FX’s The Bear is the Sleeper Hit of the Summer!
There are many reasons why this fast-paced, anxiety-inducing show has resonated with viewers. Great characters and great performances, stellar cinematography, and quick, witty and gritty dialogue are just a few of the high-quality ingredients that make The Bear such a standout.
Note: Spoilers for The Bear Season 1 below.
It’s impossible not to notice the many similarities between The Bear and Jeremy Allen White’s previous long-running series, Showtime’s Shameless. There’s the familiar Chicago locale and twin characteristics that Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto and Phillip “Lip” Gallagher share. Both characters have the same quiet, brooding intensity boiling under a cool, apathetic exterior. Lip is a young prodigy, living on the South Side, that shuns ambition and uses his crafty intellect to keep his struggling family afloat. Carmy is a young prodigy in the foodie world, using his fine dining expertise to keep his family’s struggling sandwich shop afloat.
Chaos reigns supreme.
In both shows, chaos reigns supreme; it is a constant. And while the chaos is gripping in and of itself, it’s how the characters behave in these pressure-cooker environments that elevates the drama and the comedy, as well as the delectable and balanced fusion of the two. The mad-dash scramble to get and pay for enough beef for the day’s lunch service resembles many schemes the Gallagher clan got into. Not to mention, the Xanax in the ecto-cooler at a child’s birthday party is totally something that would happen on Shameless.
A Whole Meal
Like an amuse-bouche with a knee-buckling flavor profile, all aspects of The Bear come together to create palatable chaos that is fun to watch in just eight bite-size episodes. The acting, crafty camera work and editing, killer sound design and music work in harmony and in service to an impressively structured story.
The strong performances act like the mirepoix, the base of onion, carrot, and celery (aka the Holy Trinity) that is essential to making rich stocks and sauces. As previously mentioned, Carmy is very reminiscent of Lip Gallagher, but White does this archetype so incredibly well that the sameness isn’t a bad thing—if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ayo Edebiri shines as Sydney, fully encompassing the industrious, no-nonsense sous chef with fire and drive. Edebiri approaches the character as Sydney would when faced with a culinary challenge—passionately and with precision.
Any of you Incel-QAnon-4Chan Snyder-Cut motherfuckers wanna get out of line now?Richie Jerimovich
Bringing the heat is bad boy Richie, Carmy’s hot-headed “cousin.” Ebon Moss-Bachrach manages to balance both the abrasive and soft sides of Richie with admirable dexterity. This is evident from the first episode, his monologue to the rowdy Ballbreaker crowd is a thing of beauty. I may or may not have it memorized by now.
Tempering Richie’s sourness is Lionel Boyce as the sweet, artistic pastry chef, Marcus. He is a ray of sunshine in this dingy kitchen, hungry for knowledge and thirsty for inspiration—an interesting complement to Sydney’s CIA background and determination to excel.
Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), the salty Garde manager, chef de partie Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson), and friend of the family Fak (Matty Matheson), bring a lot to the table as well, rounding out this scrappy ragtag team of underdogs that you can’t help but root for.
Soup to Nuts
Just as the cast works together like a well-oiled machine, the whole production of The Bear is firing on all cylinders, from the crafting of the script to chopping it up in the editing room. Everything feeds into depicting—very accurately, by the way—the gastronomical stress level at which kitchens operate.
Hurried editing emphasizes that stress for the viewer, but is also utilized for comedic effect. The music can amp up the energy or calm things down for a much needed breather. The soundtrack is packed with great songs from Wilco, LCD Soundsystem, R.E.M, and Sufjan Stevens, and it’s accompanied by a bold sound design consisting of echoey heartbeats, lit burners, and ominous low bear growls.
You don’t realize this is a delicate ecosystem and it’s held together by a shared history, and love and respect.Richie Jerimovich
The way the camera moves within this “delicate ecosystem” shows a love and respect for filmmaking. There’s no shortage of insert shots that imbue the story with rich, meaty detail. Shaky close-ups and tracking shots winding through the kitchen make it feel like The Bear is a living, breathing entity.
In Episode 7, “Review,” The Beef crew is really in the weeds, and Marcus and Sydney reach their limits. This chaos is captured all in one hand-held shot, transferring the mounting claustrophobic tension to the audience almost too effectively.
It’s really quite a feat to film a single take like this with so many moving parts. Vulture breaks the whole process down, revealing that there were similar anxieties behind the camera to what was happening on the screen.
To use a line from the episode’s titular review, Episode 7 is the “ribbon of brine” running throughout The Bear’s first season.
Sydney’s first task at The Beef is to make the “family” meal, the food the staff eats before service. In a kitchen, co-workers are like a family. There’s love and respect, but it’s also a breeding ground for conflict. Working under pressure with clashing personalities and tender egos, disagreements, arguments, and even physical fights are pretty much inevitable.
The Bear portrays this oft-toxic environment extremely well, and through Carmy’s blood relations we get to see another difficult family dynamic in the mix as well. Carmen’s dead brother, Michael (Jon Bernthal), is a presence from the get-go, but he doesn’t make an appearance until Episode 6 in a flashback. His influence, however, is felt through the people that knew him, loved him, worked with him, and tried to help him.
It allows the story to examine suicide, grief, and addiction in a broader sense. Carmy’s sister pushes him to go to Al-Anon meetings, and going to them not only helps him personally but also makes him look at how his kitchen is run from another perspective.
The Michael element gives the pressure to make the restaurant succeed a lot more weight. In the finale, Michael helps from beyond the grave, giving Carmy the push he needs to finally uncage the bear and make the place his own.