Jbear, FX on Hulu’s gripping new series about the relentless pressure of running a small restaurant, is grounded in two claustrophobic environments: the cramped kitchen of the Original Beef of Chicagoland, a beleaguered and beloved Chicago sandwich , and the frenetic, gripping the anguish of a delay. Beef owner Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, stares at the clock with wide eyes and a palpable halo of stress. There are undervalued bulk orders, unpaid invoices and uncollected change; he comes home, sells clothes for ingredients, runs back; chops, sizzles and sears, and it’s only in the first five minutes of the first episode.
It’s a view of high-cortisol cooking that is very familiar to audiences, given the plethora of cooking competition shows across all platforms. Series such as Masterchef, Chef’s Table, Top Chef, The Great British Bake-off and Netflix’s recently rebooted Iron Chef have accustomed viewers to the pressure of the kitchen, the heat of the stove and a timer breathing down their necks. . But that intensity has rarely translated well to scripted television. See: AMC’s 2016 bland Feed the Beast or, in 2018, Starz’s disappointing Sweetbitter (whose star, Ella Purnell, found much meatier material on Showtime’s hit Yellowjackets), two soft dramas on the New York culinary scene that has struggled to establish itself beyond the plate or to capture without exaggerated clichés of anger, sexual tension or neurotic perfectionism.
The Bear, created by Christopher Storer (an executive producer of Ramy and the quintessential Internet truth movie Eighth Grade) contains many of these basic ingredients. Beef cooking is a constant cacophony of screams, several of the characters are time bombs of grief, and Carmy is a demanding boss on several perfectionists. But its eight half-hour episodes, all released in the last week, manage to capture the visceral, heart-pounding adrenaline of professional cooking, the financial precariousness of the restaurant business and the willingness to submit to it better than anyone. what a scripted show in recent memory.
This is largely due to the show’s excellent supporting cast, which emphasizes collaboration rather than competition and clashes formal training with acquired expertise. Carmy is an exhausted Michelin-starred chef who returns to The Beef after the suicide of his brother Mikey. He hires Sydney (Ayo Edibiri), a sardonic culinary school-trained sous chef whose ambition and talent has yet to pay the bills. The two attempt to contain a ragtag crew of beef veterans of Mikey’s chaotic and indebted reign: curious pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), Somali immigrant Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson), caustic cook Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas , a standout who grows more interesting with each scene), and her non-biological “cousin” Richie (Eben Moss-Bachrach), the mercurial, street-smart acting director so tightly coiled with grief and rage that I have felt my shoulders tense as I watched.
The Bear offers the right old-fashioned appeal of voyeurism – the gritty, even precise look of authenticity and simulation peeking from behind the curtain of a familiar area (local favorite restaurant that takes its food seriously). The bear never wavers from its frantic pace; you quickly get used to the rhythm of the kitchen, the verbal bursts of “yes chef”, “corner”, “behind”, “hands!”
The combination of mayhem and edible beauty speaks to the level of culinary expertise poured into the series. White and Edobiri, who have both undergone accelerated training for their roles in culinary institutes and fine restaurants, pull off the comfort performance with sharp knives and fire. Storer’s sister, Courtney Storer, a professional chef, served as culinary producer. Restaurant chef turned internet celebrity Matty Matheson, a co-producer, appears as an alter ego version of himself – gonzo, rude and lovable – in handyman/aspiring cook Neil Fak. Matheson’s presence also links The Bear to the viral stakes of the world of internet food, a breeding ground for both competition and creativity, in what is otherwise a very offline show; there are simply too many orders to complete for the characters to be on their phones.
Carmy’s restlessness, inability to stop working, formal accolades and triggering intensity, have a clear antecedent in the late chef-turned-TV host Anthony Bourdain, who laid the foundations for troubled rock-n-roll Serious. Chief. The series recalls the quickly canceled 2005 adaptation of Anthony Bourdain’s 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential, starring Bradley Cooper, who then played a Michelin-starred chef derailed by drug and anger issues in 2015’s Brûlé. argued that The Bear’s conception of Chicago’s gentrification also appears to date from the mid-2000s.)
Like Bourdain, Carmy is pursued by demons, and The Bear uses Mikey’s absence as readable and palpable motivation to keep the Beef afloat. White, star of Chicago’s long-running series Shameless, plays Carmy as bruised and brittle, almost vibrating with stress and shame, constantly dodging the bear of crippling anxiety. He is too hampered by grief to function outside the kitchen; the show reveals no interest in Carmy beyond food, no friends outside of beef, no hobbies or routines outside of a few Al-Anon meetings and – unusually for a show in which the warmth and ego are central concepts – no romantic or sexual interest.
This goes for the show as a whole – aside from brief scenes at home as work interstitials, the lives and characters we know only exist in Beef’s back room or an extension of it. . Besides a suggestion of flirtation between Marcus and Sydney that can also play the role of mutual friendship, The Bear is the rare show without a romantic hook, which makes it perhaps more accurate than most in an actual workplace. (Which isn’t to say the show is without eroticism, tantalizing shots of beef sizzling in a cast-iron skillet with Carmy’s Style like a tattooed, damaged idol.) The work here, for better and often for worse, is an all-consuming and always expansive affair with plenty of room for the show to grow.
The bear can sometimes wear its heart too much on its sleeve – like Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago in episode seven, or ineffectual attempts to blend in with Chicago’s dense political history in documentary montages. But it highlights something that, like a good meal, you can’t fake: a genuine sense of urgency, a believable hunger that, rare for a show these days, left me wanting more.