Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pilot Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter (Starz)
Premiered May 6 at 8pm

Shows about restaurants are tough, since the focus tends to be on the fast-paced nature of running an establishment frequented by different people each day and how hot things can get in the kitchen. AMC’s “Feed the Beast” was hardly a hit and lasted just one season, and, over a decade ago, FOX’s “Kitchen Confidential” proved no more successful. Now, we have a premium cable network premiering this series based on the popular 2016 book by Stephanie Danler. I had heard about this show ahead of time since it debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, but didn’t know anything about it or the book. What I found was a show that uses typical exaggerated concepts to make this world feel cutthroat and impossible to do well in, yet somehow our protagonist catapults to the top of it all with immediate access that she can’t possibly understand. I’m not familiar with lead actress Ella Purnell, who plays the bright-eyed, relatively shy main character as she should with awe and wonder at the incredible pace of things in this structured setting. I was pleased to see two performers that I like a lot: Caitlin FitzGerald from “Masters of Sex” as Simone, who apparently isn’t all that nice, and Paul Sparks from “Boardwalk Empire” and “House of Cards” as Howard, who hired Tess. I think I can predict a lot of what will happen on this show, and its tone and style did nothing to make me feel that this particular variation of the fish-out-of-water getting into a new life way too easily story will prove unique enough.

How will it work as a series? Tess has already failed to fill the saltshakers and sat down with a guest only to be yelled at by Howard for doing so, and somehow she’s still doing fine and will continue to do so as time goes on. Her complete lack of familiarity with the world of serving and wine should hold her back much more than it has so far, and I can imagine that suspension of disbelief will need to be very strong.
How long will it last? Don’t consider this one well-received. Unlike “Vida,” which premiered after it and scored infinitely better reviews, this series managed to score only 23% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and a 52 on Metacritic. Even if the ratings were decent, it’s hard to justify this show continuing based on the dismal reception it’s gotten. I wouldn’t expect a second season.

Pilot grade: C+

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