(Mild spoilers follow in this review.)
Not many shows are as flavorful as Bear, FXSumptuous dramedy for Hulu which delves into the chaos of a Chicago family restaurant still recovering from tragedy. The ingredients of great television are all there: flashes of comedy to lighten the intensity and harrowing drama, emotion both tender and raw, and a cast that just won’t cease to amaze us.
Bear it also pulls off that feat that often eludes all but the best second-season shows: deepening what was good in the first year, adding new colors and conflicts, along with substantially increasing character. This 10-episode batch is instantly available for binge-watching, though I wish the season was allowed to unfold week by week, allowing us to savor each morsel before greedily devouring the next.
What may be most remarkable is that Bear it keeps us engaged even while the kitchen, the scene of so much drama, remains closed for most of the run. Because Season 2 is all about renovation and renewal – of the restaurant, after the Original Beef of Chicagoland sandwich shop closed in the season 1 finale to make way for an upscale restaurant. But also its staff, led by the famous chef Carmy “The Bear” Berzatto (Amy favorite Jeremy Allen White) and his ambitious sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who take this opportunity to show what they’re made of and make more of their fiercely loyal but broken colleagues.
To say that things are not going well in repurposing would be an understatement. The red tape of city regulations, the restaurant’s crumbling infrastructure, from mold-encrusted walls to exploding toilets, and the frayed temperament of too many alphas demanding to be heard create a rising tension as the clock ticks toward reopening. It doesn’t help that Carmy has imposed a seemingly unrealistic timetable to secure the loan she needs from their shady Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Plattnever better).
Along the way, however, something unexpected happens. Each of these vividly drawn characters finds new purpose in their call to duty. This includes Carmy’s overwhelmed sister Natalie (Abby Elliott), the “mother” of this project in more ways than one; Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), the proud chef who longs for promotion; Marcus (Lionel Boyce), the quiet pastry chef, who jumps at the chance to apprentice with a master; and especially Richie (the amazing Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the volatile “cousin” – in spirit, not in blood – who wants to be in charge of everything but struggles to figure out where he fits in.
For Carmy and Sydney, the challenge involves work-life balance. Syd’s worried father (a warm Robert Townsend) worries that she no longer has a back-up plan in case this fails and wonders if she can really trust her partner. Unhappy by birth, Carmy enters into a tentative relationship with a friend from his past (the lover Molly Gordon), but worries about ever taking his eyes off the prize.
And trust me when I say that nothing will prepare you for the harrowing experience of the season’s sixth episode (“Pisces”), an extended flashback to a nerve-wracking Christmas in the Berzatto household when brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal) was still alive. (His suicide was what brought Carmy back to the post.) With surprise guests playing members of the extended clan — some revealed, most not — we get a glimpse into a destructive family dynamic that makes you you wonder how anyone survived them. gatherings.
The frenetic preparations in the home kitchen make the restaurant chaos behind the scenes almost pale in comparison. And without giving too much away, I can’t help but note that it’s recent Oscar the winner will be hard to beat in next year’s Guest Performer Emmy campaign.
As the season builds in suspense toward the restaurant’s reopening, the emotional stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s no wonder Syd clings to Duke basketball coach K’s (Mike Krzyzewski) memoir like a bible to glean inspiration about teamwork and leadership. Everyone will need to be on top of their game when the newly christened “Bear” opens its doors to friends, family and others.
You’ll want to be there so much you can almost taste it. I’m already hungry for the next chapter.
BearSeason 2, Streaming Now, Hulu