In ‘The Bear’, a star chef has a lot to do in this messy kitchen

You’d be forgiven if you thought “The Bear” was going to be some kind of shameless “Shameless” spin-off. The winning new series, all eight episodes of which will be available Thursday on Hulu, stars Jeremy Allen White, the good actor who played Lip in “Shameless.” His new character, chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, returned from a glorious New York career to Chicago – the setting of “Shameless” – to run his family’s restaurant, The Original Beef of Chicagoland, after the suicide of his brother. Like Lip, Carmy is brooding, smart, rambling, and trying to come out of a complicated youth.

“The Bear”, however, is truly its own beast. The half-hour episodes have a distinctive spirit – a food-centric location, a dramatic vibe with a dark comedy edge, overlapping dialogue, and an occasionally surreal but always fast-paced feel. Created by “Ramy’s” Christopher Storer, the show captures the pressure cooker who can be restaurant staff once the doors open, and it’s powered by masterful, always-moving camerawork that transforms the tight, grimy kitchen Original Beef and its endless stacks of dishes in a world apart.

Carmy mourns his brother, as does his sister, Abby Elliott’s Sugar, but he’s determined to do something Original Beef. His grand ambitions – Eater, we’re told, named him one of the best chefs in the world – are met with shrugs and worse by the staff, accustomed to mediocrity and chaos. As Carmy nudges them, he is met with grudging respect from some of the veterans and open hostility from Richie (a convincingly belligerent Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who has been manager for a long time despite his bad temper and his sloppy methods. Determined, Carmy tries to get his books in order – despite blatant debt in particular – and he plots to improve workplace culture.

There are tonal flaws here and there, especially when the script pushes us too hard to consider Carmy’s mission heroic. At times, “The Bear” unexpectedly reminded me of an Aaron Sorkin show, of the self-seriousness and over-paced dialogue (paced, in this case, by “chef” at the end and beginning of each sentence) in the prevailing sense of idealism and the good in all men. O Captain! My captain! The omelet we cooked is ready!

Ayo Edebiri in “The Bear”.Matt Dinerstein

The cast is still strong, including a memorable turn from Ayo Edebiri as a new recruit Carmy hopes will help change everything. Edebiri’s Sydney is the opposite of Richie; she is smart, young, experienced and eager to be mentored by Carmy. She’s as calm and poised as Richie is loud and explosive, and she puts up with Richie’s nagging, courtesy of Edebiri’s light touch, with a grace that’s both infuriating and soulful. A trained chef, Sydney is full of ideas to improve the menu, but she must cultivate the support of the other workers, including Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) and Marcus (Lionel Boyce), an endearing pastry chef who takes Carmy’s inspiration to heart. She is impatient and has her own lessons to learn.

The ensemble’s chemistry quickly gels on “The Bear,” as the frenetic atmosphere draws in new thoughts and feelings from the staff members. Once they begin to recognize Carmy’s genius and let go of her late brother’s disorganized ways, their banter and mutual support are even sweeter. The first season fails to fully integrate Elliott into the storyline, which is a shame. his scenes with White are charged, as they deal with the aftermath of a suicide. But the show is so full of good work that it doesn’t matter in the long run. Overall, “The Bear” is [chef’s kiss].


With Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Abby Elliott, Liza Colon-Zayas, Ayo Debiri, Lionel Boyce

On: Hulu. Broadcasts Thursday

Matthew Gilbert can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MatthieuGilbert.

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