“The Bear,” an FX on Hulu summer release has received stellar reviews for its realistic portrayal of a kitchen workplace. The eight-episode dramedy stars big names like Jeremy Allen White, best known for his role on “Shameless”, and “Big Mouth” voice actor Ayo Edebiri.
In the series, White plays Carmy, a chef with several culinary accolades, who takes over his family’s Italian beef shop following the death of his brother. Battling the perfectionism cultivated by his professional training, stepping into the new role is no easy task. Carmy struggles to find the balance between innovation and preservation. Ayo’s character Sydney joins him in his task to transform the restaurant.
In my experience, food-related entertainment typically stems from platforms like YouTube or Food Network via cooking shows, competitions or restaurant makeovers from high-profile chefs. Glimpses of cooking in regular television shows are rare, but not unheard of; while the kitchen is always portrayed as a high-stakes, high-stress environment, nothing could prepare me for the hot mess that was “The Bear” — in the best way possible.
Though fictional, “The Bear” never felt staged. It induced panic, stress and claustrophobia, not out of anger at the script, but sheer frustration at the realistic situation Carmy is put in. He’s tasked with saving the business, all while inheriting debt, dealing with his past and analyzing his relationship with his late brother. Unlike some shows where these emotions could be easily blamed on characters, “The Bear” makes it easy to empathize with the kitchen staff in their plight.
Part of the show’s realism likely stems from the intense research done by both producers and actors. Creator of “The Bear,” Christopher Storer brought in his sister Coco and Canadian chef Matty Matheson as the show’s consulting chefs. Matheson also played repairman Fak and was ironically the one employee who didn’t carry the title of chef. Additionally, White trained at a Michelin star restaurant to get a feel for his character’s past. Other cast members worked tirelessly to perfect kitchen skills like knifework.
The side characters making up the kitchen staff also contributed great value to the series: conflict, pranks, fist-fighting and serious health-code violations all in abundance. Marcus, played by Lionel Boyce, went through an intense, but humorous exploration of donuts — albeit out of place for an Italian sandwich shop. Liza Colon-Zayas plays Tina, a chef none too happy about the change in management, while Ebon Moss-Bachrach took on the role of “cousin” Richie who also takes issue with Carmy’s decisions. Characters can be confusing at first, however, most have nicknames or are referred to as “chef.”
Tension escalated to the point where the show’s seventh episode “Review” was almost unbearable to watch. Impressively, the episode was shot in a single, 18-minute take after hours of planning and choreography. Yet the finale ended on a high note, opening an exciting avenue for season two.
The show’s success has even led to a spike in sales of Italian beef sandwiches; one restaurant, in particular, gained traction after its food was sampled during an interview with White for “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
Ultimately, “The Bear” is a fantastic watch, especially for foodies looking to branch out from Food Network.