THE BEAR – Season One
A young chef from the fine dining world returns to Chicago to run his family's sandwich shop.
Comedy-drama The Bear is one of the most stressful shows on television; feeling more voyeuristic than any prestige drama. The series takes us behind the scenes of the cramped kitchen of the Original Beef of Chicagoland, coming from the mind of Christopher Storer (Eighth Grade), who adopts everything audiences love about MasterChef, Top Chef and Iron Chef and transplants them into a family-run sandwich shop. It’s fortunate episodes are only 30-minutes long because they’re an assault on the senses and nerves, as we’re dumped into the middle of a professional kitchen during service, with staff shouting, pots boiling, flambéing pans, all financial precarities hanging over the kitchen’s head.
This popular Chicago sandwich spot is now in the hands of burned-out Michelin-star chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), who’s returned home following his brother’s (Jon Bernthal) suicide. He hires the caustic and overtrained Sydney (Big Mouth’s Ayo Edibiri) to work along a motley crew of staff—including experimental pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), Somalian immigrant Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson), and sardonic yet layered line cooks Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Carmy’s non-biological “cousin” Richie (The Dropout’s Eben Moss-Bachrach).
Allen White and Moss-Bachrach are the standouts amongst a talented cast. Carmy and Richie are both so tightly coiled with grief it almost hurts to watch; one using the pain to stare into the middle-distance with glassy eyes, while the latter uses it to aggressively manage those around him. Aside from these two, we only really see people through their work personas, struggling to exist as people outside of a kitchen.
The Bear is mostly about character and its world-building than plot. There are smaller stories happening in the background of the daily rhythms of the kitchen, but none rival the main plot, and there’s a refreshing lack of romantic subplots and high-stakes drama. This all makes it feel like one of the most authentic show currently on the air.
There’s even an eroticism to the way the food is handled, making it impossible to watch without feeling hungry, with lingering shots of beef sizzling in a cast iron pan and sauces being drizzled over prime ribs. White takes what could’ve been a cliché of an overworked former addict and turns him into a tattooed dirtbag heartthrob. While this isn’t the elegant comfort food porn of other food-related shows, the art of cooking is still treated with great respect.
The Bear has been created to mimic the stress of a real-life kitchen. Fast-moving knives and sizzling pots make it a perfect backdrop for interpersonal and professional tensions. There are no big dramas in life, tax returns need to be filed, employee records are lost, and sauces go under-seasoned. Even a fight outside doesn’t make a narrative dent. With frenetic camera movements and sharp editing, this show makes even the most mundane day in a kitchen.
Not everyone wants to spend their time stuck in an overheated Chicago kitchen. The audience isn’t like Carmy, as we aren’t trapped in a dark spiral of family commitment, guilt, and Stockholm Syndrome. The emotional beats of The Bear, tackling suicide, grief, and addiction, is hidden beneath lunchtime rushes, Chicago street fights, and cake mixtures.
The restaurant is, Carmy learns a little too late, hopelessly in debt to meat vendors, the IRS is threatening to repossess his co-owner and sister’s (Abby Elliott) house. The kitchen staff with their varying levels of seriousness and experience aren’t happy with the direction the new bosses are taking them in, and the restaurant is so broke Carmy has to sell off his vintage denim collection to pay them.
This first season ends in pandemonium which finally ties up the emotional beats and character arcs. Some will be happy for this resolution, whilst others may bemoan the finale is too tidy for a show all about the messiness of life.
The Bear is always moving and yet there’s no major character development, exposition, and rarely any meaningful plot. This is the intention of its creators to seek out the beauty in the chaos of something as mundane as a subway deli. It’s the unexpected tensions that’ll keep you hooked throughout its eight episodes… until you suddenly realise, come the finale, that you’ve become incredibly attached to all these people.
USA | 2022 | 8 EPISODES | COLOUR | ENGLISH
writers: Christopher Storer, Sofya Levitsky-Weitz, Karen Joseph Adcock, Catherine Schetina, Rene Gube & Joanna Calo.
director: Christopher Storer.
starring: Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, Abby Elliott, Edwin Lee Gibson, Matty Matheson, José Cervantes, Oliver Platt & Corey Hendrix.