If you’re looking for a fantastic Kitchen Drama that will stress you out and make you tremendously hungry. I’ve got two words for you: “The Bear.”
FX’s series about a struggling restaurant and its employees is an on-screen pressure cooker. A culinary whirlwind, and a rumination on grief, all at once. That combination was slathered with great performances and served with a dose of gritty flair. Makes for a great sandwich; sorry, I meant it makes for a great show. Did I mention you’ll be starving after watching?
The comedy-drama series, created by Christopher Storer, runs around a talented chef, Carmy Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White. He struggles to keep his family business: an Italian beef sandwich shop, up and running after the suicide of his older brother.
The series spans eight episodes with a runtime of four hours. However, if the measly runtime wasn’t incentive enough to keep one’s eyes glued to the screen. The series compensates with its rapid pacing, never losing a second to filler.
The pilot episode takes Carmy into the untidy claustrophobia of the uncomfortably small sandwich joint, an alien yet familiar environment for him, having previously worked at “the greatest restaurants in the world.” Taking charge as the Chef of the Cuisine with the comparatively inexperienced staff, Carmy is in a tight spot when he’s tasked with the impossible: keeping the shop open.
Among some of the spectacular on-screen performances that constitute Carmy’s staff, each bolder than the previous episodes, we’re graced with his cousin, who is short-tempered, Richie, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach. A series of unavoidable circumstances and a dash of mansplaining wit in faux-Italian gab make up Richie’s frustrating albeit the most entertaining persona and the show-stealer of the series.
The only smidge of sanity that Carmy finds solace in is the latest hire Sydney, in a commanding performance by Enyo Edibiri. As Sydney finds her way around the uninspiring kitchen of an inspiring chef, she endures a trial by fire, having to navigate her path through a culture of casual sexism in the kitchen.
The chefs’ team eventually finds synergy and balance as the series progresses. Carmy’s guidance and Sydney’s adeptness steadily pay off, though, with each step forward, a new predicament presents itself, be it in the form of a health inspector, exploding toilets, or the odd bullet penetrating the front window. But unfortunately, the stakes never let up.
And if the consistent slew of disasters building in momentum weren’t an onslaught enough on our senses, the series ups the ante even further with one of the finest television episodes of the entire year. Episode 7, or the 20 minutes of an anxiety-inducing nightmare, is a directorial masterpiece.
The episode starts on a simmer, with a particularly troublesome prep in the kitchen. The screams get louder as the mishaps keep piling up, and the stress breaks the kitchen. A knife stab, a smashed donut, and a faulty order machine are the final straw as the kitchen finally hits boiling point. Finally, a blood-red Carmy seems at his wit’s end as a slur of colorful expletives, and an eventual mental breakdown dissipates the insurmountable stress built up over the episode.
Could the kitchen be purgatory?
While on the surface, The Bear’s technical prowess. Namely, its outstanding editing goes above and beyond in capturing the breakneck speed of the kitchen. It shines the most outside of it. Like most characters in the series, Carmy is grappling with trauma and guilt over his brother’s passing. Something that he finds more cumbersome than keeping the restaurant afloat.
In a touching finale, the series ties off all loose ends as Carmy’s pursuit of finding closure. It is met with a warming surprise in Chekhov’s figurative tomato puree. Carmy’s arc over the eight short episodes is a testament to the fact that healing is a slow process.
And while the newfound kitchen family breaks bread in a poignant final scene, the slightly-oiled machine behind Chicago’s famous beef sandwiches still needs work. The Bear shall hopefully return for seconds soon. But if the rest of the year could even hope to replicate the television excellence, it has executed. Oh boy, are we eating well?