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In 2022, Ayo Edebiri Owned Insecurity on the Small Screen

The Big Mouth and The Bear actress delivered two visions of young women trying to figure it out.
  • Ayo Edebiri in The Bear and Big Mouth (Photos: FX, Netflix/Primetimer graphic)
    Ayo Edebiri in The Bear and Big Mouth (Photos: FX, Netflix/Primetimer graphic)

    In our year-end miniseries They Have the Range, Primetimer writers and editors highlight the most versatile TV actors of 2022. 

    In the eye of the hurricane that was the kitchen of the Original Beef of Chicagoland, Ayo Edebiri's Sydney was anything but calm. She was, at turns, eager, nervous, perturbed, impatient, and under siege. Equal parts thrilled to get to work with a chef as talented as Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and frustrated that the chaos of the kitchen wasn't letting her show her own talent, Sydney was a necessary counterpart to Carmy's tortured familial angst in The Bear. The show doesn't work without the two of them pressing on each other to be better, and given White's rather ferocious capabilities as an actor, Edebiri had quite the task to hold up her end of the bargain.

    As Missy Greenwald-Foreman, Edebiri faced a different kind of maelstrom in the sixth season of Big Mouth. Netflix's animated depiction of the monstrously hormonal adventures of adolescence had a lot in store for Missy this year, including a sweet but frustratingly (for Missy, anyway) chaste romance with the new boy in school and her traumatic (of course) first period. In both roles, Edebiri's confident comedic instincts were put in service of two distinctively insecure characters in two shows that couldn't be more tonally disparate.

    Edebiri has been a comedy writer and stand-up comedian since coming out of NYU, getting her breakthrough role on Big Mouth in 2020. Jenny Slate voiced the role of Missy early on, but stepped down in the show's fourth season amid criticism that the role of a young biracial girl shouldn't be played by a white actress. Edebiri, who'd been on the show's writing staff, auditioned for the role and took over in Season 4. Now in her third season as Missy, Edebiri has taken full ownership of her particular brand of neurotic horniness. In Season 6, Missy spins out over why her new boyfriend Elijah doesn't want to get to making out already (we find out eventually he's asexual). Edebiri traverses the emotional terrain from anxious to frustrated to despairing, all while honoring Missy's essential deep-seated weirdness, the kind of weirdness that can accommodate a body-swap subplot with Firefly's Nathan Fillion.

    Obviously, The Bear doesn't take Edebiri's character down so fanciful a road. But her improv-trained quickness and verbal dexterity is on full display when she snaps back at cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his boorish, snide remarks. That confidence in putting Richie in his place doesn't extend to the rest of the kitchen, though, and Edebiri shines just as bright as Sydney is kid-sistering her way around the Beef's entrenched staff. She projects head-of-the-class eagerness so well that you're fully rooting for her while also completely unsurprised that she drives Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) up the wall with her new ideas.

    The Bear's most heralded episode, the excruciatingly tense, raw-nerve "Review," takes Sydney through a trio of modes. This is the episode where she screws up and leaves the pre-orders open, drowning the Beef in orders the team can't possibly fill. At the outset, she's sheepishly yet persistently trying to make sure Carmy's cool with her sneaking a risotto dish he didn’t approve to a critic; poking the bear, if you'll forgive the obvious idiom. Once the chaos hits and Carmy screams at her, she pays her frustrations forward, first to Tina and then to Richie, running him down viciously for what a loser he is before accidentally(?) stabbing him in the ass. Finally, Sydney gathers up her confidence enough to stand up for herself and walk away, calling Carmy a piece of sh*t as she goes. And in an episode where the volcanic emotion belongs to Jeremy Allen White, it's Edebiri’s character who is most transformed.

    With Big Mouth Season 6 and The Bear premiering in the same calendar year, Edebiri put her range on display: hormonal basket case whose budding sexuality nearly scares her new boyfriend to death and eager young talent who nearly gets her ambition trampled. She's as exciting a young talent as exists on TV right now, and all signs point towards her showing us a whole lot more.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Ayo Edebiri , The Bear, Big Mouth, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White