Recommended: The Bear on Hulu
What's The Bear About?
Carmy Berzatto is a rising star in the restaurant world who returns home after his brother's suicide to run his family's shabby little Chicago sandwich shop, where his efforts to bring high-end kitchen practices to the place are met with great resistence.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Of all the new archetypes that have arisen in 21st century entertainment — the Silicon Valley tech villain; the social media narcissist — one of the most interesting is the culinary superstar. Whether it's Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (and its short-lived, Bradley Cooper-starring FOX sitcom spinoff) or the battling Voltaggio brothers on Top Chef, the idea is that elite chefs are also roiling cauldrons of drama.
On its surface, The Bear, which is produced by FX and streaming on Hulu, seems like it's going to be that, with Carmy the hotshot chef who made it big in New York City and won an award from Food and Wine, now languishing in his family's hole in the wall. Sure, he'll treat everybody like dirt while he refuses to process his grief and anger, but his talent will be so undeniable that he'll get chance after chance after chance.
And while there are elements of that cliché that apply to The Bear — Carmy is crazy talented, and he sure isn't processing his grief very well — what sets The Bear apart and makes it one of this summer's best new shows is the way it refuses to either lionize or punish its main character. Instead, it puts him in a kitchen ecosystem where Carmy can find purpose and structure after his world has fallen apart.
For as much as The Bear succeeds on its tone and worldview, it excels because of its cast, in particular its central trio.
Jeremy Allen White never got his due as one of the standout performers on Showtime's Shameless, and after a while you longed for him to break free of that show's bleak and punishing narrative. You might be initially dismayed, then, to find White back in Chicago, playing a prodigiously talented young man who's boxed in by economics and family strife. But rest assured: Carmy Berzatto is not Lip Gallagher. In The Bear, White plays both tortured and tense without ever feeling like he's indulging in TV's plentiful antihero tropes. Carmy's going through a lot, both emotionally and logistically. He's weighed down with guilt and grief about his brother, but he's also gotta make sure he can keep the kitchen stocked and his knives sharpened. The Bear never feels like it's positing that streamlining the kitchen is therapy for Carmy, but that's not not true either.
Ayo Edebiri, meanwhile, is thrilling as Sydney, who comes into the kitchen as an untested kid with a ton of ideas for how to make it run more professionally and efficiently. This appeals to Carmy, but you can imagine how popular this makes her with the rest of the kitchen staff. That's just the starting point, however, and the writers and Edebiri give Sydney a backbone that makes her distinct.
Sydney finds herself sparring most often with "cousin" Richie, played with wildly objectionable zeal by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Girls, The Punisher). As the manager of the sandwich shop before Michael died, he's resentful that the shop was left to Carmy and pushes back aggressively as he sees Carm and Sydney try to impose their world of mise-en-place and "yes, chef" and sauciers onto the way things have always been. It's a tremendous performance of a character whose obnoxious intransigence is rooted in old-neighborhood fear of change that feels both real and worthy of consideration if he weren't such an unrepentant jerk.
With a soundtrack featuring Peal Jam, R.E.M., Counting Crows, and Radiohead, and guest stars like Molly Ringwald (!) and Oliver Platt, there are pleasures to be found in every crack and corner of The Bear, from Marcus's journey to craft the perfect donut to a children's birthday party to an ambitious single-take episode late in the season that is decidedly not a pleasure but still impresses as one of the most tense TV episodes of the year.
The Bear is a show that does authenticity without grimness, tough character comedy with a generosity of spirit, and knows the value of finding freedom through hard-won excellence.
Pairs well with
TOPICS: The Bear, Hulu, Abby Elliott, Amy Morton, Ayo Edebiri , Christopher Storer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colon-Zayas, Molly Ringwald, Oliver Platt