‘Sweetbitter’ TV show review
By Craig Allan, Contributor
In today’s world of streaming, cable, and movies, it is easy for great television shows to fall under the radar. After all, no one can watch everything that the so-called Peak TV world has to offer. While shows like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things can take up a lot of the conversation, many other shows that are not as well-known also deserve some of that conversation space. One of these underrated outstanding shows is living its life on the new-to-Canada Starz network: Sweetbitter.
Sweetbitter has just finished its second season, and with an episode count of only 14 it is a fantastic show to binge. A drama based off the book of the same name by Stephanie Danler, it stars Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Churchill) as Tess, a woman from Ohio who, on a whim, moves to New York City. She doesn’t know what she wants to do in New York or what she is going to do when she gets there. She just wants to live the New York dream—even if that dream is undefined.
She does find work at a high-class restaurant. Despite not knowing anything about wines, cooking, or fancy foods, Tess is passionate and eager to learn. Her learning however does not stop at the food—she is fascinated by the people in this unfamiliar world she has entered. There is Simone, played by Caitlin FitzGerald, a woman of adventure and mystery. Her life may seem glamourous, with a kitschy New York apartment and a history that includes a year living in Champagne, France, but there is also a darkness to her. This darkness can be seen from her treatment of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Jake (Evan Jonigkeit). Simone’s treatment of Jake, whom she has known since she was a child and has an almost sibling-like affection for, and her divorced past set her up as a character of many layers. We’ve yet to see if those layers are sweet like a cake, or bitter like an onion.
Other characters that make up the show include Howard (Paul Sparks), the head manager of the restaurant who is trying to change the restaurant while struggling to keep its traditional charms; Sasha (Daniyar), a gay Russian man who is fearful of returning to the country that is not accepting of his lifestyle; and Heather (Jasmine Matthews) a law school dropout who due to her race has to act like a chameleon, changing her identity to fit whatever the customer sees in her just so she can maximize her tips.
Lead actress Purnell has a doe-eyed look to her which is very appropriate for the show, since Tess, while also being the main character, acts as a surrogate for the audience in this crazy big-city journey. Tess enters the unknown waters of this strange land with vigour and lust. One such example comes in the season 2 premiere. On a field trip to an upstate farm, Howard—in an attempt to get the staff to understand where the food they serve comes from—has a pig slit and gutted in front of them. While everyone turns away, Tess looks on in shock, but the important thing is she looks on, which Howard recognizes and notes by telling her, “You have a curiosity.” Tess’s philosophy is that she wants to “try everything,” and her zest for life and discovery powers the show to make it a diamond in the bowels of the Peak TV machine.
Sweetbitter may not be in the same league as prestige television favourites like Better Call Saul and This is Us, but it is one of the more relatable shows on TV today. Who hasn’t been put into a position completely foreign to them, or dreamt of leaving their life behind and travelling to a far-off land in search of adventure? Sweetbitter is the embodiment of wish fulfillment. You buy into Tess’s journey and are encouraged to follow her wherever she may go. The show may be called Sweetbitter, but in terms of entertainment value, and overall enjoyment, it is pure, refined, sugary sweetness.