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Boiling Point review – TV that asks what if The Bear isn’t stressful enough?

This mesmerising four-part TV adaptation of the film has an excellent cast, a pressure-cooker atmosphere and a plot that will make you root for all the characters. But relaxing it is not

The camaraderie begins to curdle … Vinette Robinson as Carly in Boiling Point.

Most chefs will attest to the fact that professional kitchens have a tendency to attract trouble and the troubled. Little wonder, then, that the stresses of this particular workplace are proving to be irresistible fuel for the small and big screen at the moment. Boiling Point has had several iterations, two of which predate the likes of Disney+ series The Bear and restaurant-set horror comedy movie The Menu: it was a short film, then it became a feature film, shot in one extremely tension-inducing take and released in 2022. Now, it has been turned into a four-part television series, which begins with a first episode that in effect asks, what if The Bear isn’t stressful enough?

You don’t need to have seen the film to pick this up, though it might help to fill in a bit of background and explain why Stephen Graham’s former head chef Andy isn’t on-screen very much. In the film – spoiler alert – we saw Andy’s decline over a single chaotic service, in which he lost staff, his reputation as a chef, and almost lost a customer, before promising to seek help for his alcoholism and then collapsing. The series picks up a few months later, with Carly (played by the fantastic Vinette Robinson) now head chef at another restaurant, a new venture called Point North, with most of the same team on board. It specialises in food from the north of England, to the scorn of the cartoonishly villainous investors who dine there and don’t know their scouse from their parmo.

Carly is finding that even without Andy and his problems, there are plenty of fires, symbolic and literal, to put out every night. Cleverly, it starts with the arrival of Johnny, who is mostly referred to as New Boy, a rookie on his first day, dropped into the maelstrom. He serves as our entry, or re-entry, into this world as he is introduced to the staff and the system. Carly asks him to whip up two litres of hollandaise; a quick search online for a recipe doesn’t help much. He is all fingers and thumbs, which is never ideal in a room full of hot fats and sharp things, and he can’t tell the difference between a beef jus and a chocolate sauce.

Sous chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki) is struggling to keep a lid on his Gordon Ramsay-esque temper, while Carly is distracted by frequent calls from her demanding mother, played by Cathy Tyson. (Why do all TV chefs have toxic relationships with their mothers?) Front of house, there are love affairs, more new staff, hungover waiters, and a general sense that most customers are either whiny little babies or obnoxious monsters. There is also a simmering tension between front of house and kitchen staff that will be familiar to anyone who knows what it’s like to work in a restaurant.

In episode one, the restaurant is rammed, the kitchen is working at a nice rhythm and everyone seems to think it is the best night for the VIP investors to see what they might put their money into. Naturally, that means it’s all about to go to the dogs. As the pressure builds, the camaraderie begins to curdle. Every night is an ordeal to endure, yet they keep coming back, or at least most of them do. Though Carly claims to run a calmer kitchen than Andy, the collective self-destructive streak remains strong.

The series retains some of the shaky, rapid, one-shot spirit of the film, particularly in the first episode, though it does eventually settle down into a more traditional style. Even so, it piles stress upon stress, with a garnish of extra stress. Everyone who works at Point North has terrible personal issues to deal with, from poor mental health to poverty, alcoholism and family tensions; on top of that, as with most new restaurants, the budget is tight and only getting tighter. This is not a leisurely watch.

Yet it is mesmerising, particularly at the height of another service in which the worst can and inevitably does happen. You end up rooting for them all to get it together and triumph over every single bit of adversity that falls in their path, and there is a lot of adversity. After three episodes or so, some of the personal issues start to veer towards the melodramatic, and it is a shame that Andy is a smaller part of this story, because it means that when the magnificent Graham does appear on-screen, you realise just how good he is.

Still, this is an excellent cast as a whole, and it is remarkable how quickly Boiling Point drags you into its world and demands that you care about the people there. I wouldn’t watch it after a strong coffee, though.

Boiling Point aired on BBC One and is available on iPlayer.

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