The Bear Season Two | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 27th, 2023  

The Bear (Season Two)

FX/Hulu, June 22, 2023

Jul 04, 2023 Photography by FX Web Exclusive
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Sauce splatter on a plate looks like Picasso painted it. Footage of rectangular ravioli is contrasted with shots of skyscrapers. Sprinkled flour is juxtaposed against a snowy Chicago skyline. Chef Sydney Adamu eats it up, as it were–as will fans of The Bear in the lovingly filmed, richly written second season of the popular series.

This deliciously directed montage of a Chicago foodie mini-binge occurs partway through the ten-episode season of the series centering on a pair of fine dining chefs infusing class into an old school, once sloppily run, but no less beloved sandwich shop. The montage is not only beautifully filmed, but it also conveys how the brilliant chef is struck by inspiration and how she plans recipes. Ayo Edebiri returns to her instantly iconic role as Sydney, a Culinary Institute of America alum working at the mom-and-pop style The Original Beef of Chicagoland, where she landed after fumbling some higher profile opportunities.

Last season the prodigious, but down on her luck Sydney applied at The Beef because her dad had long been a fan of its old school charms. New owner Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) didn’t just light up at Sydney’s application, he also saw a kindred spirit in the well trained but struggling sous chef. Carmy was in the midst of his own fall from grace. He worked at World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards winner Noma, washed out at a rigid high end New York eatery, is contending with alcoholism, and then took over The Beef after the owner, his brother Mikey, committed suicide. With the slyly sarcastic but endlessly inventive Sydney by his side, Carmy hoped to shake up the rundown Beef, training his staff in military-like regiments to boost their efficiency, or at least avoid bumping into each other in the cramped kitchen.

Carmy also needed to upgrade faltering appliances and patch up the permit and safety violations his charismatic but troubled brother let mount. There was no one better suited to convey Mikey’s contradictions than character actor Jon Bernthal. Like last season, Mikey returns in a powerful new flashback episode. Aside from that, plenty has changed this go around, from the front of the house to the ovens and walk-in fridge.

We pick up shortly after Carmy ended Season One by hanging a sign on The Beef’s door announcing both its closure, and the forthcoming opening of The Bear. He and Sydney envision a Michelin star worthy spin on The Beef’s down-home grub. And as last season wound down, Carmy thought all that would be possible after overcoming a nasty dinner rush spat with Sydney and deciding to break his cycle of tantrums and anxiety. It didn’t hurt that he found bundles of cash that Mikey stowed away from the IRS in tomato cans in The Beef’s pantry. That was a hopeful pre-hiatus note to end on, one that Season Two immediately (and compellingly) complicates. The hidden money merely gave them a head start. Carmy and the crew spend much of this season scrambling against mold, faulty wiring, and more issues as the restaurant appears all but hilariously haunted by slapstick-y hijinks. At one point, a wall collapses. At another, chunks of the ceiling come crashing down on a thoroughly perturbed character (who may have had it coming)..

Sydney’s efforts are by no means as shambolic as the restaurant. She’s nevertheless frustrated as one after the next of her high concept recipes leaves her wincing in disappointment. This is due more to her perfectionism than any flaws in her cooking. After taste testing their new menu burns them out early in season two, Sydney and Carmy decide to scour Chicago’s tantalizing food scene for inspiration. This leads to one of many blissful foodie montages. Sadly, Syd experiences it alone, because Carmy skips out to spend time with Claire (the angelic Molly Gordon), the high school crush he recently reconnected with, who now saves lives as a resident at a local hospital.

Carmy’s faltering focus leaves Sydney exasperated. And who can blame her? Their supposedly soon to open restaurant is literally falling apart. But, audiences will be won over by his heartwarming romance with Claire, which illuminates how little the grief stricken chef smiled in Season One.

The Bear is unafraid to let its characters flourish and falter. In Season One, Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), the once willfully complacent elder Beef of Chicagoland cook was threatened by Sydney’s youth and ambition, and seemed determined not to accept any of her sweeping changes. This season Tina is on board with Sydney’s and Carmy’s meticulous kitchen procedures. When Sydney offers Tina a promotion and the opportunity to go to cooking school, her reinvigorated colleague doesn’t just smile but beams bright enough to bring a tear to viewers’ eyes.

Similarly, Marcus (rapper-turned-actor Lionel Boyce) grows past his myopic fixation on baking the perfect donut in Season One–to the point of falling behind on regular tasks and alienating his Chicagoland crew. Now, he’s traveling to Coppenhagen. In an episode as satisfying as it is subtle, Marcus works alongside Carmy’s former colleague at Noma, learning the intricacies of Michelin star worthy desserts. What he brings back to The Bear wows Carmy and Sydney (all the more impressive considering how they spent much of the season balking at their own dishes).

Real life beloved chef Matty Matheson returns as Neil Fak, who moves up from occasional handyman to integral problem solver of The Bear’s faltering plumbing, treacherous gas lines, and sputtering electrical work. The latter shocks him repeatedly in one of this season’s most side-splitting gags. Meanwhile, Carmy’s sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) proves herself indispensable as she sifts through Mikey’s sordidly sorry excuse for bookkeeping.

In a season brimming with engrossing character development, no one is more winning than Chicagoland lifer, Mikey’s best bud, and persistent Season One asshole Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). He gives one Emmy worthy turn after the next as Richie tries desperately to be diplomatic, flails (and fails) to mend his marriage, and more. In this season’s flashback episode, his deep bonds with his wife and Mikey become apparent, as well as just how close he came to avoiding the embittering rut he was in last season. As a viewer it’s heartbreaking to see how much happiness he has lost.

This episode also shows the boundless dysfunction from which Carmy, Natalie, Michael, and Richie came. Alongside The Bear’s parade of marquee guest stars, the main cast hold their own here. Jamie Lee Curtis wreaks havoc as Carmy and Natalie’s mom. Even when the level (and tone) of their escalating arguments go well over the top, bordering on a horror film, the actors sell every second in this hellish household. The precise writing in this bombastic episode also ensures that Carmy’s and Richie’s propensity for outbursts is palpably relatable.

Impressive as the flashback episode is, an even better Richie-centered episode then follows TV’s most petulant manchild as he mopes off to a shadowing stint Carmy arranged at one of Chicago’s most pristine restaurants. Richie rolls his eyes at being ordered to polish cutlery, but the staff win him over with their dedication and precision. The comically swooping zooms and pulsing vintage score will make you think Richie is about to blast off in Tom Cruise’s Top Gun plane as he works up the nerve to attempt to meet these upper echelon restaurant workers’ standards, not to mention believe in himself for the first time since Mikey’s death.

The Bear takes risks showing how regression is an ugly fact of human nature. As much as Richie and Carmy progress, they have a blowout during their new restaurant’s opening night that sears hotter than any kitchen grease fire they’ve had to put out. It’s one of the great TV arguments on par with Tony and Carmela Soprano’s “Whitecaps” showdown, Kim and Jimmy’s breakup near the end of Better Call Saul, or the Roy siblings’ recent screaming match on the Succession finale.

Like Sydney and Carmy in their crumbling kitchen, shows like The Bear face steep odds. The enthused response to Season Two should make streamer execs mindful of what viewers hunger for. (

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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