Why The Bear should be your next box set
James R | On 23, Oct 2022
Season 2 premieres on 19th July 2023. This review is based on Season 1.
If you can’t stand the heat, the saying goes, get out of the kitchen. The Bear is a TV show that may make sure you don’t step into the kitchen in the first place.
Jeremy Allen White stars as Carmen, a young chef who makes the jump from New York back to his home town of Chicago. Trading award-winning top-flight restaurants for his family’s sandwich joint, he’s looking for a chance to make good and make amends – at least with himself – after the death of his brother, Michael. But he soon winds up at odds with Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Michael’s best friend who has been keeping the joint going and doesn’t have any interest in changing the recipe.
The joint’s name, The Original Beef, could easily refer to their grudging relationship, with the duo’s heated heckles and hard-knuckled cynicism towards each other providing the meat at the heart of the show. They’re sandwiched by a group of equally fraught figures, from seasoned baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and no-nonsense veteran Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) to the ambitious Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who convinces Carmen to hire her as sous chef.
If Richie can’t, or refuses, to see Carmen’s talent, Sydney is the one who can, but what soon becomes impressive about The Bear is that the show isn’t interested in presenting us with a tortured male genius who treats other people with contempt. That contempt is instead reserved for himself, with every change in the kitchen introduced to try and improve the place and treat everyone with respect, despite the constant onslaught of obstacles and complications. At the same time, Richie’s resistance to change is similarly motivated by a sense of loyalty to Michael – what we’re watching is two men attempt to process grief and guilt, but doing so in the high-pressured environment of a working kitchen.
The result is a finely balance mixture of familiar ingredients – part workplace comedy, part family drama, part cookery show – each one refined and distilled by creator Christopher Storer and co-showrunner Joanna Calo to their purest, rawest form. The performances are as beautifully rounded as the script is sharply stripped down, immersing us in a loud, roaring oven of chaos that still includes moments of profound stillness and mouth-watering snapshots of high-quality cuisine. Frantic camerawork that keeps us close in the faces of each character mean we feel every bead of anxiety even as we’re rushed through the 30-minute runtime of each episode to the relief of a meal actually being served to a customer.
It’s a concentrated burst of stress and saliva-inducing culinary craft that feels like a thrilling blend of Boiling Point and Chef, but comes drizzled with its own unpredictable plotting and character development. You won’t want to go near a kitchen for hours after each episode, but you probably won’t find a better TV show to savour this year.