From Scratch,‘ Based on Tembi Locke’s Memoir of Love and Loss, Shows What ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is’ Truly Means: TV Review

As much as I work to be as objective as possible when writing TV criticism, it would be a lie to say that my mood doesn’t affect the way I feel about whatever I’m watching. When I turned on “From Scratch,” a long week had left me feeling more delicate than usual, and all too ready to slip into a warm bath of a show. Netflix’s unabashedly sentimental new limited series is just that — at least at first. What begins as a swoony romance in its first episodes becomes a heartrending story of loss and resilience by its last. Frankly, I never stood a chance.  

Based on Tembi Locke’s memoir, and produced by Hello Sunshine after Reese Witherspoon picked it for her wide-reaching book club, “From Scratch” follows the beginning, middle, and end of the relationship between Texan artist Amy (Zoe Saldaña) and Italian chef Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea). Their connection — as well as Saldana and Mastrandrea’s chemistry — is instant and intense, eventually inspiring Lino to go live with Amy in Los Angeles despite never once setting foot outside Italy before he met her in Florence.

There’s a version of this tale that could focus on the whirlwind nature of it all (and obvious Aperol sponsorship). It could simply emphasize the romance of two people from completely different cultures and backgrounds doing their best to make it work. But even before tragedy befalls them, director Nzingha Stewart (“Maid,” “Little Fires Everywhere”) takes the time to highlight both the beauty and the bittersweet moments lying in between. In one of the show’s best choices, too, Stewart emphasizes the sensuality and care that goes into all the food presented throughout, especially when cooked by Lino. Food is his love language, and as such, it’s just as important for Amy to become just as fluent in it as Italian. Does it strain credulity when the show opens with 44-year-old Saldaña playing a wide-eyed college student? Sure. Does it particularly matter? Nah. In spanning the entirety of their time together, “From Scratch” has far more to tackle than the simple facts of how Amy and Lino first become a couple.

With eight episodes to recreate her own history, co-creator Locke teams up with her sister Attica Locke also to expand its scope beyond just Amy and Lino as a couple to contextualize their place within their families and how they all came together when the time called for it. Characters like Amy’s sister Zora (Danielle Deadwyler), stepmother Maxine (Judith Scott) and Lino’s stubborn parents Filomena (Lucia Sardo) and Giacomo (Paride Benassai) become just as much a part of the story. With pros like Kellita Smith and Keith David rounding out the cast as Amy’s parents, “From Scratch” builds a sprawling, messy, utterly believable family that can sell most any occasionally (if necessarily) cheesy line they get. Saldaña, married to an Italian in real life, seizes the chance to bring her own experience (and Italian fluency) to Locke’s, while Mastrandrea makes the most of his ability to go from charming to wounded within the span of a single sentence.  

So, as a fair warning: if you’re someone who’s dealt with terminal illness, been a caretaker for a loved one, or are simply feeling like a raw nerve these days, “From Scratch” may not be as easy to watch as it first may seem. But if you’re also in the mood to indulge the breadth of those emotions anyway, this should provide exactly the weepy embrace you’ll need to get there. 

“From Scratch” premieres Friday, October 21 on Netflix. 

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