'The Bear': A Stressful, Yet Beautifully Made Look Into the Restaurant Industry
One of the most prevalent tropes in television history is when a character returns to their hometown to help run the family business. Several different iterations of this premise have formed the backbone of countless TV shows over the years, and is a tried and true method of introducing audiences to the world of a new series, as well as the eccentric cast of characters that inhabit it. In a way, The Bear is an example of this trope, but it acts as more of a deconstruction of it. While the show is about a renowned chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago in order to run his family's sandwich shop, it is also a humanistic examination of grief, masculinity, and the restaurant industry. The show's premise may seem familiar, but it is brimming with personality, a stunning visual style, and a great amount of heart that takes it to the next level.
The show grabs you from the outset, beginning with a dream sequence in which our protagonist, Carmy (played by Jeremy Allen White) is approaching a caged bear. This scene is shot so nicely, and lays some of the groundwork for what will unfold over the rest of the season. From this, we transition to reality, where we are quickly thrown into the fast-paced world of Carmy's restaurant, The Original Beef of Chicagoland, or as it's more commonly referred to by the show's characters, The Beef. We soon find out that Carmy has returned to the run the restaurant after the death of his brother, and is overwhelmed by all of the responsibilities that come with keeping a small business afloat. On top of all this, Carmy has been working in the world of fine dining for the past few years, and is struggling to readjust to the less than glamorous world of The Beef.
What really stood out to me in the show's pilot is how quickly it sets up important plot points and introduces us to its characters. The show as a whole moves at a breakneck pace, which truly sells the chaotic environment of The Beef. Between this, the visceral cinematography, the fast editing, and overlapping dialogue that is usually shouted by the characters, the show has a tense atmosphere that makes it a bit of a stressful watch. This makes the events we see on-screen all the more impactful, as it truly feels like we are right in the restaurant with the characters as they go about their day, and what happens when they are faced with issues, both personally and professionally. The show portrays these moments rather realistically, and dives into the complex emotions and actions of these characters wholeheartedly.
The show features an excellent cast, all of whom embody their characters almost effortlessly. Jeremy Allen White is excellent as Carmy, and plays the complexities of the character so well. Carmy is a complicated character, and it's hard to root for him at certain points given how he treats others. However, White is able to thread the needle, and gives an honest performance without making the character completely unbearable (no pun intended). You can't help but feel for him a little, even if he isn't the best person. I was also quite impressed with Ebon Moss-Bachrach's performance as Carmy's loudmouthed cousin, Richie. Moss-Bachrach practically shouts all of his dialogue, and plays Richie with an almost unearned sense of confidence that looms large any time he is on screen. Richie is a bit of a loose cannon, and is not afraid to say what's on his mind. He has such a brashness to him that is a bit overpowering, but when the show chips away at this facade, it allows Moss-Bachrach to do some interesting things with the character. Like Carmy, he's not the most likable character, but he is a fascinating one at the very least.
Perhaps my favorite character in the series is Sydney, played by Ayo Edebiri. Sydney is a chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America that Carmy hires in the first episode. She takes food and cooking very seriously, and has a hard time getting on with the other chefs at The Beef. She gets hazed by the other chefs, and is often at odds with Richie. The contrast between the two is one of the best aspects of the show, and a lot of that has to do with Moss-Bachrach and Edebiri's performances. Edebiri is outstanding as Sydney, and the slow build her character has over the season is spectacularly done. She begins as a quieter, more reserved character, but we get to see more and more of who the character truly is as the season goes on. Edebiri gives such a controlled performance as her, but it is when she lets go a little that yields some of her best moments. Episode 7, titled Review, is a great example of this, as she undergoes a particularly rough day at the restaurant. At one point near the end of the episode, the camera is focused on her, and she does some of the best non-verbal acting I've seen in a long time. She has this look on her face at one point that perfectly sums up what the character is feeling in that moment, and is such a great punctuation to everything that's happened up to that point in the episode. Edebiri also gets a great showcase in the season's fifth episode, Sheridan, which digs in a little more to her character. I definitely think she gives the strongest performance of the show, which is saying something given that the rest of the cast is doing excellent work as well.
As I said earlier, the cinematography is fantastic. The way the camera moves is especially arresting, as it adds to the frenetic pace of the show, and adds tension to what we are seeing on screen. This is especially clear in Review, as the episode is largely shot in just one take. The way the camera weaves through the action is so effective, and allows the intensity to build excellently to a powerful conclusion. In addition to having a great function, the cinematography looks great in general, and the composition of several shots is beautiful. It captures the world of the show fully and honestly, and feels so unique from other depictions of both the restaurant industry and Chicago.
A lot of credit has to go to the show's creator, Christopher Storer, who also wrote and directed most of the episodes in the season. He brings such specificity to the show, and this feels rather personal for him. What he and the other writers are able to accomplish in just 8 episodes is quite incredible, as everything is set up so quickly, and the show's deeper themes are explored quite fully. It does what good first seasons of show should do, in that it sets up our characters nicely, gets major plot points up and running, and ends on a note that has me eagerly awaiting the next season. This might be one of the best first seasons of a show that I've seen in a long time, as it wastes little time on unnecessary details, and is great from start to finish. I definitely can't wait to see where the show goes from here, and I hope it can maintain the momentum of this season.
For anyone who has ever worked in the food industry, The Bear will undoubtedly ring true in a major way, as it is so raw and unflinching in how it depicts it. It truly feels like we are watching real people working in a restaurant at times, and it is so deeply human in how it unfolds its narrative. This show cut me much deeper than I was expecting, and is such a tense, yet beautiful season of television. I could have watched several more episodes of the show, but at the same time, this season is so near perfect that I can't complain too much. This is easily one of the best new shows of the year, and one of the most impressive first seasons of a show I've seen in a long time.
All episodes of The Bear are now streaming on Hulu.