May 6, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere: “Sweetbitter”


SWEETBITTER:  Sunday 8PM on Starz – In the Quene

Starz’s SWEETBITTER is, with Vida, part of the network’s unusual run of back-to-back half-hour dramas, each of them with a short 6-episode order.  Both shows make use of indie tropes, with Vida on the “gritty estranged family that has to co-exist” end of the Sundance scale, heavy with issues of ethnicity, sexual identity and social change (gentrification: yea or nay?).

Sweetbitter is in the “small-town girl in the big city” genre, and notable in that novelist Stephanie Danler, whose book is the source material, was appointed creator of the series despite a lack of previous TV or film experience (she co-showruns with the more veteran Stuart Zicherman).  The first episode, written by Danler and directed by Richard Shepard, establishes the premise.  The year is 2006, and Tess (Ella Purnell) packs up her car and drives to NY, where she parlays what little waitressing experience she has into a job at a fashionable restaurant run by Howard (Paul Sparks).  She’s naive but observant and compassionate, her co-workers are gruffly knowledgeable, and the restaurant’s standout server Simone (Caitlin Fitzgerald, very recently of UnReal) may be a mentor, an antagonist or both.

Sweetbitter is extremely glossy, and Purnell, best known until now as the lead female student in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, is effectively wide-eyed as Tess. Fans of HBO’s Treme may recognize bits of that show’s expertise around a restaurant kitchen.  But the colorful supporting characters (a Russian who weeps for his dead father, a bad-boy bartender, a frequent customer who was once a showgirl but now suffers from dementia) may yet turn out to have depth or to be more like recurring sitcom figures, and with only 5 half-hours left, there will be limited time to give them heft.

To use the obvious metaphor, Sweetbitter seems to be a pleasant-enough snack in the midst of the satisfyingly heavy meals offered by Sunday night cable, and it’s not clear what Starz’s plan is for additional courses.  Its Yelp review so far would be middling.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."