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The Bear 

Series created by Christopher Storer

Review by Nou Ra 


The Bear, a visceral, panic attack-inducing view of a kitchen’s inner workings, is definitely not one for the anxious, or the vegans.

I have worked in my fair share of restaurants, supplementing my meagre income when I was in bands or shows that paid us in beer and promises of exposure. I mostly worked ‘front of house’ as a server. I also had some experience in kitchens, a different beast altogether, where alcohol/substance abuse proliferates, hazing/pranking are commonplace and crying in the walk-in cooler is mandatory.  

The Bear powerfully evokes these anxieties: the feeling of being in a fever dream; the chaos; voices rising in a cacophony of admonishments. 

Carmine ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) returns home to  his inheritance, his family’s sandwich shop – The Original Beef of Chicagoland – in Chicago’s River North section, after his brother Mike’s sudden death (a lovely small cameo from Jon Bernthal). Carmy, after being ousted from the family business, had learned his craft in the best kitchens he could, becoming a James Beard award-winning chef. ‘Carmy here was head chef at the best restaurant in the world, and that’s not an exaggeration’, explains his brother-in-law, Pete. His inheritance is a ‘piece of shit mom and pop joint’, a mess both structurally and financially. His late brother’s best friend Richie (Ebon Moss Bachrach) is a fixture that comes with the restaurant; he is brash, coarse and has all the charm and subtlety of the bulls that are synonymous with Chicago. The rest of the established crew, all firmly set in their ways, means Carmy struggles to implement ‘a French brigade’, a military style structure to a kitchen, with rank and station, as designed by Escoffier (the godfather of French cuisine and fine dining).  

 The first episode, ‘System’, sees Carmy trying to bring his knowledge and experience to bear in his own kitchen only to be told, ‘No, we have a system’, and ‘Don’t mess with the system’. That system clearly doesn’t work. There are multiple shots showing how much of a mess the place is: broken eggs on the floor, mustard dripping off the counter that doesn’t look as though it has been cleaned in weeks. In order to freshen things up, Carmy hires a young ambitious, also classically trained chef,  Sydney (Ayo Edebiri). 

The military structure feels unnatural to his staff who have been doing it their own way for who knows how long. This is where The Bear veers away from the usual, shouty chef trope. Carmy is determined not to scream and curse. He treats all his staff equally from the sous chef to the dishie, respectfully calling them all Chef. Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), a hard and seasoned line chef, responds acerbically by calling him Jeff. 

 There are moments of respite from the terror, mostly in the form of vegetable montages; there is something strangely zen about watching peeling and chopping.  Other moments of serenity amidst the carnage come from Marcus, the patissier, whose contemplative and sensual approach to baking mixes maths, science and magic in an effort to create the perfect donut. 

The relationship between Sydney and Carmy is tumultuous, although built on mutual respect and ultimately they do connect.

Anthony Bourdain wrote in his book Kitchen Confidential that brunch was essentially a really bad practice all round and one of my favourite lines in the show is when Carmy and Sydney say in unison ‘Fuck brunch’. I couldn’t agree more, it’s the most egregious shift on a restaurant’s schedule.

Episode 7 has a bravura 18-minute tracking shot, bringing the intensity up a few notches and giving me Boiling Point (the 2021 film with Stephen Graham) energy, but The Bear is fresher, scarier, more relentless. At the end of the show there is a deus ex-machina that ties everything together nicely and prepares the way for a second season.

Jeremy Allen White, who plays Carmy, is best known for playing Phillip ‘Lip’ Gallagher in the American version of Shameless (he is affectionately known by the acronym JAW and widely embraced as the internet’s new boyfriend). His performance is remarkable: he translates the stress and the toxicity of the kitchen in every tense and anguished contortion of his face. He reminded me of a young Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, wild looking, unkempt, and equally charismatic. But it’s his eyes that hit you, such sorrow, emptiness and grief for his brother. 

If you don’t like highly charged and tense environments stay out of this kitchen.