The Bear: Season 2

The Bear
The Bear
Genre: Family Drama
Service: FX on Hulu
Creator: Christopher Storer
Season Year: 2023
Watch: Hulu

As I’ve bitched about many times in recent years, there is just not enough prestige, non-genre adult programming out there. Then along comes shows like The Bear. Out of absolutely nowhere. Season One was stunning in its writing, acting and execution. It sounded great. It looked great. And it told a story that involved absolutely no multi-verses or dudes in tights. Though, after watching Season Two, it almost feels like prologue. Or like one amazing, eight-episode pilot. Because it’s in Season Two that the show’s creators really get into the meat of the family-you-come-from vs. family-you-choose dynamic. And I think that’s really what’s at the heart of any great workplace and familial drama.

Gone is The Beef. Enter The Bear. The question is if this was Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) plan all along. Or it’s my question, at least. When Carmy came back to Chicago from his Michelin Star run to take over the lowly family sandwich shop, did he intend to just make it the best sandwich shop it could be? Or was his goal always to strip it for parts and build it anew in his own image? Well, since the show is called The Bear, let’s assume the latter, and that this was the plan all along. And this is where we start the new season. Carmy and the crew planning for the new restaurant, and realizing very quickly that starting a new business in an atmosphere where many others are continually failing is incredibly difficult. Economic and logistical cautionary tales aside, the dynamic change in the restaurant is really a mechanism to bring the cast together in adversity and change and give them all something dramatic to do. And it works wonderfully.

So now that they’re past the pilot season, they can really dig into the characters that make up this team. Elevating all of the great actors and secondary folks from The Beef and beyond to primary positions throughout the season. And even introducing some familiar faces, like Bob Odenkirk, Gillian Jacobs and Jamie Lee Curtis, in supporting roles as a kind of flex. Point is, all the players we were introduced to in the first season get their moment in the spotlight. And those episodes are some of the most amazing things television has given us in a while. And, look, we know that Ebon Moss-Bachrach can be incredible. But his turn in the “Forks” episode, where he’s sent to a top Chicago restaurant to learn the business (and some humility), is just amazing. But it’s some of the lesser-known cast, like Marcus (Lionel Boyce), who are given their own narrative episode and recurring interactions that are just shockingly good. And Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) just oozes emotion and triumph in her episode, where she is given a chance to be a respected pro cook. All to proove that the talent, gut punches and heft of the show can come from any corner of the story and any actor in the ensemble.

Of course Allen White and Ayo Edebiri are asked to carry the majority of the weight. Only because they are professional relationship on which the success or failure of this endeavor rests. If they can’t create the right menu, agree on direction or just get along long enough to hold shit together, it’ll all come crashing down. And between creative, personal and logistical challenges, that’s not always a sure thing. That all said, it’s really nice for once to see a business relationship not be burdened with the whole “will-they-or-won’t-they” pressure that most shows make the mistake of introducing. Their relationship is purely plutonic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fraught. Between insecurities and personal realizations, everything is always tenuous and threatening to come apart at the seams. Potential disaster before they even put out their first service. In the scheme of things, it’s small stakes, but the show manages to make the pressure feel overwhelming all the same. Especially now that we know and understand all of the characters on a personal level so much better. And how much they all want and are relying on The Bear to succeed.

The aforementioned individual episodes really do “quiet” quite well. But then you have the “Fishes” episode. The Italian family, holiday episode packed with great guest stars and a breakneck filming style and script that is so overwhelming to the senses that you’re left a little shaky and wondering what the hell train just ran over you. Jamie Lee Curtis, as the drunken, manic Berzatto family matriarch, is turnt up to fifteen. Jon Bernthal, as the drug-addled, now-deceased eldest Berzatto sibling, is turnt up to about thirteen. Odernkirk, as some sort of hated uncle, is the match on the gasoline. And the hysterical Matty Matheson, Sarah Paulson and John Mulaney are just riffing and riffing comically as chaos rains down around them. It’s a symphony. It’s a cacophony. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. It’s honestly all of those things at once, and it’s pretty damned crazy. Point is, this show isn’t just one thing. It can be dramatic and emotional. It can be funny on a micro level. And it can be broad. It can be quiet. And it can be insane. It has all those tools at its disposal, and it deploys them deftly.

I’m really psyched that they were able to put out Season Two so quickly after the conclusion of Season One. Because who the hell wants to wait around for a story they just know is going to get better and better? The sad part is that Season Three is probably a long way off. And despite this basically being a dramatic workplace and family sitcom, I’m going to have a lot of trouble having to wait to be immersed in the world of The Bear again.