Amazon has all five seasons of the scripted Irish restaurant series Raw now available. Doing the impossible, the show manages to capture the spirit of working in a restaurant.
One of the perks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon is that they must rely on other countries for content in order to keep their schedules fresh. In this case, Amazon has an Irish television series about a Dublin restaurant, Raw.
This isn’t a tired restaurant or chef unscripted program, Raw is scripted. It’s also the name of the restaurant.
It’s not a new show. Raw, produced by Ireland’s Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), ran for five seasons from 2008–2013, for a total of 30 episodes. So, file this show under the “new to us” category.
Now, if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you may be like me. I’ve always wondered why capturing the dynamic, dramatic and dysfunctional environment of a restaurant has been so elusive in film and television.
But, I’m biased. I have about ten years of working in the restaurant business doing both front of the house (waiting tables, bartending) and back of the house (kitchen stuff). My experience was nothing like Cheers or Hell’s Kitchen (or whatever chef show show has the pop culture seal of approval at the moment). In my experience, there was much more misbehavior and far too many more broken souls.
So I approached Raw with a guarded, but relatively open, mind. If only because European shows just tend to capture drama a little better, sometimes.
In the first episode, I noticed that Raw seized the camaraderie, the fun, the sex, the drinking and the very deep-rooted dysfunction that permeated the business as I knew it (I doubt it’s changed). What Raw does well is that it nails the esprit de corps of the environment.
Setting aside any Guinness and Shepherd’s Pie stereotypes you may have, Raw is a show about a modern Irish restaurant that serves modern food. And like many restaurants, it’s staffed with 20-somethings stumbling into, and around, adulthood . . . and dealing with modern issues while trying to do their best “adulting” impersonation. If you’ve been 20-something, fumbled around and worked in a restaurant, you’ll recognize these characters. Even if you haven’t done duty in a restaurant, I’d bet you know a Geoff, a JoJo, a Bobby, a Mal, a Tanya, a Kate, a Dylan, etc.
The first six episodes of Raw are typical of the first season of any good show. The show is well written, well performed and captures the universal power of relationships. As many will attest, the restaurant business can very easily get under your skin. And so can Raw.
Aside from the maladjusted elements of the restaurant business that Raw highlights, it dips its toe into social issues. The precariousness of the business is seen throughout the series and the Irish recession is mentioned later seasons. Most surprising to me was the show’s depiction of a very modern relationship. Throughout the series, we see the relationship of between head chef Geoff and front of the house manager Pavel grow.
I’ve always thought Ireland to be conservatively Catholic, so I was surprised that Raw depicted such a modern, honest and real relationship between two men (TV real anyway). One of the show’s strength’s, much to our benefit, is its portrayal of all relationships, across all demographics. It’s genuine and that’s not something we do terribly well on this side of the pond.
Raw’s faults are that it’s very white and very bougie. The dirty secret? That’s not unlike the industry itself. While the first couple seasons are stellar, the later episodes tend to slip into MTV and Aaron Spelling territory.
Raw, like so many shows, had run its course before it was cancelled. If you stick with it, by the last season you’ve become quite invested. It’s frustrating to watch a show slowly deteriorate and limp across the finish line. However, it does provide closure and sometimes, with shows you like, that’s important.
Much of the cast has gone on to do a myriad of work both in Hollywood and in Europe. You’ll recognize more than one performer from shows like Broadchurch (UK version), How I Met Your Mother (US), The Boys (US), The Fall (Ireland), Once Upon a Time (US), etc. The cast may not be household names here in America but that’s hardly a ding against their talent. The testament to the skills of the actor’s in Raw is the length of their CV’s.
At its core, Raw is less about a restaurant and more about relationships and life . . . and sometimes those can be, well, raw.