Tune in and dine out on restaurant-set TV series
Going out to eat is one of life’s great pleasures.
Whether it’s fine dining, a quick burger or something in between, there is something about being out and dining on food made by others that is an utterly satisfying experience. And the fact that people are waiting on you helps, too.
These days, however, that favorite American pastime has fallen by the wayside, the victim of the pandemic that has forced closures of restaurants. But let’s not dwell on that. Instead, let’s live vicariously through our televisions, watching series set in and around restaurants, where people are out and about and enjoying themselves – just as we hope to be soon.
“Alice” (1976-85, CBS): Based on the 1974 film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” this long-lived sitcom starred Linda Lavin in the title role of a widow who with her young son relocates to the Phoenix area and takes a job as a waitress at a greasy spoon called Mel’s Diner. Polly Holiday, who’s character Flo coined the catchphrase “kiss my grits!” also starred along with Vic Tayback, Beth Howland and Philip McKeon.
“Cheers” (1982-93, NBC): Yes, the meals consumed here were more liquid in nature but the Boston bar “where everybody knows your name” was a ratings dynamo for many years and a fixture at the Emmys and Golden Globes. It also gave big boosts to the careers of Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Alley and was just a downright friendly place to spend 30 minutes on a Thursday night.
“Tattinger’s” (1988-89, NBC): This well-reviewed hour drama about a popular New York eatery had the acting talent (Stephen Collins, Blythe Danner, Jerry Stiller) and the production lineage (the “St. Elsewhere” team of Tom Fontana, John Masius and Bruce Paltrow) but couldn’t translate that into ratings and thus disappeared after one season.
“Party Down” (2009-10, Starz): Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Lizzy Caplan and Ken Marino headed the talented cast of this underrated sitcom about a group of Los Angeles actors, writers and lost souls working part-time gigs as caterers while waiting for their big break in Hollywood.
“Bob’s Burgers” (2011-present, Fox): Loren Bouchard, mentor of the current “Central Park,” created this animated comedy that follows the adventures of the Belcher family, who own and operate a burger joint in an unnamed seaside community. A perennial contender at the Emmys, the show’s voice cast includes H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, John Roberts and Kristen Schaal.
“Fresh Off the Boat” (2015-20, ABC): Before she rose to stardom in “Crazy Rich Asians,” Constance Wu was in the ensemble of this recently concluded sitcom about a Taiwanese-American family who run a cowboy-themed restaurant in Orlando, Fla., in the late ’90s. Randall Park, Hudson Yang and Forrest Wheeler also starred.
“Sweetbitter” (2018-19, Starz): A fine dining establishment in New York circa 2006 is the setting for this underrated drama that follows the lives of the eclectic and eccentric group of wait staff, cooks, bartenders and kitchen help who work there. Ella Purnell, Caitlin FitzGerald, Tom Sturridge and Paul Sparks headed the cast.