This may be mind-blowing for the youths, but not so long ago, summer was television's dumping ground. The networks would air mostly reruns and occasional new offerings in the way of schlocky reality shows or tepid teen dramas. Now, with the advent of streaming services, summer is when some of the best series debut.
Enter The Bear (corner!).
The FX on Hulu dark comedy is cooking up a ton of social media chatter and rave reviews (it's even carved up a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100 percent).
Set in a Chicago sandwich shop, The Bear's hectic pace and stress-inducing tension has invited comparisons to the film Uncut Gems. Shameless alum Jeremy Allen White stars as protagonist, Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto, a talented chef who leaves behind the world of fine dining to take over a family restaurant. He finds himself in the soup, so to speak, as he deals with recalcitrant employees, massive debt and his grief over a recent tragedy.
If you're still debating whether to watch The Bear or you haven't even heard about it yet, here is why you should head over to Hulu ASAP (subscriptions start at $6.99/month (opens in new tab)).
The Bear season 2 also just got confirmed!
What is The Bear about?
The Bear takes place in Chicago in 2022 (so after the onset of the COVID pandemic). James Beard Award-winning chef Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) returns to his hometown to run The Original Beef of Chicagoland, a struggling restaurant owned by his brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal, in flashbacks), who recently committed suicide.
As Carmy takes on the frenetic daily operation of the shop, he is forced to contend with the obstinate employees, led by his brother's best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). He hires on a young Culinary Institute of America-trained chef named Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), and relies on her to impose a more orderly system in the kitchen.
But things keep going awry, whether it's a poor health inspection score, a toilet disaster or the revelation of a $300,000 debt owed to Mikey and Carmy's Uncle Cicero (Oliver Platt). The entire restaurant becomes a pressure cooker that is ready to explode at whatever next problem arises.
Why I love The Bear
Be warned: The first episode of The Bear is not for the faint of heart. It plunges you right into the hot, percolating stew that is The Original Beef of Chicagoland.
The cameras keep cutting to the clock that insistently ticks down the minutes until the restaurant opens, when lunch rush customers will flood in demanding Italian beef sandwiches. I'm not sure I blinked or breathed as Carmy ran around like a mad man — trying to source more meat, prepping vegetables and corralling his staff into some semblance of the system he was trained in.
The fast and furious pace is electrifying, but it's the "family" that really drew me in. The show starts with very little exposition about who the characters are, but you don't really need it. I almost immediately got a good sense of who everybody is. The staff is made up of skeptical, territorial cook Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas); good-natured baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce) who is excited to expand his horizons beyond sandwich bread; and quiet, heads-down Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson).
Beyond White's outstanding lead performance, the two standouts are Moss-Bachrach as Richie and Edebiri as Sydney. Richie is an asshole in the first degree, exactly the mutinous, ungovernable employee any new boss would have nightmares about. Yet, his passion for the restaurant and his love of his dead best friend are palpable.
Sydney, meanwhile, functions as kind of an audience stand-in, being the newcomer to The Original Beef. Her bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism and ambition reminded me of myself at my first real job. Her later disillusionment is also very relatable.
Together, they form a family (which is also the name for their daily meal). When the family crashes and burns, the defeats are crushing. But that makes their triumphs all the sweeter.
The Bear reviews
The Bear has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) and is Certified Fresh. The site's summary of the show's reception reads, "Like an expertly confected sandwich, The Bear assembles a perfect melange of ingredients and stacks them for optimal satisfaction — and thankfully keeps the crust-iness for extra flavor."
Critics' reviews are almost uniformly positive to the point of gushing.
Amy McCarthy at Eater (opens in new tab) calls it "scripted TV’s most authentic portrayal of life inside a failing restaurant. Its early moments feel like a reality show."
Vulture's Jen Chaney (opens in new tab) writes, "Everyone on The Bear must always brace for the unexpected, and that is what makes this series so instantly compelling, tense, and beautiful all at once. These eight episodes may leave you breathless and a little dizzy. But when it’s over, prepare to say, 'Thank you, chef.'"
Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall (opens in new tab) took a short break after a few episodes, but noted it was "so rewarding to come back and find that The Bear had a lot more on its menu than tension and sweat."
Kelly Lawler at USA Today (opens in new tab) writes, "The frenzied pace and the shouty, freewheeling dialogue create an intense, stressful atmosphere that reaches out from the screen and practically tenses your shoulders. But it's also about (mostly) likable people trying to do their best, and that striving energy is as addictive and satisfying as a really good sandwich.
NPR's Glen Weldon (opens in new tab) describes The Bear as "Smart, funny, raw, tense, warm but not sentimental and, most of all, real."
Should you watch The Bear?
The answer to that question is "YES, CHEF!" But you may want to take your blood pressure medicine or an antacid before the first episode. Like I said, this is a stressful show. But even if you aren't into high-octane storytelling, The Bear is worth watching for the well-drawn characters, the gritty reality of the restaurant as workplace, and the raw and heart-tugging treatment of grief.
Plus, it's a quick watch. Season 1 consists of eight half-hour-ish episodes, so it'll take you about four hours to get through them all. Start after lunch and you'll finish by dinnertime.
Next: This new Netflix show just soared to No. 3 in one day, and this new Netflix Zombie movie just leapt into the top 10. My colleague finally watched The Bear and it changed how he watches TV.