There is an episode late into The Bear where I am pretty sure that for around 30 minutes I didn’t breathe. Such is the power of the writing, the passion, the performances from the cast and the pace of the direction that the show can be difficult and exhausting to watch. But you will watch it, and in fact, once started it is very difficult to stop.
Set in modern-day Chicago, The Bear is a nine-episode comedy-drama on Disney+ that follows the story of Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (an unbelievably good Jeremy Allen White) who, after the death of his older brother Michael, returns home to take over the family sandwich shop. Carmy has been away for years and risen to become one of the most prestigious chefs in the country, but now finds himself burdened with a failing business, a resentful staff still loyal to his brother and debts that there seems to be no way out of.
Very much like Jon Favreau’s 2014 Chef and the recent Stephen Graham film Boiling Point, The Bear is a tension-soaked exploration of the inner workings of high-volume, high-pressure restaurant work and food, as a means of coping and expression.
What is The Bear about?
At its heart, The Bear is a character study of grief and how loss can create an environment of obsession. Carmy is obsessed with building his brother's business back up, no matter how difficult or the damage it does to him, both career-wise and physically. Richie is obsessed with the idea of being the strong man behind the business, showing no grief, and using his masculinity as a shield against any kind of perceived weakness. Sydney is obsessed with the idea of approval, being accepted by those around her and for them to see her for the talent she is. She needs Carmy to see her as an equal, despite her lack of experience, and his seeming disinterest.
The notion of how we see those who have passed is also explored. Choosing to ignore obvious faults and failings in those we have lost and only when forced to accept these, getting any kind of real closure.
As the series progresses and the business goes through change, our characters seem not to. They are stuck, seemingly unable to move on with their lives; the failure of the business and its constant setbacks mirror their own lives. The question of selling the business is brought up again and again and is constantly shot down. They just can’t let go, of the shop and of those they have lost.
The level of tension increases slowly through the episodes, perfectly weighted and paced as to peak at what can only be described as an anxiety attack on screen. By the end, it is hard to watch and left me breathless.
Who is in The Bear?
Jeremy Allen White (Lip, Shameless US) gives the performance of his career so far as Carmy. Through him we feel Carmy’s loss; it’s honest, it’s visceral, it’s real. The performance is so strong that we feel what he does, and at no point does it feel forced or unnatural.
The rest of the cast likewise are solid, especially Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Punisher) as cousin Richie. Hyperaggressive, unlikeable, almost a parody of the alpha-male personality, we see as the series progresses how this is nothing more than a front, a facade to mask his own fears, and how he is dealing with the loss of his best friend and the break-up of his own family. The talented ensemble also includes Ayo Edibiri as Sydney, Oliver Platt as local businessman, Jimmy and Jon Bernthal in flashback as the late Michael ‘The Bear’ Berzatto.
Both writing and direction is handled exceptionally well by Christopher Storer, who until now has mainly worked in a producer role on smaller shows and stand-up comedy specials for the likes of Chris Rock and Bo Burnham. For someone with limited experience behind the camera, Storer has delivered a modern-day classic. The script is razor-sharp, lean, intelligent and meticulously researched. He understands the industry and knows his characters, which comes through in every scene.
Should I watch The Bear?
I really cannot recommend The Bear enough. At a time when television seems flooded with superheroes and serial killers, it was a welcome, if not exhausting, break away. I came into The Bear with very little knowledge of the show, even less about the cast, and honestly, I feel this is the best way to approach it. The show grips from the very first episode and refuses to let go. It is relentless, fast-paced, sharp, aggressive and very funny. It brings an unexpected level of human drama and is by far my current pick of 2022 in terms of television.
‘The Bear’ is available in full now on Disney Plus UK and Hulu US