Yes, the FX series The Bear is already two seasons in, with the second season having wrapped up in June 2023. Why am I reviewing it now? With renewed attention for the show following its 13 Primetime Emmy nominations and 10 wins, people who haven’t yet tuned in are getting curious. Case in point: as I was writing this in a local café, I coincidentally overheard a conversation with a group of people sitting nearby, when one asked the others, “have you watched The Bear?” Everyone who hasn’t yet watched is wondering what all the fuss is about. Is it worth watching? Here’s a breakdown.
Summary of the Plot
The story begins when Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) returns to his hometown of Chicago to take over his brother’s Italian beef sandwich restaurant, aptly called The Beef. Carmy has long moved on from his humble beginnings. Against all odds, he went to culinary school and became a revered chef, working in a Michelin star restaurant. He is living out his dream. But the tragic death of his big brother by suicide gives Carmy a sense of moral obligation. He needs to save the flailing family shop his brother ran into the ground. This is not only to honour his brother’s memory but also, it seems, to prove something to himself.
The task, however, will be anything but simple. Carmy is met by old hometown friends and family members who are seemingly bitter about his departure and maybe even a bit jealous of his success. They poke fun at his new “high society” status and possess the wrongful perception that he thinks he’s better than them. He no longer understands how things are done in the “real world,” they believe, and what he has learned doesn’t apply there.
The kitchen staff is no better, meeting Carmy with snide looks and rolled eyes. They run the kitchen like anything but a well-oiled machine. They are set in their ways and don’t want to hear what this fancy-shmancy chef has to say. His world of fine dining is not the same world they live in. Their customers are rough-around-the-edges, regulars who are greeted by their first names. Drug deals and fights break out in front of the restaurant. The recipes haven’t changed in decades. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Except it is broke. Very, very broke. The business is on the brink of bankruptcy. Carmie could easily sell the property, make some cash, and move on. But that isn’t who he is.
Through the two seasons of The Bear, Carmy works to earn everyone’s trust, starting by respecting their roles. “Yes chef” is part of his common vernacular, and these folks aren’t used to being treated with such respect in the kitchen. It feels kind of, dare we say, nice.
He is determined to change or at least liven up the menu and prove to himself that he is worthy. His aspirations grow. He thinks he can make The Beef into a local hotspot that he, and everyone who works there, can be proud of – exactly what he initially wanted to do alongside his troubled, addict brother so many years ago. He doesn’t want but needs to prove to himself, and to everyone else, that he can do it. His motivation is also, however, because Carmy deep down doesn’t know a life with anything but struggle, haunting demons, and hard work. There’s no time for anything else.
The Bear Review
The Bear is full of frantic energy from start to finish. While there are fleeting moments of calm, you’ll feel consistently anxious watching Carmy and the others navigate the hustle and bustle of the busy restaurant world. Combined with the potty-mouthed, loud nature of many of the characters, including his “cousin” Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and childhood friend Neik Fak (real-life celebrity chef Matty Matheson), it’s enough to make you feel like you just worked an exhausting 18-hour shift by the end of every episode.
The mania, however, is interspersed with a few characters who bring calm. There’s The Beef’s bread maker and aspiring pastry chef Marcus Brooks (Lionel Boyce), one of the only old-school employees who is willing to listen to Carmy’s direction. He’s a shining light in every scene, the personification of someone who is underestimated but has the drive to succeed. There’s also the line cook Tina Marrero (Liza Colon-Zayas) who plays mediator and mom. She never really sees her position as anything but a pay cheque until a light of passion begins to ignite.
A breakout star from the series is Ayo Edebiri who plays Sydney Adamu, the young chef who Carmy brings on to help him manage the overwhelming task at hand. She knows who he is, even idolizes him. But despite the insecurities she has in her abilities, she also refuses to resign herself to just a yes-woman sous chef. She wants to lead and is confident she can. And, it appears, so is Carmy.
Season 2 picks up the pace, as if that were even possible. The Beef (spoiler alert) becomes The Bear, and Carmy inches closer to realizing his dream. But turning a dilapidated sandwich shop into a five-star joint with a staff that doesn’t know what foie gras is much less how to make spaghetti from something other than a can (you’ll want to copy Carmy’s recipe from season one – here it is and you’re welcome), is a massive undertaking. Not to mention an expensive one. What’s more, there’s the issue of etiquette. Loud, abrasive banter isn’t going to cut it in this kitchen.
The second season dives deeper into Carmy’s past as well, providing insightful context to his story. We learn more about his brother Michael “Mikey” Berzatto (Jon Bernthal), his sister Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto (Abby Elliott), and most notably, his mother Donna Berzatto (Jamie Lee Curtis).
The “Fishes” Christmas flashback episode will leave you absolutely gutted. You’ll be scratching your head at first, then stunned at the heart-wrenching, soul-crushing moments interspersed within the incredibly deafening hysteria. It’s, to put it lightly, a lot to take in. The episode will leave you needing a night (or two) to digest it all.
The guest stars in season 2 include an impressive list: Molly Ringwald, Will Poulter, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, John Mulany, and Olivia Colman. It’s a testament to how many actors recognized the potential greatness of the show. Curtis herself has said in interviews that after learning about the character of the mother in season 1, she knew she had to play her.
Most important about The Bear and its fast-paced, emotionally draining stories are ones of personal growth, redemption, struggle, and strife. The surface premise is a simple one: how do you fix a dying restaurant? But the subtext is much deeper: how do you fix a dying person?
Is The Bear Worth Watching?
The Bear is easily one of the best shows of this decade. While it’s emotionally all-consuming at times, there are also moments of humor and fun. It isn’t all dark.
The Bear is one of those rare shows where the second season is even better than the first. It keeps the momentum going, and those just tuning in now will love the opportunity to binge all the way through.
Every character comes into their own. This is all beautifully and heartbreakingly juxtaposed with Carmy’s constant, internal struggles. At times, you want to root for him, while at others, you want to slap him in the back of the head and tell him to realize what’s really important.
A masterclass in storytelling, pacing, and developing characters fans can truly get behind, The Bear won’t disappoint. The series returns this year for a third season.
Stream The Bear in Canada on Disney+. (The series streams in the U.S. on Hulu, and is also available on FX).