Sweetbitter premieres May 6th, 8pm on Starz.
After watching the first season of Sweetbitter, Starz’s new drama about a high-pressure New York restaurant and the people that work in it, I had no idea the main character was named Tess or could even recall any of the character’s names (save for Howard, but I’ll touch on that later), but that’s not the reason I kept watching.
It was because of the restaurant.
Sweetbitter follows the story of Tess, a twenty-something from Ohio who decides to move to New York on her own and as fortune would have it, finds a job as a server at one of New York’s finest restaurants. What follows are a half dozen episodes of Tess continuously being put in situations where she is in over her head to the point where it becomes almost too painful to watch. Her repetitive life lessons became so commonplace that by the end of the season I was just wanting the show to hurry through the awkwardness so she could quickly redeem herself and the narrative could move on, however, this was rarely the case. Her “teachers” are a bombardment of so many personalities with paper-thin motivations for existing that they weren’t worth remembering and only towards the end of the season do you see the show trying to supply depth to them beyond their few interactions with Tess.
In Sweetbitter, the restaurant, or its heart, is one of the only things able to cut through the show’s monotony. It accurately portrays the service industry in such a noble fashion and admirable light where you almost wish it was you being thrust into Tess’ place. It was astounding to watch these incongruous people time and time again come together not just out of survival but actually engage in the creation of art in motion. I know this might sound too much of a glamorization of a show that is on its best day, mediocre, however, I came away from its first season hanging onto the sights and sounds of the restaurant and the show’s ability to make it seem appealing. And while Sweetbitter nails this premise, it quickly turns average on all other fronts. The writing can be eye-rolling and often feels recycled from other dramas. The characters themselves appear as walking stereotypes that simply check boxes as they interact with Tess throughout the show. There’s the old wise one, the brooding one, the know-it-all, the mean girls, “the one”, and the sassy guarded one. While that can be discouraging, the restaurant’s owner, Howard, played by one of my favorite actors, Paul Sparks. He is grossly underutilized within the show, but he makes the most in every scene he is given. In my eyes, that man can do no wrong.
Truthfully, Sweetbitter will not land on anyone’s Top Lists, probably won’t be seen by many or be extremely popular, but that isn’t to say that there are not moments that make it work watching or that it doesn’t have an interesting story to tell. Where it will lose many is in its week-to-week episodic approach. I can easily say that I was able to stay invested in this show partly because I was able to watch its entire first season in one sitting. Many won’t give Sweetbitter that sort of attention and in its early episodes, the show does little to deter that statement. Sweetbitter isn’t emotionally deep and does little to try and reach that point until it’s almost too late but it’s worth sticking around for several episodes just to soak in its depiction of the restaurant.
I give Sweetbitter a C-.