Standing the heat

Published date11 October 2022
Publication titleSignal
THE Bear is aptly named. To watch it is to experience something between a huge, enveloping hug and a huge, eviscerating attack

The premise is simple — the prodigal returns — and not particularly new. But the execution is everything. Flawless performances, boundlessly beautiful direction and a spare, allusive script, all of which are as good in the quietest moments as the more plentiful loud ones, turn the story into something properly special.

Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White in his first and surely career-making lead TV role) is a young, award-winning chef in New York who has come back to his home town of Chicago to run the family sandwich joint after his brother Michael’s suicide.

Michael left the sandwich shop, The Original Beef, to Carmy in his will. He also left the motley crew that had been running the place. They include Michael’s best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a jerk; sweet, unhurried baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce); and bellicose Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas). Jon Bernthal as Michael appears in brief, heartbreaking flashbacks. Carmy’s one new hire is ambitious sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and is the only one in awe of — in fact the only one who understands — Carmy’s talent and reputation as a chef.

You will need antacids, possibly diazepam, certainly any heart medication you are on, to get through The Bear — especially its early episodes. The intensity of a commercial kitchen, from its prepping deadlines to the screaming rush of lunch hour, and the need for everyone to know their job and cleave tightly to their duties, is exhaustively and exhaustingly captured.

On top of that, there is the fact that the team’s system is a rickety structure held together with hope and blue plasters. Carmy and Sydney try to bring order out of chaos, but it’s hard to do when the chaos never ends. Richie is resistant to change — partly out of innate jerkery (glorious though his dismissal of the fine dining scene as “tweezers and foie gras” is), but also out of loyalty to Michael, whose loss he is grieving almost as much as Carmy is. The Bear is, among many other things, about family relationships and how biological connection can be the least of it.

It is also a study in psychology. Marcus’s imagination...

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