, and I was like, you're doing it wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: You need more (laughter). But I love those. I think that really takes folks out of their comfort zone. And there's, like, a particular process that they have to replicate.

HOLMES: Yeah. And that also really focuses on the part that Shereen was talking about, which is that these are durable things that have a function.

ANDERSON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Shereen, where do you come down on what kinds of things you like to watch them make?

MERAJI: I'm a tea set girl all the way. I don't know. What is it - 12 pieces, 16 pieces? I just think, how incredible is this that that lump of clay just made four teacups, milk saucer, the thing to put tea in that actually pours out tea.

HOLMES: Yes.

MERAJI: And it's beautiful. I love the tea sets.

HOLMES: Yeah. How about you, Petra? What's your favorites?

MAYER: I like the ones that really push them out of their comfort zones. And I think this was last season or the season before where they had to make toilets.

HOLMES: Yeah, they've done that a couple times.

MERAJI: They have.

MAYER: Because not only did I learn a lot about, like, the special kinds of clay that go into making toilets and their internal mechanics but watching everybody kind of grapple with the mechanics and learning how to build them and how to decorate them. And that one guy made the toilet that looked like a sea turtle with the head that stuck out between your legs. It was...

MERAJI: Yeah.

MAYER: It was great.

MERAJI: He also happened to be a supermodel, didn't he?

MAYER: Yeah.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MERAJI: I wanted to hate him when I first saw him.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

MERAJI: And then he was nice and loved his grandma.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MERAJI: And you're like, ugh (ph).

MAYER: Yeah.

HOLMES: It's hard for me - like, when I watch them make toilets, it's hard for me not to spend the whole time being like, would that be comfortable or not so much?

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Because they love to make them with, like - oh, I have a wolf head coming out the front. And it's like, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Do not want - nope. Do not want that.

ANDERSON: It's art, Linda.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: I mean, that's part of...

HOLMES: It really is.

MAYER: ...What they're testing, right? Keith sits on them and decides if they're comfortable. And it's also just hilarious...

HOLMES: It's true. It's true.

MAYER: ...To watch fully clothed Keith sit on a toilet.

HOLMES: It's true. And one of the things about the toilets also - because toilet talk with this panel is very important - but one of the other things about making toilets is it has that suspense of, like, whether it's going to work...

MERAJI: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...Because they do the thing with the tea set, as Shereen mentioned, where you see, like, is it going to pour the tea?

MERAJI: Is it going to dribble?

HOLMES: But it's a whole different thing when it's like, is this toilet going to flush? And is the water just going to run out the back because the pipe isn't, you know, at the right angle or whatever? There's a lot of suspense in it. And I actually think one of the things about "The Great Pottery Throw Down" that I find so interesting is that, on the one hand, it is, like, really, chill. Like, if you think "The Great British Bake Off" is, like, too tense and filled with conflict, then maybe try this.

But also, it has this element of tremendous suspense because even more, I would say, than with a cake, where it's like, did it rise correctly when they pull it out, there's this feeling of, when they go to the kiln and they take the stuff out of the kiln, is it in one piece? Did it blow up? There are some spectacularly exploded pieces where, if you don't make it exactly right and you don't get all the air out in the right way and you don't kind of seal up everything, it'll just blow up. And that's very suspenseful, I find.

MERAJI: The raku - that is my favorite part of all of this.

HOLMES: Explain what the raku is.

MERAJI: So it's a Japanese style of pottery where you are putting it into a super-hot fire, and they're using these tongs to put these very delicate things that they've made into, like, a thousand-degree fire. And you're just like, OK. One, is it going to blow up? Two, are they going to catch on fire themselves? Three, what is this thing going to look like? Usually it looks absolutely incredible. So, yes, speaking of suspense, raku is, like, high levels of suspense for me in watching the show.

MAYER: And they always kind of also, like, jack it up a little bit by having the scenes with the kiln tech being like, oh, you know, you can see because they did this, that and the other, that, like, this might not...

MERAJI: Yeah.

MAYER: ...Survive the firing. I also want to...

MERAJI: Yeah.

MAYER: ...Shout out the new kiln tech, Rose, who's badass and has, like, the Victorian mad scientist style with the bow ties and the long skirts.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Yeah. It's true.

MAYER: I dig her extremely.

HOLMES: It's true.

MERAJI: More Rose Schmits - producers, remember what you did with Rich? We want more Rose.

HOLMES: For sure.

ANDERSON: Yes.

HOLMES: The only ones I will say that I don't always like are the ones that are too - like, some of the garden feature ones get super-heavy, and it seems like it's just a matter of trying to make something that will stand up. I don't find that quite as interesting as, you know, either a delicate tea set or a working toilet.

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

MERAJI: If you drink a lot of tea, you're definitely going to need to go to the loo. So...

HOLMES: It's true.

MERAJI: It actually works really well together.

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: It's true. They're encouraging you to be fully self-sufficient and take care of all your own needs. All right. Well, let us know what you think about "The Great Pottery Throw Down." Find us at facebook.com/pchh, or tweet us at @PCHH. When we come back, it's going to be time for our favorite segment, What Is Making Us Happy This Week. So come right back.

Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It is time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week. Shereen, what is making you happy this week?

MERAJI: So I'm sticking with the U.K....

HOLMES: Sure.

MERAJI: ...And a song called "Tokyo Drifting." So it's Glass Animals with Denzel Curry, and the beat is fire. And maybe we will have a summer, and this is going to be my summer song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOKYO DRIFTING")

GLASS ANIMALS: (Singing) Disco dust hits your nose like a rocket. Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do (ph). Scoot, scoot, boy, race out to the super-club. Let it rip like you drank all of the tequila. Get loose, street fighter. Tear it up. Fresh footwear dripping out of you onto the rug.

MERAJI: "Tokyo Drifting" - it's off the "Dreamland" album - Glass Animals and Denzel Curry, who's a rapper from Miami.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Shereen. Tre'vell, what is making you happy this week?

ANDERSON: I'm going to give a shoutout to this book I've been making my way through called "100 Boyfriends" by Brontez Purnell.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah.

ANDERSON: It is just, you know - for whatever reason, I was in search of, like, a sexy, adult book, you know, and this does everything that I need it to do. And I think it's just great storytelling. And Brontez is a great writer and takes you into this world of, basically, him going through a hundred or so boyfriends. And it's really interesting and hilarious and a little titillating, too, you know, for those who are in search of that. So check it out - "100 Boyfriends."

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Tre'vell. I've been very curious about that book, so perhaps I shall pick it up. Petra Mayer, what is making you happy this week?

MAYER: A video game called Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town. So there's a franchise called Harvest Moon that goes back 25 years at this point, which is the sort of - sorry, I can see Shereen nodding. It's kind of the OG of farming sims. If you've played Stardew Valley at all, this is kind of what it was based on. And it has been running for years across multiple platforms and multiple developers. In fact, two - the two latest iterations came out in March. They weren't any good. But luckily, last year, a classic of the series, Friends of Mineral Town, was remastered and rereleased for the Switch. And so I have been playing it nonstop. It is mindlessly soothing. It has adorable music. And, like, I went to the fireworks festival with Cliff, the cute guy who works at the vineyard, and it was lovely.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: And, you know, it's about to be winter, so I'm going to go mine in the mine and look for diamonds and generally escape this actual world. So that's Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town, a farming simulator for the Switch.

HOLMES: That sounds wonderful. Thank you very much, Petra Mayer. My current favorite podcast is the podcast "Depresh Mode," which is hosted by John Moe, who used to host the podcast "The Hilarious World Of Depression." That show got canceled, and John was laid off. He's talked about that. But I was so excited when I found out that he had found a new home for that show at Max Fun.

John talks to - it started out as mostly comedians; he's broadened out quite a bit; sometimes it's writers or other folks - about mental health. This show has - is going to have a little bit more of a broader focus on things like PTSD and a wide variety of mental health topics. The first episode that he did when the show came back was with Patton Oswalt, who talks about depression in his entire life, also the grief experience when his wife passed away.

I really am so glad. I have also been on that show, by the way, talking about depression and anxiety and things. So I am absolutely delighted that John's show, which I think is such an important and wonderful resource for people, has made its way back on Maximum Fun. So, again, that's called "Depresh Mode" - D-E-P-R-E-S-H Mode - which I think is, by the way, a great title. And you can find that podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

And that is what is making me happy this week. If you want links for what we all recommended plus some more recommendations that are exclusive to the newsletter, you can subscribe to that newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. And that brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @LindaHolmes. You can find Shereen at @RadioMirage. Petra is at @Petramatic. You can find Tre'vell at @TrevellAnderson. You can find editor Jessica Reedy at @Jessica_Reedy, producer at Candice Lim @TheCandiceLim and our producer Mallory Yu is at @Mallory_Yu. You can follow producer Mike Katzif at @MikeKatzif, K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks so much to all of you for being here.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

MERAJI: Thank you, Linda.

MAYER: That was super-fun. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "X GON' GIVE IT TO YA")

DMX: (Rapping) X gon' give it to ya - waitin' for you to get it on your own. X gon' deliver to ya. Knock, knock. Open up the door. It's real with the nonstop pop pop of stainless steel. Go hard. Getting busy with it.

HOLMES: After we recorded this episode, we learned that rapper DMX died today after suffering a heart attack on April 2. He was 50 years old. NPR Music's Stephen Thompson is here with me. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: So you wanted to say a few words about DMX.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Between 1998 and 2003, DMX released five albums. And all five of those albums entered the Billboard album chart at No. 1, which is an incredible feat for a rapper who really did not usually get a ton of airplay on pop radio. Actually, here's one of his biggest hits from 2000, a mix of celebration and defiance called "Party Up (Up In Here)."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY UP (UP IN HERE)")

DMX: (Rapping) ...Someone else, and we all thought you loved yourself, but that couldn't have been the issue. Or maybe they just saying now 'cause they miss you. Maybe they tried to diss you. That's why you layin' on your back, lookin' at the roof of the church. Preacher telling the truth, and it hurts. Y'all gon' make me lose my mind up in here, up in here. Y'all gon' make me go all out up in here, up in here. Y'all gon' make me...

THOMPSON: DMX's musical presence was rough and hard and gritty, and his look and sound helped make him a natural movie actor. He appeared in a number of films including "Romeo Must Die," "Exit Wounds" and "Cradle 2 The Grave." In 1998, he co-starred in the crime drama "Belly," which became a major cult film.

DMX: (As Tommy) I'm hungry. I need this. You know how I get down, man. You know what I'm saying? You know how I get down, dog. I need this shot.

THOMPSON: Commercially speaking, DMX's star faded after those five years of colossal success. His film roles continued but were lower-profile. His albums no longer topped the Billboard charts. He was in and out of jail and court and rehab as he battled substance abuse and financial issues and mental illness. And on the surface, he was a star who kind of burned hot and bright, only to be brought low by his demons.

But there's also a longer story here about perseverance and persistence and overcoming staggering odds and disadvantages. It's a longer story from before he became a star as he survived a brutal childhood and a young adulthood spent in and out of prison. And it's a longer story after he became a star as he fought to get clean and find strength in his religious faith. It's just sad that his story ended this way because he had a lot of fight in him that extended beyond that remarkable and influential career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THE HOOD AT?")

DMX: (Rapping) ...On the job. Where the hood, where the hood, where the hood at? Had a [expletive] in the cut, where the wood at? All them [expletive] acting up, where the wolves at? You better bust that if you gon' pull that.

THOMPSON: Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. And we'll see you all on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THE HOOD AT?")

DMX: Yo, yo, it's all good. It's all good.

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