‘From Scratch’ review: Netflix cooks up a Lifetime weepie

From Scratch, which premieres on Netflix Friday, is based on Tembi Locke’s 2019 bestseller From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home, and yet just looking at it you’d think it was specially made to satisfy an algorithm .

This is not to deny the lived experience of the author, whose particular joys and sorrows many will know for themselves. But From Scratch, created by Locke with her sister Attica Locke (a novelist whose screen credits include Empire and Little Fires Everywhere, and who serves as showrunner), is basically an expensive, well-acted, nicely written, very long Lifetime / Hallmark film, what Hollywood traders used to call a “weepie”. Without throwing too many spoilers in the way, the series ticks off a smorgasbord of hot categories with dogged thoroughness: There’s food porn, travel porn, love between beautiful people at (almost) first sight, weddings, illness, victims, families at odds, the City versus community, and a heroine bringing destiny and courage to the life she is meant to live.

Those themes are – I wanted to write “packaged” but at six hours there’s plenty of room for anything to rattle around. The upside is that scenes can play out quietly – it helps, oddly enough, so much of it in Italian – but there’s something almost brutal about the ebb and flow, the to-and-fro, yanking tragedy from the jaws of fortune, luck out the maw of tragedy and so on and so on . The narrative twists feel somehow twisted and predictable. Still, some people come for it, and they may find it more of an abundance than a punishment. (That said, “From Scratch” is best viewed not as a binge, but with some recovery time between episodes.)

A chef sprinkles cheese on food in his kitchen

Eugenio Mastrandrea in From Scratch.

(Jessica Brooks/Netflix)

Zoe Saldaña plays Amy, deputizing for the author who spends a summer in Florence studying art and contemplating never going back to law school. (Tembi Locke’s own creative path is through acting, with a long line of credits spanning from the original “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “Never Have I Have Ever”). Amy meets Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), who is already an artist – an artist of food, the best chef at the best restaurant in town. (He’s from Sicily and, like Amy, has defied his father’s will by following his dreams.) After some quaint American girls abroad and an only slightly bumpy road to love, Amy must part ways with another Italian boyfriend They’re never asked to take it seriously — they’ll manage to get together and move to Los Angeles. I could only think: “Why didn’t you just stay in Florence?” But fortunately the show with Italy isn’t finished yet.

In LA, they move in with Amy’s sister Zora (Danielle Deadwyler); Lino finds work in a mediocre restaurant and Amy in an art gallery, reminding her that she doesn’t make art herself — although despite her protestations, she seems to have little real passion for it. On the other hand, she has her hands full with the various complications that life and the series throw at her, and many with unfulfilled ambitions of their own will surely find this understandable.

As the story moves back and forth across the Atlantic, we’ll also meet Amy’s divorced parents (Keith David, who can be seen in such detail, and Kellita Smith) and stepmother (Judith Scott), as well as Lino’s father (Paride Benassai), mother ( Lucia Sardo) and sister (Roberta Rigano) who have their own business to attend to and make life difficult for our lovebirds.

Set at the turn of the century, From Scratch has the luxuries of its pre-dystopian setting, predating cell phones and texting – the servant of sex but the enemy of romance. Characters call each other, take photos with cameras. Directed by Nzingha Stewart (who has directed actual Lifetime films), the series has a lush, magazine-worthy look, especially when it comes to food. There are also some nice close up shots of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers which is currently fenced off to the public where Amy works teaching art to children. But in case you don’t think that’s where she found her calling and that everything will be fine until then, think again. Still, I don’t think it’s a breach of trust when I say that the series aims for an unfortunate ending. After everything we’ve been through, it should be like this.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-20/from-scratch-review-zoe-saldana-tembi-locke-netflix ‘From Scratch’ review: Netflix cooks up a Lifetime weepie

Sarah Ridley

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