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Nine months on from its launch and All 4’s Walter Presents has served up a series of bold firsts and unexpected favourites from around the world. Its latest TV show, though, is perhaps its most surprising yet.
Hailing from Israel, the Hebrew-language series is a romantic comedy about a young baker from a Tel Aviv suburb, who falls for a famous model. He’s up to his armpits in pitta. She’s heading to Hollywood. It’s like Notting Hill with naan bread (sort of). You’ll love it.
Like any good romance, there are some obstacles for our happy couple to overcome – and we’re thrown right into the middle of one of them, as Episode 1 begins with Amos (Aviv Alush) out for dinner in a fancy restaurant with Vanessa (Hila Saada), his girlfriend of nine years. A public proposal later and she’s fuming, the other customers are embarrassed and his shirt’s covered in soup. It’s a painful way to begin, but if you’re not a fan of awkward humour, don’t switch off – any bitterness is swiftly replaced by something sweeter.
Sure enough, Amos bumps into Noa Hollander (Rotem Sela), the daughter of a rich hotel magnate and a pin-up with her sights on the big screen. Their impromptu night together is whirlwind of giggles and smiles, as they deface a billboard, dance and undress in her car – let’s just say it’s not only Amos’ bread that’s rising. But creator Assi Azar resists the urge to serve up a gooey-eyed brief encounter. While Amos is wooed by her dazzling beauty, he remains likeably level-headed; she’s charmed by the fact that he treats her like anyone else.
That matter-of-fact attitude runs throughout the whole show, deftly managing to celebrate the couple’s cute affair without becoming too sugar-coated. Every time you think that the path is clear for them to get together, something else gets in the way.
That’s often Vanessa, who is as disapproving of Amos’ new partner as Noa’s manager, Tsvika (Mark Ivanir). While they both scheme to separate the duo, though, neither of them are two-dimensional villains. Saada’s Vanessa swings from horribly vengeful to sympathetically heartbroken with just a twitch of her scowling facial expression, while Mark Ivanir steals the show as Noa’s stern father figure. After impressing in Homeland and A Late Quartet, Ivanir revels in the chance to flesh out his grumpy sidekick, dispatching insults and one-liners as brilliantly as he hints at his softer, camper side.
The same approach is taken with Amos’ family, from his womanising brother Assaf (Ofer Hayoun), who wants to be a singer, to his younger sister, Meirav (Shani Aviv), who just wants to grow up and be herself. Both could be stock types relegated to the substitute bench, but Beauty and the Baker takes time over its 10 episodes to give them each an opportunity to shine. Hayoun is hilarious as the meddlesome Assaf, somehow turning his stupidity into something oddly endearing, while Shani Aviv is sensational as her confused teenager, given a subplot to do with her own romantic entanglements that adds real substance to go with the surface gloss – it’s testament to how well written the ensemble is that you would happily watch a standalone TV show about either of them.
The real heroes, though, are undoubtedly Amos and Noa – and they lead the group with a sparkling chemistry that doesn’t stop fizzing. Sela’s wide smile and bright eyes make her perfect for the role of burgeoning starlet, but she doesn’t shy away from showing her character’s bad qualities, from selfishness and ambition to immaturity. Amos, too, behaves appallingly one minute and romantically the next, navigating his feelings for both Noa and Vanessa, not to mention his loyalty to his family, which sees him make sacrifices to a fault. The actors and writers’ willingness to portray the leads for better and for worse gives them an immediately convincing depth – there’s more to each of these people than you would find in a typical Richard Curtis movie.
Oded Raskin directs it all with style and heart to spare, capturing the glamourous flashbulbs of fame as well as the sadness of sitting at home alone with a record on. Amos’ Tel Aviv home, meanwhile, brings a welcome slice of unfamiliar scenery – like the dialogue itself, it’s a treat to have something so different to the norm on our screens. That has always been the joy of Walter Presents, discovering unexpected delights from other countries and cultures – and from the show’s swipes at Hollywood (hello to Mitchell Mullen as a sleazy director) to the importance placed upon food (some of the best scenes take place around the dinner table), this love story is bewitching, appetising stuff. You’ll be eight episodes in before you know it, but as Phil Collins says, you can’t hurry love. And this delectable rom-com deserves to be savoured, every last morsel.
All episodes of Beauty and the Baker are available to stream on All 4’s Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.