TV drama series are such a great art form in the way they can enable you to get so enjoyably involved with a story world, a set of characters and their inner lives.
This was brought home to me by episode one of the new BBC series BOILING POINT, ensemble TV drama at its best.
The show made me think about the form – the way the best drama series work and about pilot episodes in particular. Although this was an interesting variation on a pilot episode – in that it originated as a short film, was developed into a feature film – and this pilot episode followed on from events of that feature film (But it still works even if you haven’t seen the film).
The opening sequence was a brilliant call back to the film – an 11 minute single shot sequence – a real televisual tour-de-force – before moving into a more conventional shooting style in the rest of the episode. This was something of a relief. The show was stressful enough anyway – but a whole TV hour as a single shot would, I think, have made it even more stressful!
But it was stressful in a great way, in that you engaged so strongly with the characters and their situation.
I love to look at the construction of good shows like this – the way the setting works in dramatizing the characters and their relationships, establishing what is at stake.
Seeing characters in their working lives – and then the perennial series question of whether we also see them in their private lives, outside of work. This was done brilliantly with lead chef Carly and new boy Johnny. Seeing his domestic situation made you understand why the job was so important to him.
And Carly’s enforced trip home added to the stress levels, heightening both the drama and the relatability of the character.
It’s a great example of an ensemble drama series – a group of 8 or 9 key characters, with a clear sense of their relative status within the workspace. An overarching business story where it’s clear what is at stake broadly for the business, and the personal, emotional stake the lead characters have in the business.
It’s interesting to compare the show to US series THE BEAR – both in the setting – most of the action taking place in both shows in restaurant kitchens – and also in the intensity of both shows.
On courses I’ve run in the past, I talk about the narrative premise and setting of drama series, of how important it is that this ‘precinct’ (as with a hospital, a police station) organically generates drama and has the potential for dramatic stories week after week, episode after episode.
Arguably, restaurant kitchens don’t have this dramatic potential (which is perhaps why BOILING POINT is only 4 episodes long?) but it will be interesting to see how well the show does and whether it might run to a second series and beyond (THE BEAR is now in its 2nd series and still brilliant.) Having now watched two episodes of BOILING POINT my only question is – is the series sustainable on the basis of something going horribly wrong in the kitchen week after week?!
But both BOILING POINT and THE BEAR are undeniably excellent and compelling. And they make me reconsider the facile example I have sometimes used in the past as a ‘precinct’ that doesn’t have strong dramatic potential, in which the ‘stakes’ for the characters are inevitably quite low – a family-run café. Both these shows utterly negate that as an example and reinforce the idea that you can make almost any setting dramatically potent, present the characters in almost any setting – if you confront them with seemingly insoluble personal dilemmas. If the characters care, we, the audience, will care.
In BOILING POINT, there is so much friction between the characters, and yet all these characters are empathetic. It feels well-researched and authentic and does that excellent thing of taking you into a story world that you perhaps didn’t know much about, it feels like it gives you a privileged insight into a behind-closed-doors setting. We may know the public face of a restaurant but this feels like a privileged access behind the scenes.
It had all the classic ingredients of the pilot TV drama episode –
The newbie through whose eyes we saw the space and (were introduced to) the regular cast of characters.
The series (business) set-up / crisis we were pitched straight into, which will presumably be the main serial narrative arc of the series.
The juxtaposition of the regular characters in their working environment, the series precinct – with the glimpses into their private lives which added such extra spice, intrigue and empathy to these characters.
The combination of overarching business story with the integrally connected sub-plots of each of the character’s individual working and personal lives.
The sense of a hierarchy within the kitchen and the restaurant as a whole; and the tensions generated by this hierarchy – such a key ingredient of so many series
The story engine of the working life of the kitchen – the pressure to work as a team, the urgency to deliver the meals in both the quantity and quality being demanded of them. And how this creates fascinating tensions in the character dynamics in the claustrophobic kitchen space.
CHANNEL FOUR SCREENWRITING COURSE 2024
The entry period for the course closed on Monday. We received over 2000 scripts. A huge thank you to everyone who submitted. I had my first meeting with my readers this week and we discussed what a privilege and education it is to have the opportunity to read so many scripts by new writer over such a concentrated timeframe (two months). I’ve already read some excellent scripts – it’s very exciting having this access to the best new dramatic writing in the UK and Ireland
ONE DAY INTRODUCTION TO SCRIPT EDITING COURSE London Thursday October 19th 2023
I will be running this course again in London on October 19th and there are still places available.
The next newsletter will be on Friday October 20th,
Friday October 6th 2023