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'The Bear' Season 2 is a Recipe for Success

‘The Bear’ Season 2 has all the right ingredients for both comedy and drama.

Season 1 of The Bear lived up to my expectations.  Even though I had not much of an idea of what the series would be about.  Creator Christopher Storer delivered a style and loose narrative straight from the heart.

Season 2 showed up on Hulu last month.  I did not truly know what to expect.  The Season 1 finale left you with this understanding that a new restaurant was underway.  That’s it.  

Not only was I impressed with Season 2, I was emotionally hooked in a way that the first season only hinted at.  Multiple characters are explored on a deeper level.  Supporting ones especially were given more life.  Deep, meaningful relationships develop, bearing both elation and heartache.   All the right ingredients for both comedy and drama.  (One short note: The Bear was recently nominated for an Emmy in the Best Comedy category.  Which I guess means this show is technically a comedy.  Although I would argue it more closely resembles a drama.)

Carmine Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White)

The second season kicks off with Carmine Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) tabulating the costs of opening his new restaurant: ‘The Bear.’  With the help of his Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) and his crew consisting of Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), his sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) and many others, the decision is made that they open up the new restaurant in three months.  

Sydney is head chef.  She appoints Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas) as Sous Chef, much to her excitement.  Natalie, a near non-existent character from the first season is given a much meatier role.  She takes on the role of project manager, helping with the financing and myriad maintenance issues that arise.  All the while she is also pregnant.

They need to open in three months because they’re on tight financial terms.  In order to secure a $500,000 loan from Uncle Jimmy, Carm promises him the building and lot if the business fails after 18 months.  Despite some skepticism Uncle Jimmy signs on as partner.

Natalie (Abby Elliott), Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), and Carmine (Jeremy Allen White)

Now that they’re on the clock, this ragtag group of family and fanatics must cover all the bases in opening a restaurant.  At one point the hopeless Cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) tries to prove there’s no mold problem by prodding the ceiling only to have gross moldy parts fall on top of him.  Many of the tasks ahead of the crew function as this sort of relentless collapsing debris, set to bury them at any moment.  Walls are knocked down due to the aforementioned mold, electricity needs to be installed, plumbing must be repaired.  A liquor license and certificate of occupancy is required.  Carmine and Sydney are responsible for coming up with a menu.  Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is on desserts.  

So they get at it.  Tina and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) are sent to culinary school to refine their skills.  Marcus is off to Copenhagen to learn from Luca (Will Poulter), a pastry chef.  Sydney hits the pavement, sampling all different sorts of food across Chicago for inspiration.

And Carm meets a girl.  Someone from his childhood named Claire (Molly Gordon) who he runs into at the grocery store.  For anyone who’s watched the show and read my review from the first season, you know that Carmine does not smile too much.  Well, Claire actually manages to get a laugh out of him in Episode 3.  Hallelujah!

Claire (Molly Gordon) and Carmine (Jeremy Allen White)

Their flirtations feel very exciting and alive.  And old school.  Tingly Hollywood-like romance filled with ‘will they or won’t they’ moments.  They’re shot with a few heavy close-ups as if Claire, with her inquiring blue eyes, is reaching in deep and finding something salvageable in this troubled baby brother of the Berzatto family.  

My only guess as to where the name ‘Bear’ originates is that it’s a loose reduction of the family name.  Berzatto leads to Bear.  

As far as I know, all the Berzattos are bears, ferocious and overpowering.  Truly.  Episode 6 ‘Seven Fishes’ is an hour and six-minute monster of a flashback episode that brings us to a Christmas party five years prior.  The guest star wattage of this episode is through the roof.  Jamie Lee Curtis plays Mother Berzatto, running rampantly around the kitchen trying to prepare a rigorous multi-plate feast for the extended family.  I will not reveal the other guest stars for spoilers’ sake.  

But here we gain a far deeper understanding of the trauma embedded in this family.  Older brother Mike’s struggle comes into focus through some very tenuous scenes at the dinner table.  And mom seems to have some deep-seated emotional problems as well.  It all paints Carmine and Richie as survivors of some brutal war.  

Not everything is doom and gloom, however.  Episode 4, ‘Honeydew,’ follows Marcus’ tour of Copenhagen as he searches for the sweet and sublime.  Will Poulter plays Luca, a convincing pastry chef with wisdom to offer.  

Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach)

Cousin Richie’s episode might be the best of the bunch.  Richie’s had a hard go of it.  He’s divorced from a wife who he still loves and whom he shares a daughter with.  He’s bitter at the world and butts heads with everyone at the restaurant.  Carmine sends him to one of the best restaurants in Chicago as a sort of boot camp, to learn the ropes of high-quality hospitality.  And he goes through a profound transformation. A spiritual rebirth of sorts (set to Taylor Swift).  If TV can ever inspire faith in the ability to change trajectories in life, it’s this episode.

There’s a sign in the  kitchen that’s eventually adopted by The Bear which reads: ‘Every second counts.’  It speaks to the efficiency and punctuality required in the restaurant business.  And it can also be read as something more meaningful: live life with purpose.

The soundtrack to all this change is Chicago through and through.  There’s a Midwest-based Wilco track at one point.  There’s also ‘Holiday Road’ from National Lampoon’s Vacation which followed the Griswald’s from Chicago to Wally World.  In Episode 5 ‘Tonight, Tonight’ by Chicago band Smashing Pumpkins plays at a karaoke bar.  And there’s a Christmas track in the ‘Seven Fishes’ episode clearly from Home Alone 2.  The fictional Mccalister’s were famously from Chi-town. These are somewhat subtle inserts but I found it hard not to notice.

Chef Luca (Will Poulter) and Marcus (Lionel Boyce)

I’ve previously stated my love for Sydney in my Season 1 review.  It has only intensified.  She is brilliant in Season 2.  There is a subtlety to her performance that I can’t overstate.  While I’ve not seen her stand-up, I would say her understanding of comedy informs her quirky performance.  She just seems to get Sydney: her obsessions, her perfectionist nature, and a vulnerability that goes hand in hand with her assertiveness.  Might I also mention that the great Robert Townsend plays Sydney’s father.  I’ve not seen him in any film or television since the 90s and I was pumped to spot him.  

Aside from Claire and the aforementioned guest stars, we’re essentially dealing with the same characters here as episode one.  A cast of black, white and latina.  What makes this season better is the exploration into each of these characters’ lives.  We monitor their transformation as they are each reinvigorated with purpose.  There is also an Asian presence in the form of a maître d’ that helps train Richie.  His, in Episode 7, is one of the best monologues in the series.  One of three.  The others are, spoiler alert, Chef Terry’s (Olivia Colman) to Richie in the same episode and Chef Luca’s to Marcus in Episode 4.

Sydney (Ayo Adebiri)

In short it’s all real, very grounded.  Very soulful.  I recently ordered food at a local Thai restaurant.  It was their ‘soft opening.’  I watched the counter person read the receipts and take orders.  I saw a kitchen of 12-15 people preparing, cooking and assembling dishes with precision and quickness.  The Bear has made me look at the restaurant industry in a new light.  I have a newfound respect and appreciation for the unique challenges and obstacles they face.

While not a hospital or a courtroom, there are life or death stakes of a kind in the kitchen.  It makes for great television.  I look forward to more series like The Bear that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the minefield that is fine dining.