Recommendations from family and friends can sell us on pretty much anything, especially when it comes to the world of entertainment. Upon first seeing the trailer for FX on Hulu’s new series The Bear, I could immediately tell it was another series that helped justify keeping my Hulu subscription.
However, I tend to get a bit busy when it comes to my watch list, as entertainment journalists have to prioritize what they see and when. Thanks to a recommendation from one of my brothers, and after two nights of binging Shameless vet Jeremy Allen White’s buzzworthy hit, I can safely say that this is one of the best things on TV right now.
The Bear is the story of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a chef who’s come home to Chicago to take over an Italian beef restaurant he’s inherited from his late brother. An outsider to the already delicate ecosystem that’s existed for so long, Carmy is trying to redefine efficiency and profitability in a joint that’s always one day away from financial ruin. Everything from kids birthday parties to impromptu arcade machine tournaments are on the table, so long as the business can stay open to serve its loyal Chicago neighborhood.
Right from the first episode, “System,” you’re treated to a half-hour’s worth of electric energy and blistering pace. Taking the world of cooking and giving it the Whiplash treatment is a potent mix, so much so that The Bear has triggered all too real memories in real-life chefs and former service industry members. If you can get past that particular hurdle, there’s a lot to love about creator/co-showrunner Christopher Storer and co-showrunner Joanna Calo’s intensely entertaining series.
For starters, there are only eight episodes of The Bear, which makes it such an easy binge. I ran through this in two nights, breaking the experience up into four episodes each. Pacing-wise, it makes for a nice breather for the story, as you can soak up all the intensity without having to overclock your nerves. Should you actually run through the full first season in one run, don’t expect a cookie cutter rhythm to the overall story.
There are some sly ways that The Bear keeps itself fresh between installments. Something as simple as an episode switching the usually backloaded title cards to the front can really change the energy of one particular episode. Not to mention that there’s a surprise change of pace where the finale actually runs closer to an hour long, after seven episodes of crisp and clean half-hour plates.
That’s not a sign of Stranger Things-style excess for the sake of a grand finale, as The Bear’s Season 1 finale earns the extra time used to tell the story, partially thanks to a commanding monologue given by Jeremy Allen White towards the beginning. Without giving too much of a the recipe away, here’s a taste of what to expect from The Bear, courtesy of one of the show’s teaser trailers:
While White’s Carmy is the functional lead, that doesn’t mean the relationships of other characters are short changed. In one episode, young chef/new hire Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) butts heads with loyal, but stubborn kitchen mainstay Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) over the new improvements to the system Carmy has developed. Over time, this story turns foes into friends, as Sydney helps Tina believe in herself and her abilities to make mashed potatoes.
Witnessing team members slowly fall under the spell of Carmen and Sydney’s management is also what makes The Bear a joy to behold. Seeing Marcus (Lionel Boyce) go from merely making rolls to branching out into various confections and desserts shows the more tender side of the kitchen, outside of the emotional toll that Jeremy Allen White wrestles with over his brother’s death. Of course, with each moment of emotional truth is the threat of a surprise consequence or disaster waiting to happen at every turn.
While you’ll get used to the faces and personalities that make up The Bear’s kitchen-based family, there’s also a fair amount of special guests that come into play. I wouldn’t dare spoil any of them here, as discovering those actors in the course of the story is part of the fun. So I have to warn you: if you’re one of those people who likes to check out IMDb entries before watching a show, sideline that tendency before watching The Bear and just let it hit you naturally.
Part of what is so effective about letting The Bear work its magic is the fact that this is one of those rare hits that really did come out of nowhere. Dropping onto the streaming landscape at the end of June, there wasn’t a dramatic fanfare or whirlwind press tour. Rather, FX on Hulu’s new show seemed to win the world over in its own way, on its own terms. It’s why, three weeks later, Season 2 has been ordered with great speed. When you get to the final frames of the first season finale, you’ll see why.
The Bear ends on a note that could have been a simple, clean-cut finale. If it were to have been cancelled after one season, I’d have been ok with that and held these eight chapters as a delicious reminder of how addictive good TV can be. Now that we know that Season 2 is on its way, it’s even more important to get the word out on just how fantastic this show is. Since it won’t be coming back until some time next year, there’s plenty of time to share this recipe for streaming delight with everyone you know.
There’s always been a mixture of romanticism, danger and intense pressure when it comes to cooking in a kitchen. Telling real-life stories of where our food comes from, and the people who make it, is a niche that’s been well fed by writers/chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and countless others who dare to dance between the vicious and the beautiful natures of such an enterprise. Fans who love shows like Parts Unknown should have no problem tying on an apron and hunkering down in the kitchen with Carmy and his crew, hustling through yet another day of whatever shitshow fate brings them next.
If you’re curious to check out The Bear’s first season (opens in new tab), it’s currently streaming on Hulu. With Season 2 being planned and plated for next year, you’ll have plenty of time to devour this first course, and learn the lingo you’ll need for the next round. Either way, this is one of the best shows on Hulu, as well as one of the top sources of quality TV for the year; and it’s going to be hard to beat.
So set aside some time, order an Italian beef sandwich or two to keep you company and let it rip. When you’re done, check out our list of other shows you should binge after braving The Bear.