The Bear isn’t just a TV show anymore; it’s a phenomenon. When the FX dramedy about an accomplished chef who takes over his family’s Chicago sandwich shop after his older brother’s suicide appeared on Hulu last year, viewers devoured it at a sparse moment on the release calendar. Restaurant workers praised its verisimilitude. Everyone seemed to have a crush on its wild-haired star, Jeremy Allen White. Even the hard-to-please Tom Colicchio was a fan.
Still, I wasn’t immediately sold on it. The grief that enveloped White’s Carmy Berzatto felt frustratingly generic, and the show’s tone inconsistent. Supporting characters languished for too long in the background. Despite the frenetic energy of each episode, the plot barely seemed to move for the first half of the season. But when The Bear stopped chasing its tail, the result was a brisk, gruff yet open-hearted tale of a troubled kitchen evolving into something superior to both the precarity Carmy inherited and the fine-dining hellscapes he and pragmatic sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) had survived. In the finale, the discovery of a parting gift from his brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal)—hidden in a family-meal recipe, naturally—promised to fund the transformation of the Original Beef of Chicagoland, a.k.a. “The Beef,” into a destination spot called The Bear.
The season brought some closure to Carmy’s fraught relationship with Mikey. But, as anyone who’s worked in the industry knows, the decision to open a new restaurant is only the beginning of a whole new story. That painstaking process dominates season 2, which drops on June 22. Now as consistent as Carmy’s re-trained kitchen, The Bear tackles everything from menu development to renovation woes with an appealing mix of warmth, dark humor, and chaos.
Every character becomes a full person this season. As Carmy battles anhedonia, Syd frets over her future, and Mikey’s best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) casts about for a purpose, creator Christopher Storer zooms in on faces we saw frequently at the Beef last season but barely got to know. Dessert savant Marcus (Lionel Boyce) takes a break from caring for his critically ill mother to learn the ways of a high-end pastry chef in Copenhagen, in a gorgeous episode that underscores the character’s gentle, thoughtful nature. Line cooks Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) go to culinary school.
Story lines like these, which speak to Carmy and Syd’s investment in their staff, reveal The Bear’s subtly utopian ambition. It’s a show about thriving in a cutthroat industry—one that, as a montage of headlines about COVID-era Chicago restaurant closures reminds us, has suffered mightily in recent years—without betraying the people who’ve stayed loyal throughout your roughest moments. In a lower-key, less saccharine sense than Ted Lasso, it’s a show about people learning to treat themselves and each other better. And it’s a show whose intensity, from the frenzied conversations where characters talk over each other out of excitement about what they’re creating to the extreme closeups of the artwork that is a perfected entrée, captures the euphoria of art making. An episode that follows Syd around the city’s culinary scene, eating at great restaurants and meeting suppliers and visiting mentors, is intoxicating. As magnetic as White’s vulnerability can be, the real romance of The Bear is between the artists and their craft.
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