4 reasons to feast on the “underappreciated gem” Sweetbitter
Set in the high-pressure world of a celebrated New York restaurant, Sweetbitter, now streaming on Showmax, centres on small-town girl Tess (Ella Purnell from Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children), who throws herself headlong into life in the Big Apple and her training as a backwaiter, along with all its accoutrements – long hours, new flavours, a steep learning curve, sophisticated big-city colleagues, drinking, drugs and very late nights.
If you remember starting your first job – wide-eyed, a little scared, eager to impress – and especially if that job was waitering; if you’ve ever wanted more than you had, or wanted to be more than you were, Bittersweet is the perfect easy binge.
It’s written by a restaurant-industry veteran
The show is based on the bestselling debut novel of the same name by author Stephanie Danler, who also created, exec produced and wrote several episodes of the series. Anyone who’s worked behind the scenes in a restaurant will spot the authentic voice of a writer who spent many years in the trade. Danler was involved in every decision, from casting to set design and even the dishes served in the restaurant.
And it’s paid off. The day-to-day dynamics and details of life in a fine dining establishment ring true, as do the colourful characters that populate this high-pressured world.
Ella Purnell is a delight as Tess
Ella plays Tess, whose coming of age hinges on her wide-eyed curiosity and determination winning out over the feeling that she’s suddenly a very small fish in a very big pond. Her strength and confidence grow as she tackles the challenges of getting her own place for the first time, studying for her trials at the restaurant, navigating the social hierarchy of her new work tribe and the sensory overload of living in New York.
“I moved here to push myself,” she says. “I like how it feels.”
On casting Purnell, Stephanie Danler said in an interview with Vogue: “Tess needed to be a blank slate, which is a really hard thing to three-dimensionalize. She has to have a naïveté and openness to experience, but also be a girl who knows she needs to be in New York City. We were looking for someone in the ingénue realm, but she also had to feel strong enough to have packed up and moved in the middle of the night.”
Caitlin FitzGerald (Succession) plays enigmatic career waitress Simone, Tom Sturridge (Velvet Buzzsaw) is Jake, and Evan Jonigkeit (Frontier) is Will. Restaurant manager Howard is played by Emmy nominee Paul Sparks (House of Cards) and comedian Sandra Bernhard (Pose) guest stars as Maddie Glover.
It’s created with excellent ingredients
Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, which produced Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave, and Emmy winner Richard Shepard (Ugly Betty) are among the show’s exec producers, while its directors include Emmy winner Adam Bernstein (Breaking Bad, Fargo), Augustine Frizzell (Euphoria) and Cherien Dabis (Empire, Ramy).
The second course is even better than the first
Though the series launched to mixed reviews, the show has grown on critics, with ratings for the extended second season jumping to 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s audience score is at 92%.
Refinery29 calls it “an underappreciated gem”, while The Wall Street Journal says it’s “powered … with unfailing wit, superbly conceived characters, and confidence in its own strength.”
This title is no longer on Showmax. Find your next binge here.