In this day and age, cooking shows are overdone; we have consumed too many of them. They’re that one meal you overate and no longer enjoy, like jacket potatoes or spaghetti bolognese. However, amongst all these dry and burnt jacket potatoes, The Bear is like a fresh Branzino. Something you’ve never tried before, something full-bodied and pungent.
Following the set-up of season one, season two introduces newfound sensitivity within the restaurant staff, with episodes loosely structured around each character. The director, Christopher Storer, balances intense arguments from the past and the present; it feels like he’s cooking two meals at once, and they’re both about to burn. All this stress is wrapped up within the overarching plot of opening the restaurant and transforming the ‘The Beef’ to ‘The Bear’. The incessant shouting from making beef sandwiches in the first season has seamlessly changed into arguing over the fire suppression test. Although this season is more narratively split, Storer still lights a fire under the pot by including an insanely tight deadline for ‘The Bear’ to open, in addition to a distracted and in-love main character.
Everyone is supposed to have a ‘nice’ meal, but ultimately, the pot violently boils over
Storer’s best episode of the season is ‘Fishes’. It focuses on Carmy’s, the head chef’s, family (Jeremy Allen White) on Christmas, about 5 years before opening. We are introduced to his brother, Mickey (Jon Bernthal), and his mum, Donna, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, who out-performed her Oscar-winning role. We see the dysfunction of Carmy’s family: his mum has intense control issues, flip-flopping from a kiss to a slap; his brother is throwing forks at the dinner table, and his brother-in-law is bringing a tuna casserole, which is strictly prohibited. In the first half, it’s endless talking, infused with arguing and shouting, whilst the timer dings and instructions are ignored… perhaps an accurate depiction of Christmas for most? The phrase “I make things beautiful for them, and no one makes things beautiful for me”, devastatingly said by Donna, rings out and underlines the episode.
Here, Storer expects the audience to follow what’s happening and implicitly introduces new characters and dynamics, even when an uncle is not an uncle and a cousin is not a cousin, and it works. We can follow the chaos of the Berzatto family, as although the episode is at a high heat most of the time, there are a few quiet moments sprinkled in between. We meet Cousin Richie’s (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) nauseous pregnant wife for the first time, revealing the romantic husband side of Richie, and we witness an emotionally compact moment between Carmy and his mother. The chaos that builds in the first 40 minutes gets pushed into the dining room, where everyone is supposed to have a ‘nice’ meal, but ultimately, the pot violently boils over. Storer effectively depicts a family that all desperately needs to go to therapy.
‘The Bear’ makes it easy to understand the passion for cooking
Storer attempts to add a strain between Carmy’s work and personal life through depicting Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and Claire (Molly Gordon). Claire is a childhood friend who shows Carmy how to have ‘fun’ again, which he reveals at Al-Anon. The director chooses to pit Sydney and Claire (Carmy’s new love interest) against one another, and supported by rampant internet speculation, he discreetly implies a romantic opportunity between Carmy and Sydney, which I cannot get behind. Sydney’s character deserves her own arc and romance, where she is not written solely in relation to Carmy. Although socially awkward, she doesn’t seem like a character who would uselessly pine over her boss.
Nevertheless, The Bear makes it easy to understand the passion for cooking; the way they talk about food and restaurant life completely encompasses the viewer, losing you between words of flavour and food. Whilst it’s obvious that I am not a chef and never will be, when I’m in the kitchen it’s difficult not to pretend that I am in an equally stressful situation, despite just trying to whip up a quick stir fry. The Bear immerses you while watching, but also forces its way into your everyday life, revealing the hidden love and excitement behind cooking.
Image: Louis Hansel via Unsplash