The Big Blow Out review – like a trip to the salon on a bad day, I love it

‘Hair. It’s everything.” So said Fleabag in the most glorious (and only?) monologue delivered about hair on British television. And, yes, for the small and splenetic sector of readers who find any mention of that show intolerable, you’re right. I have just opened another Guardian article with a Fleabag reference. But Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s voluminous speech springs to mind as I watch the high-octane, gravity-defying (sorry, all this high-stress styling talk is catching) opening of The Big Blow Out (E4, All 4). Could it do for this country’s endless bad hair days and brutally shorn national mood what The Great British Bake Off did for soggy bottoms? Admittedly, it’s a lot to pin on a show about hairdressing. Then again, it sort of worked with a bunch of bakers fighting over the height of their genoise. Height, by the way, is also uppermost in The Big Blow Out. A good sign.

“Whether it’s big and bouncy or short-hair-don’t-care, we all use hair to express ourselves,” begins presenter AJ Odudu, as her hair, which is as fabulous as her Lancashire burr, switches from massive to sleek, from braided to Marilyn Monroe glam. Personally, I haven’t brushed my hair since Bake Off turned 10, but never mind. Put aside your worries for an hour. Pop a barber’s cape on. Sit down and tell me what you’ve got planned for the weekend.

You know the format in your withered old bones. What’s left of the country has been combed, and 11 of the most promising stylists have been plucked. This is the highly competitive, high-fashion world of hairdressing, mind, so don’t expect a bunch of nerdy Fair Isle-jumpered stylists whose nans taught them to cut and colour. OK, apart from Lily-Rose, whose grandad was a barber. She is the youngest at just 20 and only qualified last week. The first challenge, in which the stylists have to construct a masterpiece that says “this is me!”, sees her sprouting a family tree from the top of her model’s head using nothing but string and stress. Told you height was a thing.

The judges are Lisa Farrall, go-to stylist for the biggest names in music – “not here to tear the hairdressers down” but “to make them better” – and Sam McKnight. The format demands that every soft-hearted sweetie of a judge needs their Paul Hollywood, and hairdresser-to-the-stars McKnight can say “it’s like an old lady’s perm gone wrong” without breaking a smile. “This is not hair that you’re going to see walking down the high street,” he barks. Which must be a hairdresser thing: to talk about hair as an entity in its own right. The hair is “out there”. The hair is sculpture. The hair can walk down the street. The hair might be an actual person – and it nearly is, in one effort by 28-year-old braider Emma, which contains a tiny replica of herself hidden inside a door. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a very small “bread lion” in there.

We’re not here to watch a taciturn barber administer a short back and sides. We want Claire, sound engineer turned south London master stylist, to build a giant speaker out of polystyrene blocks rearing up from her model’s head like a skyscraper, complete with a sound-wave fringe and Bluetooth speaker emitting her own beatboxing. McKnight declares it very “Jean Paul Gaultier runway from the 80s”. He loves it. So do I.

For others, it goes horribly wrong. Emma’s house – representing her coming out – collapses as she runs out of time to wrap it with a mega braid. She asks to step out for a minute and bursts into tears, saying, “It looks like an absolute piece of shit.” Abigail’s design is a tribute to her mum, who died 12 years ago, which depicts her blowing bubbles – but it looks more like “a foam party in Faliraki”. Darren’s enormous heart wrapped with crimped hair – also inspired by coming out – breaks, which starts to feel metaphorical.

Round two: a real styling session by haircare brand OGX, to see if they can get a booking. The brief is to create, in 90 minutes, happy, healthy hair that moves. Cue lots of overwhelmed stylists flapping wafting boards at their models. “The wind machine was on her crotch area,” says McKnight, when Abigail’s hair fails to take flight.

Like a visit to the salon on an otherwise bad day, The Big Blow Out does the job. It’s the sleek bob of the format that, like hair in all the wrong places, will never stop growing. It’s silly, fun and, most importantly, sweet: the signature style of the company that also produces The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throw Down. I note the absence of “British”, though, which would in normal times have been an alliterative opportunity no telly producer could resist. That era is as over as the “Rachel”. The only series I can see coming to a soon-to-be-sold-off channel near you is The Great Big British Strike.