FX’s ‘The Bear’ Balances Drama And Comedy Millennials Feel
FX’s surprise hit of the summer streaming on Hulu, “the bearis a show about elite chef Carmen Berzatto leaving her job at New York’s top restaurants to take over her recently deceased brother’s sandwich shop in Chicago. What could easily be a turgid drama, a woke diversity morality piece, or a forgettable British comedy, is actually a combination of the best parts of these three over-the-top genres.
There’s drama, but it’s not intense clashes between characters punctuated by quiet scenes of everyone crying and staring intently at the horizon. Nor is he plagued with grief and stress and looking for unhealthy ways to cope.
There’s diversity, but it’s not a morality story about what the white male protagonist learns from his non-white staff and young black sous-chef.
There’s comedy, but it’s not the kind where every episode follows the same formula: the restaurant might go bankrupt or go up in flames, the chef and his team would pull themselves together, and hopefully and many graces are able to make it another day.
And yet, “The Bear” manages to combine these ideas while filtering out the less desirable elements. It alternates with both drama and comedy, giving the story a more realistic feel and more developed characters. It also manages to incorporate diversity without falling into symbolism or signaling of awakened virtue. And that restraint and originality allow it to be a great show with great writing, great performances, and great themes.
At the top of the show’s virtues is its writing. It maintains a good pace and allows for fuller characters. Each episode has a clear plot arc with the entire season. All characters grow in one way or another, and more is gradually revealed about their circumstances. Nothing seems superfluous or rushed. The dialogues and monologues are authentic, informative and often funny.
Plus, the attention to detail is impressive. It is obvious that the writers of the series consulted real leaders to recreate the hectic atmosphere of a restaurant kitchen. The set is often grimy, cramped and hot while the actors are well choreographed to convey the orderly chaos of a restaurant staff. And, much like a good cooking show, there’s the periodic satisfaction of seeing a beautiful dish come out of the pandemonium to be served and enjoyed.
Of course, all of this would come to naught if it weren’t for the incredible performances from the cast, especially Jeremy Allen White playing Carmen and Ebon Moss-Bachrach playing his cousin Richie. White is intense but restrained, internalizing much of the challenges he faces. In contrast, his Moss-Bachrach cousin is an abrasive loudmouth who offends everyone, but also has amusing lines and deeper struggles that make him more likable. Together, the two characters have great chemistry and form a hilarious core for the entire show.
“The Bear” depicts the many pressures facing today’s workers in general, and today’s men in particular. Although many stories have been told about various addictions, the show stands out by exploring work addiction and men’s desperate effort to prove their worth. All of the male protagonists – Carmen, Richie and Marcus (the dessert chef played by Lionel Boyce) – are seen jostling and seeking some kind of honor in an indifferent modern world. It helps them deal with personal issues, but it also tends to alienate them from friends and family.
That said, “The Bear” isn’t without its flaws. One such flaw is the sous chef character Sydney Amaru played by Ayo Edebiri who tends to stick out like a sore thumb. This is partly due to the way his character is written (an ambitious young chef who takes on the task of running the kitchen, but encounters few obstacles and obviously has nothing to learn from anyone), and partly because Edebiri’s severe limits. as an actress (whose expression and delivery of lines range from uncomfortable to frustrated).
Sydney is meant to be a millennial boss girl whose main challenge is dealing with idiots and bullies, but that’s neither believable nor appropriate for the show. Instead of being a humble young apprentice who learns the ropes and only takes control after paying her dues, she comes across as a whiner, titled know-it-all, who owes respect and admiration for her simple presence. Luckily, she’s rarely the focus of the show, and her character eventually makes a mistake and experiences a little growth towards the end of the season, which redeems her somewhat.
The other flaw, although much more minor, is the underuse of the setting. The show is set in Chicago, a city with its own culture and history, but there are only cursory references to it. Aside from a few shots of the skyline and the L, a few references to the Chicago Cubs and Bulls, and the (admittedly great) song “Chicagoby Sufjan Stevens, the story could have been set in any large, diverse city.
Given these flaws, all it really means is that the show has a few areas to address in a second season. Already, this first season has done an amazing job laying the groundwork for what could be a great series about a man taking charge of his life and using his talents and energy to grow his business and his community. Much like the young men and women they are meant to represent, Carmen and her team are still relatively young, energetic and full of potential.