For those paying attention, the U.S. has recently been low-key losing their minds over FX’s new TV series, The Bear. I know, recently we’ve been collectively thinking about nothing but Stranger Things, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and The Boys but somewhere in between all the hype surrounding those shows came this surprise culinary hit.
In fact, it even seemed to catch the people making it off-guard as FX Entertainment president, Eric Shrier, said, “The Bear has exceeded our wildest creative, critical, and commercial expectations” while also adding that they “can’t wait to get to work on Season 2.”
Big praise, but what is ‘The Bear’ and what should Australian audiences expect when the show comes to Disney+ on August 31?
The Bear follows former fine-dining chef, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), who returns to Chicago to run the family sandwich shop in the wake of his brother’s death. But as Collider put it, “The Bear is a television series that uses the kitchen to explore how different people cope with grief.” And it’s all done in the kitchen with all the brazen intensity and toxicity that the industry is known for.
It's Uncomfortably Accurate
Multiple outlets have discussed and praised the show’s depiction of hospitality life. Former chef, Genevieve Yam, wrote in Bon Appetit that she “could barely get through The Bear. Not because [she] thought it was bad television – but because it was the most accurate portrayal of life in a restaurant [she’s] seen in a while.”
If that doesn’t get you at least a little bit interested, then you’re a lost cause.
The show examines and explores the toxic environment of a professional kitchen. It becomes apparent that “working and succeeding in fine dining comes at great expense of your physical and mental well-being.” The show doesn’t shy away from this and might be maybe the most successful scripted series about cooking in its depiction of a “toxic hierarchical shit show.”
Yam details her own experience in the field even highlighting a moment when she was purposefully burnt by her sous-chef with a blowtorch, so she’s not kidding around. What sets The Bear apart from other cooking shows is it doesn’t “glamourise the professional cook” but instead it “peels back the curtain on the painful reality of what it’s like to work in a kitchen, and the emotional and physical cost that comes with it.”
It’s that peeling back of the curtain that has garnered the show favourable comparisons to chef turned TV personality, Anthony Bourdain. The Atlantic called Bourdain a “spiritual cousin” of the show because Bourdain had “subverted the model” and provided “revelations about the buccaneer antics in so many high-profile kitchens [that] blew food writing out of the water.” It’s these crazy antics that The Bear highlights so expertly.
The kitchen isn’t the only place this comparison is apt as even the main character, Carmy, “like Bourdain, is dogged by demons.” No one can deny that Bourdain was an incredibly interesting person during his lifetime, so the comparison is really high praise, but The Bear goes deeper than what Bourdain was able to do before he took his own life.
Reality cooking shows like Masterchef have gotten used to the pressure found in the kitchen, but as The Guardian correctly mentions the “intensity has rarely translated well to scripted television.”
It’s Not Just About Cooking
While all the hype and focus has been about the accurate depiction of restaurant life, it isn’t the only thing the show has going for it. It wouldn’t be a very good drama if that were the case.
As mentioned earlier, each character has their own demons to face within the kitchen. As star, Jeremy Allen White, told abc News,
The Bear is “preoccupied with masculinity” according to The Atlantic. It has an “almost anthropological… analysis of the ways in which men and male-dominated cultures are set up to fail.” It’s an interesting idea, that asks whether “the qualities required to thrive in hierarchies – kitchens, boardrooms, small-time criminal subsets – are also poisoning those worlds from within?”
I’ll have to see the show myself before I can agree completely but it certainly makes me incredibly keen to see it.
I’ve focused a lot on Carmy, but the entire kitchen has a cast of colourful characters, each with their own demons to deal with. I won’t go into every single aspect otherwise we would be here all day and we should leave some mystery for the actual Australian release (unless you pirate it, of course, but that’s illegal so we don’t condone it).
All I know is that after writing all of this up, August 31st can’t come soon enough.
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