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The Bear

One of the most talked about TV shows of 2022, The Bear is a high intensity comedy-drama exploring family (chosen and otherwise), friendship, food, and the chaos behind a commercial kitchen’s doors. The series, created by FX and available through Disney+, has been lauded by critics and viewers alike.


We asked a couple of our writers to step in, hold tight, watch the first three episodes and tell us exactly what they thought…


A striped orange pink and green background. In the foreground is a photo of The Bear's protagonist Carmy. He is sat on a kitchen worktop, wearing a blue apron

Wayne


Wow. The first three episodes of this mashup of The Wire and MasterChef: The Professionals are intense. I felt like I’d been through The Beef’s meat grinder, although I doubt it actually works given the state of the rest of the business.


I love to binge watch, but the heat of that kitchen and the emotions constantly boiling over like an unwatched pot was so visceral, so raw, so stressful that I needed to excuse myself from the table. From prep to service, you feel the fire like a line cook, choking on the smell of something burning.


But it’s left me hungry for more.


The Bear is a dégustation celebrating characterisation. Yes, the set-up is intriguing. But it’s the motley crew of cooks jostling to save, and seemingly sabotage, the beleaguered sandwich shop that sells it.


Three episodes in, it’s still mostly Carmen’s show. Shameless stalwart Jeremy Allen White plays the flawed genius with a quiet, simmering, chaos rather than as a larger-than-life Gordon Ramsey type. It’s a really grounded performance. You want to hug him one moment and tell him to stop being a pretentious doyen the next.


Ebon Moss-Bachrach almost steals the show as Carmen’s cousin Richie, who has a massive potato gratin (not that he’d know what that was) on his shoulder about not being left the family business. The way he works so hard to be a jerk then is pissed when he’s treated like one. He balances being the main driver of the tension and the comic relief like a sweet jus.


The audience’s way into all of this is through new hire Sydney, a brilliant performance by Ayo Edebiri. Her awkwardness, her desire to standout coupled with her fear and anxiety of actually doing it is relatable and honest. Who hasn’t stepped into a new job only to be afraid of stepping on the wrong toes.


At this point, the rest of the cast are wallpaper. But there’s signs of them coming into focus. I’m strangely intrigued by Liza Colón-Zayas’ two-dimensional Tina. I don’t get the level of her beef (sorry) with Carmen. Maybe she’s going to be that surprise umami hit that pulls the dish together.


The whole show is in keeping with its setting, from how it’s shot to the dialogue. It’s fast, frenetic, authentic. It feels like a working, lived-in space. There’s almost a fly-on-the-wall vibe that sucks you in. Probably helped by the fact it’s said to be influenced by real life chef Charlie Trotter.


There’s an appetite right now for shows like this (career versus life, families that work together, etc.). Not that The Bear follows a set recipe. It’s more a ‘rummage round the back of the fridge and see what happens’ kind of deal.


It was hard to hear the dialogue sometimes, it’s fast paced and fighting with the clattering of kitchenware and overlapping shouts of “behind” and “corner”. Maybe it’s intentional, another way to throw you off balance. It’s nothing that subtitles couldn’t solve. Come for the drama, stay for the sandwiches. If you ever get one amid the arguments.


Carmen, a qhite man with curly brown hair, stands in the foreground of a kitchen wearing a white t-shirt and navy apron, he is looking to the side pensively. Behind him are an array of characters cooking and prepping in chef whites
Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, with his motley kitchen crew. Credit: FX Network

Juliette


This was the most stressful watching experience I’ve ever had. I am by no means a sensitive viewer, unfortunately Game of Thrones has desensitised me to gore and violence. I can watch plenty of depressing and bleak material, the only recent show that was too hard for me to watch was When They See Us. However, it was the sheer volume if noise and the way the characters communicate in The Bear that I found difficult to sit through. I understand that the culinary world is highly pressured, and I’m sure that Gordon Ramsey’s “Idiot Sandwich” can be commonplace. I also understand The Bear’s protagonist Carmen’s mental health is clearly deteriorating and this hectic environment is a reflection of his turmoil. But for me, it was just unpleasant to watch.


When a series starts and builds its universe, you want to start connecting with at least a few of its characters. But because of the aggressive communication, especially from Ritchie, I found it hard to connect with any of them. The characters who are more “chill” aren’t interesting or funny enough for me. I also found the humour too reserved and dry for my liking. Having said that, there were some laughs to be had with character Tina in episode three, such as when she pretends not to speak English and Sydney snarks, “You were literally speaking English like five seconds ago”.


Because of the stressful and chaotic nature of The Bear, I often found some of the slower moments quite dull. It felt like there was no happy medium for me, it was either nerve-wracking or boring. There was no respite from the tense atmosphere, and whilst I understand putting viewers through distress can help put in perspective the turmoil the characters are experiencing, I think there needs to be moments to alleviate that. Having said all of this, I can see this is an objectively good show and I understand how it is critically acclaimed. The cinematography is gorgeous, considering this a gritty and down-to-earth show. With his intense nightmares often opening the episodes, actor Jeremy Allen White conveys Carmen’s sorrow and anguish, especially with those watery blue eyes that wouldn’t be out of place in a painting of a distraught martyr.


In recent years with more hopeful and uplifting content, I think we are missing more of the gritty kind of TV shows that started off the 2010s, such as House of Cards. Whilst the last few years have been bleak and we need programmes like Bridgerton, I personally feel the current mood of television isn’t balanced enough. We’re distancing ourselves from the cynicism which defined that era, and it can feel like recent shows are leaning too far into escapism. Think of all the shows which have never acknowledged the pandemic. Perhaps this is why I found The Bear particularly stressful, it’s too close to the world we’re currently living in for my liking. This might come as no surprise, but I don’t plan to continue watching the rest of The Bear. I can see how some viewers are able to enjoy it, and there is rich material in there, but I didn’t get much out of it as a viewer.



Sidney, a young black woman with long brown hair, she is wearing a headscarf, white shirt and navy apron and looking anxiously to the side of the of the camera
Ayo Edebiri as Sidney. Credit: FX Network

Edited by Milly

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