Keeping up with the constant stream of new, good TV shows is impossible.
Every so often, though, a show emerges that people can’t seem to ignore. The likes of “Squid Game,” “Succession,” “Ted Lasso” and “Barry” have caught the attention of mass audiences, forcing viewers to press pause on their other shows to join the internet and in-real-life discussions.
“The Bear,” renewed for a second season last week, is the latest must-watch show. The FX drama-comedy debuted all eight episodes of its first season on Hulu on June 23 to critical acclaim, earning a 100% Fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes to pair with a 92% audience approval score and inspiring countless rave reviews and think pieces.
Set in Chicago, “The Bear” starts with Carmy (Jeremy Allen White, best known for “Shameless”) opening up a dingy Italian beef sandwich shop for the day. We discover Carmy just inherited the shop from his older brother Mikey, who died a few months earlier. A world-renowned chef running an illustrious New York kitchen, Carmy quits fine-dining to return home.
But the staff is none too pleased about Carmy’s efforts to improve the food and working conditions at the shop. Especially Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Mikey’s best friend who worked alongside him for decades. The addition of promising young chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) gives Carmy an ally in the kitchen as he slowly starts to work his magic, but the head chef soon realizes his brother left the store in a much worse state than he could have imagined.
“The Bear” is so tightly told, excellently acted, poignantly written and well assembled that you are swept up in the show’s world, storyline and characters.
The performances really make “The Bear” resonate, though. Every character, from the first moment they walk on screen, feels authentic, like a real person. Moss-Bachrach in particular is astonishing; he explodes into scenes with a ferocity that instantly makes him the most engaging character in the kitchen.
He has the charisma and charm to pull off such a performance, and Richie never comes close to being annoying. Instead, Moss-Bachrach brings a deep fragility and vulnerability to the character, masked by jokes, inappropriate comments and generally behaving like an ass. The longer the series goes on, the more connected and protective you feel toward Richie, though, especially as he has to contend with more and more loss and disappointment.
But while Moss-Bachrach is arguably the standout performer of “The Bear,” the rest of the cast goes toe-to-toe with him. To take the boxing metaphor even further (which is apt, as an awful lot of scenes in “The Bear” unfold like a fight), the rest of the actors land their own knockout blows on Moss-Bachrach.
White handles the show’s lead role with aplomb. He has a deeply emotional arc and he’s constantly fighting to keep his inner demons at bay, especially “the bear” inside him that’s clawing to get out. This interior turmoil simmers on the back burner while Carmy teaches layman chefs, mentors Sydney, re-connects with his sister and tries to fix the various issues Mikey left behind.
You might be wondering if “The Bear” is a comedy at all. It’s hard to tell.
On first watch, it’s the drama and emotion of creator, writer and director Christopher Storer’s (“Ramy”) story that stands out. Major credit to showrunner and executive producer Joanna Calo (“Hacks,” “BoJack Horseman”), too, who also wrote and directed several episodes, as well as executive producer Hiro Murai (“Atlanta,” “Station Eleven”).
You can nearly feel the heat of the kitchen and taste the grease, the creators deploying a rapid editing style and quick camera movements that make the tension, stress and energy palpable. Anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows what it feels like pushing through a high-pressure dinner rush.
When you return to “The Bear” for a second serving — and you’ll quickly want to binge again on the four hours of its first season once you’ve finished — the humor starts to become more prominent.
Like the best meals in life, “The Bear” satisfies on a number of levels. And, unlike many shows that start sweet and fade, “The Bear” leaves a lingering taste you’ll be thinking about for weeks.