There’s a reason why one of the most popular shows on Netflix is Virgin River, a show that couldn’t be less “prestige TV” if it tried. It’s a straightforward romantic series, with small town vibes added in. It’s a formula that works, which is why the streamer has commissioned a few more shows in that vein. A new series starts in Italy, with two very attractive people falling in love over great food.
Opening Shot: A burner on a gas stove turns on. A woman stares at it, turns it off, and picks up a leather-bound journal.
The Gist: Amy Wheeler (Zoe Saldaña) thinks back to the Fall of 2000, when she arrived in Florence, Italy. At the time, she was going to Georgetown Law School, but decided to delay her studies to take a six-week art workshop in the city; she sketches and wants to explore that part of her life. Suffice to say, her family — especially her attorney father Hershel (Keith David) — isn’t happy about it, as Amy’s sister Zora (Danielle Deadwyler) reminds her when Amy calls.
While walking around with bar owner Sloane (Ruby Kammer), she literally runs into Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a chef that Sloane knows. There’s an instant spark, but before they meet again, Amy starts dating Giancarlo (Giacomo Gianniotti), a suave gallery owner. But she’s definitely drawn to Lino, and when she and her roommates go to Lino’s restaurant and have the meal of their lives, she finds that he’s drawn to her, too.
Lino represents passion, having come from Sicily to Florence to cook after studying to be a translator. She wants that kind of passion in her life, too, which she tells her father when he and Amy’s stepmother come to visit. She declares that she wants to move to L.A., live with Zora and be an artist for a living. Her work shows promise, but as she and Lino grow closer, how will the two of them live their lives?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? From Scratch is a pure romantic series, somewhat along the lines of Virgin River. It would be at home on the Hallmark Channel.
Our Take: Created by Attica Locke (Little Fires Everywhere) and Tembi Locke, based on Tembi’s book, From Scratch isn’t trying to be anything more than a years-spanning romance, depicting the ups and downs of an unlikely couple that pretty much knew from the time they locked eyes on each other that they were each other’s destiny.
We make it sound more baroque than it is, though, because the first episode does show that things won’t be completely smooth sailing for Amy and Lino. The minor hiccups they experience in the first episode — she’s dating someone else, her father thinks she’s making a mistake quitting law school — will likely foreshadow more major problems as their relationship grows.
So, there will be friction in this relationship, much of it external. But it sure seems like Amy and Lino will have a lot of great moments in between the not-so-great ones. The show is definitely positioned as a tearjerker, with great looking food punctuating the scenes in Lino’s restaurant.
It helps that Saldaña and Mastrandrea have such fantastic chemistry. It’s a bit of a stretch to envision Saldaña as a twentysomething law school student in the early going, but the growing love between Amy and Lino helps us suspend that disbelief, as well as the fact that we’re going to be seeing the long-term arc of their relationship play out.
Sex and Skin: There is sex, but we see more reactions of the people that are having it than any kind of skin.
Parting Shot: Lino lovingly says to Amy that “People eat all over the world,” which makes her smile. He’s willing to leave Italy for her.
Sleeper Star: We’ll always give this to Keith David, who plays Amy’s father with the right amount of grumpiness, practicality and not giving a flying fig, as the outfit he wears to Lino’s restaurant shows.
Most Pilot-y Line: “I’m up for whatever’s free,” Amy tells Sloane as Sloane drives her into the city from the airport. “Take a lover,” replies Sloane. “That’s fun and free.” Never thought of dating in that way, have you?
Our Call: STREAM IT. If you’re looking for a straightforward, tearjerking romantic drama, you can’t go wrong with From Scratch. Will there be drama? Absolutely. But it’s not soapy drama, which might makes the show less engaging for people looking for something less low-key.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.