The Watchman: Sweetbitter’s Sophomore Season, Suits Spins Off, HBO Unmasks Jihadi John

Senior content producer Michael Malone’s look at the programming scene
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Season two of Sweetbitter has arrived on Starz. It’s about Tess, who leaves her small town and lands a job at a fancy New York restaurant. Executive producer/ showrunner Stuart Zicherman said season two was liberating after season one’s six-episode run.

Starz's second season of "Sweetbitter"

Sweetbitter

“It takes a little time to find the essence of your show,” he said. “We’re excited to get a chance to expand.”

Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter novel takes place over the course of a year, and season two breaks from the book a bit. Zicherman’s highlights include Sandra Bernhard turning up as the restaurant’s absentee owner, Maddie, and a bunch of restaurant staffers heading out to see the band Interpol — in 2006.

Zicherman does not miss his work in the restaurant world. He toiled in a Wyoming resort town, where his chatty nature did not work for him as a server. “I was a terrible waiter,” he said. “I ended up being a good busboy.”

Also going through a career change is Jessica Pearson of Suits. Spinoff Pearson, which sees the character, played by Gina Torres, as a mayor’s fixer in Chicago, premieres on USA Network July 17. Exec producer/showrunner Daniel Arkin described Suits as blue sky, and Pearson as a bit more gray. “We like to say it has the DNA of Suits, but it’s a different child,” he said. “It’s meant to be a little more rough around the edges.”

Pearson, and Torres, have their fans at USA. “Bonnie Hammer has always loved Gina the actress and Pearson the character,” said Arkin.

Real-life news pops up in Pearson, whether it’s racial injustice or police scandals. But the show is hardly ripped from the headlines. “We don’t do topic of the week,” Arkin said. The issues are touched on, he added, “but Pearson is always character-driven.”

HBO showcases an intriguing character on Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist, about London-reared ISIS terrorist Mohammed Emwazi that premieres July 31. The film debuted in the U.K. on the same night as the Game of Thrones finale, and executive producer Jane Root said it held its own.

“The mystery of who this man is really captivates people,” she said.

The film looks at James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Emwazi in 2014. Foley’s remarkably composed mother speaks in Unmasking Jihadi John. Root calls her “an astounding interview.”

Unmasking Jihadi John depicts an awkward kid and how he ends up as a murderous terrorist. It also shows the aggression with which U.K. law enforcement went after the young man. “I hope it provokes a discussion about how the secret services work and how these terrorists can be combated,” Root said.

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