the bear wastes no time configuring the world in which it exists; it throws you directly into the fire. Christopher Storer’s eight-episode FX/Hulu show that’s been made fully available to critics puts us on the back of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), an accomplished chef who cut his teeth in world of fine dining and returned to Chicago to take over his family’s filthy sandwich shop, The Original Beef of Chicagoland. The reason for Carmy’s return isn’t a fall from grace or a breakdown in his confidence fueled by the notoriously fierce atmosphere of Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s closer to home: his brother Mikey killed himself and left the shop to Carmy, even though there are hints of a frosty – or at least emotionally distant – relationship between the brothers.
Filling the show’s margins are Carmy’s brother’s best friend and restaurant manager, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who hates Carmy’s cocky attitude; Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), an accomplished chef in her own right who wants to learn from Carmy; and a slew of line workers who aren’t interested in wearing matching aprons or following orders from a newcomer. If the premise sounds like a sitcom, you’re not mistaken. But the tone and intensity with which it’s told — focusing on Carmy’s perspective and using overlapping dialogue that induces a sense of claustrophobia — makes it much more serious than it would be from a another point of view.
It is now accepted that a cooking show will not be synonymous with sunshine and roses; the world of food is no joke, and everything from Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen at Confidential kitchen show the dark side of the industry. the bear certainly shares a certain tone with those shows, but also subtly pokes fun at the idea that every kitchen should be an aggressive atmosphere. Carmy’s sensibilities, such as introducing a hierarchy in the kitchen, are stifling for a team that treats work as paychecks instead of life’s work and genuinely enjoys each other’s company. The frenetic energy is a byproduct of Carmy taking this role too seriously and trying to turn the sandwich shop into something much bigger than it was ever meant to be, and the clash of two worlds is fascinating to watch in real time. There’s even an episode that feels like a one-take, ramping up the cooking intensity and guiding the audience through the mayhem in real time.
The real charm of the series lies in the relationships. Both Richie and Carmy are dealing with the loss of Mikey, and their personalities are completely at odds: Richie despises Carmy’s holier-than-thou attitude and the fact that Mikey didn’t trust him with the shop, and Carmy thinks clearly of Richie as rude. They couldn’t be more opposite in demeanor, but their love for Mikey keeps them together and comes out in their own, slightly suppressed way. It’s as much a show about heartbreak and masculinity as it is about running a sandwich shop, and White and Moss-Bachrach are fully committed to their ends of the spectrum. If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that Richie is pompous, aggressive, and often sucks the air out of the room, leaving very little space for anyone else to exist. This characterization works well against Carmy’s more reserved attitude, but sometimes undermines the balance with the rest of the cast.
Likewise, Sydney and Carmy have instant chemistry from their backgrounds at fancier restaurants and lean on each other as stewards of fancier cuisine. Edebiri is a particular winner after Sydney is given the title of sous-chef and given the task of bringing everyone together in the hierarchy of adopted French cuisine that Carmy is trying to impose on The Original Beef of Chicagoland. As she vacillates between nervously addressing the kitchen and becoming increasingly irritated by their challenge, her performance is magnetic. Lionel Boyce is also a treat as a colleague who hones his craft and relishes the opportunity to work with such an accomplished chef as Carmy.
Shows like the bear– with his fully formed tone, presentation and performance – doesn’t come around often. Make sure you’re listening: it’s a chef’s kiss.
The 8 episodes of the bear are available from Thursday, June 23 on Hulu.
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. His work has appeared in New York Postis the decision maker teen vogue, Vulture and more, and is featured in Brown Girl’s Magazineis the first-ever printed anthology. She’s a proud University of Michigan alumnus and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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