“Recovery is a process. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes everything you’ve got.” - unknown
I don’t review television too often. But sometimes a show like The Bear comes along and I am compelled to express just what a show like this means to me. Call it recency bias all you want, I don’t recall a show, a story like The Bear impacting me in such a profound way. I feel I can describe it to an extent but some of the feelings this show elicits from me are the intangibles that elevate a show from good to great and maybe even something more.
The Bear is raw. It is chaotic and visceral. Where it separates itself from other stories like it is in the approach it takes when bringing up subjects like suicide and trauma. It puts on full display characters with clear mental illnesses like Bipolar disorder. But it does all of this with such tact and a delicacy that feels like a welcoming to anyone that suffers in such ways and maybe does so in silence. As its most basic definition, The Bear is a story about a young chef taking over his deceased brother’s restaurant and trying to make it his own. Once you take the dive in it becomes this beautiful mess of honest, fleshed out human characters that are doing their best in the wake of numerous obstacles both physically and mentally and at times equally debilitating. They clash with one another but try to find the truth in their anger in hopes of bettering themselves.
Each character is nuanced and so complicated that each demands their moment to truly understand their motivations for the restaurant as well as life itself. One of the best things The Bear does is to show a character’s actions from a specific outside vantage point and then going into detail from the personal perspective of the character themselves showing that each person reacting to a singular incident can experience two completely different outcomes. It’s just like real life as two people interact and will recall the exact same experience with completely unique details the other was never aware of whatsoever.
With special mention of season 2, The Bear allows entire episodes to act as a kind of clarification as to why each character is the way they are. Why is Carmen so angry? Why is he so sad and high strung? Why is Richie seemingly such a waste of time? Is Natalie’s apprehension to help her own brother bring life to his restaurant justified? Who is everyone and why do they act more like a dysfunctional family rather than a business with bosses and employees? The beauty of telling such a story in episodic form is to allow each moment to breathe. It shows you the end result and then explains why. It can take a character who you may loathe in one episode and completely relate to them and root for them in the following episode. The Bear allows for the imperfections to round each character out but to never fully define them at least without a chance to defend themselves.
While much of season 1 showed these people clashing and screaming at one another, with some information being divulged, it is truly in season 2 that everything begins to unfold and reason begins to find its place amongst the chaos entailing everything from the suicide of a brother to the most absolutely insane family dinner you have ever seen put to screen. And while it can feel genuinely overwhelming at times, it merely asks that you remain patient and promises things will eventually find their footing and clarity will set in. The only thing it never promises is a catharsis by the end credits. It retains its reality by never guaranteeing the fairytale ending.
Case in point, the final episode of season 2 soars with optimism only to crash in hopelessness. As Carmen and his new girlfriend Claire discuss why Carmen is nervous to start something positive in his life is because through his own life experiences he has been taught to wait for “the other shoe to drop.” But it begs the question, was the shoe dropping inevitable or did Carmen just drop the damn thing himself?
The Bear is a celebration of real life. It is a window into the souls of normal, everyday people who are flawed and repeatedly make mistakes. It’s about second chances in life and what it says about the person that seizes such a moment. And all of the infighting and burden each character brings to the situation, they all have a goal of creating the best restaurant in Chicago. The Bear is the name of their new establishment and if successful they each see it as a moral victory for each individual and for the crew as a whole. So few shows have ever captured something so prophetic and entrancing as this seemingly simple story manages to carve out with each new episode. It introduces characters and takes you on a journey through their experiences and asks you not to necessarily forgive their shortcomings but to allow for them as they are merely humans trying their best. The numerous character arcs are tremendous and wholly mesmerizing. Something as simple as two chefs doing morning food prep and talking about their families is absolutely riveting and sometimes I’m not always sure why but I’m not sure I care too much to ask. I’m just grateful to be on this journey with these amazingly written characters brought to life with award worthy performances.
Carmen, played brilliantly by Jeremy Allen White, is motivated but tripped up by so much self doubt. As we learn about him and his family and how they’ve molded so much of who he is, for better or worse, his tendency to ruin the good moments suddenly makes so much sense. Jeremy Allen White conveys anger and listlessness with such confidence that it can be almost unnerving at times. So much of his character is motivated by a desire to outdo the trauma of being from a horribly tattered family that has been ripped apart repeatedly by tragedy and mental illness. He is merely the tip of the iceberg as each and every one of the cast brings such artistry and bravado to their own characters. It’s often said that each actor is only as good as the other actor(s) in the scene with them and The Bear demonstrates this repeatedly and with such poignancy and triumph. It makes you root for them and hate them at times and hope for the best for them.
I react to the decisions of these characters with such personal investment as if they’re real people out in the world. I love shows like Breaking Bad but that’s much more of a vicarious, never-going-to-happen kind of experience, whereas The Bear makes you feel as if your involvement somehow matters to the outcome. This all sounds quite dramatic and maybe it is but when I think of these stories I’ve just watched with my whole heart this is what I find at the end of each season.
I can’t stress this enough, I think this may be one of the best television series I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. And it’s only two seasons deep. Imagine the possibilities of where these characters could take us. I am in love with everything that is The Bear. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of television show.
Rated TV-MA For: strong language throughout, mild violence, smoking and alcohol use and intense or frightening scenes
Episode Runtime: 30 to 60 minutes
Number of Seasons: 2 and counting.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Starring: Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Abby Elliott, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, Molly Gordon, Jon Bernthal, Oliver Platt, Gillian Jacobs
Series Directors: Christopher Storer, Joanna Calo, Ramy Youssef
Out of 10
Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 10
All episodes are now streaming on FX on Hulu.
Buy to Own: If it should ever be released on physical media, absolutely.
Check out the trailers below: