The Bear season 2 is here, and it reminds me of food in more ways than the gorgeous dishes it shows on screen. That's because I'm in danger of binge-watching it faster than one should — and I'm starting to think The Bear's audience is akin to a still-not-popular-enough restaurant.
The FX on Hulu (still a confusing brand) series began last year, showing us a family-owned Chicago restaurant on hard times. After a death in the family, Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) returns from his success in New York's culinary scene to run the shop, only to find trouble at every turn.
When I asked around about The Bear as its new season arrived, though, I learned that a bunch of people I know still hadn't given it a shot. Including one friend obsessed with TV and restaurants. I have theories as to why this is, but those don't matter as much as spreading the good word.
So, I thought now's a good a time as any to try and get more people to feast their eyes upon The Bear. Its 18 episodes on Hulu (which I get with Hulu + Live TV) make for a perfect weekend if that's your thing, but I'll argue for a little patience in how you devour one of the best Hulu shows.
What is The Bear about, and why do I love it?
Unfortunately, Carmy finds trouble everywhere he turns at the Original Beef of Chicagoland, from the rundown state of the restaurant's finances to its actual health code violations. Then, there's the matter of his chaotic childhood friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who helps run the shop and is a bit regressive, to put it politely.
To try and fix things, Carmy hires aspiring chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who is both inexperienced and a bit in awe of Carmy's NYC experience. Sydney doesn't exactly get along with the blue-collar staff at The Bear, as she tries to get them to do things her way.
All the while, as you might expect, The Bear is the TV equivalent of a page-turner. The frenetic energy and tension threatens to boil over constantly, and often does. Most famously, season 1 episode 7 delivers a chaos best served without much warning beyond knowing something is coming.
Everyone at The Bear, of course, arrives with some sort of grief or drama, and like a fantastic dish, each adds a certain something that bounces well off of everyone else's internalized problems. The Bear may prove too tense for you, but you really need to give it a try. To use another food metaphor, The Bear is like that buzzy restaurant you heard about, except there's no line. The only risk is you don't click with its vibes.
The Bear season 2 is almost too good
The second season of The Bear dropped yesterday (June 22), and all at once. For those who love to binge, that's perfect. For myself and for Hulu, however, I think something's a little wrong here. Not with the quality of the new episodes, though.
In The Bear season 2's first day on Hulu, I quickly made my way through three of its ten episodes — titled "Beef," "Pasta" and "Sundae," to make me think I'd eaten an extra meal — without thinking. I was quickly going from happy tears to dread to laughter to hunger, all across 90 minutes or so.
At least until the end of the third episode when I thought to myself, "wait, this could be over before you know it!" I don't want to be done this quickly, and have at least another year to wait for the unconfirmed The Bear season 3.
The Bear isn't exactly a rewatchable show (for me at least) the way that I Think You Should Leave (my current Netflix fave) is. It's an emotionally impactful story, but not one I see myself re-heating.
Binge-watching and batch-releasing is the status quo for most of streaming, but that's slowly changing. Netflix is using two-half releases for everything from You to Ozark to Stranger Things, while Apple TV Plus, Peacock and Max still embrace weekly drops.
And not that you may care, but binge-releases may not be great for Hulu either. As Julia Alexander at Puck explained, Netflix has a "spike-slump" problem where shows skyrocket in engagement early, and then decline and erode. She cites Whip Media's data to show how the HBO & Max House of the Dragon series pulled in repeated weekly audiences, while Netflix's Wednesday trailed off after its early peak. Those two series may not be a perfect 1:1 comparison for some, but since Wednesday set Netflix records, it's an interesting comparison.
And it backs up something I think about with regard to Netflix, Max and Hulu. When Max releases shows weekly, they keep me opening their app more regularly, instead of just one long spurt. It's like I'm having a weekend-situationship with Netflix or Hulu, instead of a relationship with Max.
The Bear season 2 reviews: What critics say
Don't just take my word for it. Both the first and second seasons of The Bear earned the rare perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall declare this new batch "electrifying," for starters.
In reviewing this second course, Salon.com's Melanie McFarland writes "This new season The Bear is stepping into the hole left by Ted Lasso. That it does this without becoming cloying is miraculous. Credit the writing and consistent directing."
Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune also sings The Bear season 2's praises, calling it "as absorbing as ever, with a visual language that is in love with food, and in love with the city itself."
Over at The Atlantic, Shirley Li gives her compliments to the kitchen, stating "The Bear remains a remarkably confident study of growth, treating its characters with a tender generosity as they mature. It’s a fist held over a heart, drawing a circle, reminding its viewers that in time, clarity can come from chaos."
Outlook: You gotta watch The Bear — this show deserves a third season
I'll admit I've yet to finish The Bear season 2, and that's intentional as previously described. It's too good, and I don't want it to be done this early. That means I don't know how this season ends, or if the showrunners have it set up for another season.
That said, that third season of The Bear should be their choice, and not one the networks make based on ratings. The more people discover it now — a strong second season gives more reason to commit — the more we have good chances for a second run.
And I really need that third course from Carmy & Co.