5 out of 5 stars
The Bear is a fantastic series that captures the frenetic life of running a small family restaurant in Chicago. Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) is a young and talented chef with a growing reputation within the culinary industry. Soon after the tragic passing of Carmen’s estranged brother, Michael, the foodie phenom leaves one of the most exclusive restaurants in the country to manage the family’s hole-in-the-wall sandwich diner. Carmen has returned to the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up in the premiere episode. He finds the greasy-spoon restaurant his brother left him buried in bills and health code violations. The show is gripping in its depiction of a brigade of cooks who walk a fine line between organized chaos and abject panic in their daily quest to feed customers. As a restauranteur, Carmen throws himself into a simmering stew of back-kitchen conflict mixed with an internal turmoil caused by grief and resentment.
Summer is no longer an opportunity to pause new television content for family travel and theatre blockbusters. Today, there is virtually no limit to what people can download and no boundary to where and when content can be viewed. This has created intense competition between streaming platforms and an overwhelming menu of new shows. With so many options available, some shows struggle to break through and it is a delight when a sleeper like this show gains the word-of-mouth buzz it deserves. Show creators Christopher Storer (Ramy) and Joanna Calo (BoJack Horseman) strived to capture the authenticity of managing a sandwich diner in Chicago. The series is coursed with eight episodes desperately paced with most of the dialogue occurring in the claustrophobic kitchen. (A second season has been greenlit.) There is a suffocating realism to chefs squeezing behind each other just to do the simplest of tasks. Collisions are narrowly avoided by shouting, “Corner!”, before finally delivering boxes of fresh produce to the chopping countertop.
What stands out the most in The Bear are its lead performances. Carmen’s “cousin” and Mikey’s best friend, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is a complex recipe of tenderness, charm, and volatility. Richie is kind and loyal, but he is grieving and longs for the way things used to be. Lashing out is the only way he knows how to cope with the loss of his friend. Carmen is more reserved and contemplative. He internalizes the pain of resentment until the dam inevitably breaks. The show’s pacing doesn’t allow for much backstory; at times, the audience is encouraged to read between the lines. Carmen’s sister, “Sugar” (Abby Elliott), gets him to attend the local Al-Anon meeting. The writing hints at a family history of substance abuse, and perhaps Carmen wants to better understand his brother’s personal struggle with addiction. Carmen finally speaks during one of these meetings, and his seven-minute monologue is raw and painfully honest. We can relate to the ache of regret and a desire to dull the pain with work and blind ambition.
Another bright spot in the series is its supporting cast, which includes Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who plays the ambitious protégé who stubbornly keeps everything together. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is a perfectionist pursuing the perfect donut. Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas) is an abrasive single mother who initially resists Carmen and Sydney. Rounding out the ensemble are excellent cameos by John Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), and Oliver Platt (A Time to Kill). The Bear has everything from solid directing and compelling performances to dynamic pacing and a memorable soundtrack on its menu. If you are looking for that next show to binge, dive right in.
REEL DIALOGUE: What does family mean to you?
For some, it will bring a smile to their lips, and for others, it will cause tears to well up in their eyes. The Bear does bring out the best and worst of the family experience. Yet, it always holds the value of family in high regard. It is a bittersweet gift that is given to us by God. Regardless of your personal reality with your family, have you taken the time to show your parents, children, and extended family the appreciation for the blessing they are to you?
Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart. - Proverbs 11:29