In the opening scene of The Bear, we are met with our sweaty and hunched protagonist as he slowly retreats from an uncaged grizzly bear. If only we knew this would be the most tranquil moment throughout the entirety of FX’s latest series about beef sandwiches.
Jeremy Allen White plays the young Carmy, an internationally celebrated chef who returns to Chicago after his brother’s suicide, hoping to revive the family’s sandwich joint. Here we meet the loveable yet equally unbearable band of misfits who run its kitchen: the hot-headed Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachract); aspiring baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce); and recently hired sous-chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who seeks to add some flair to the places’ unchanged menu.
The show captures the symphony of the kitchen in all its sweet chaos, with enough razor-edged tension to explode your grandma’s heart monitor. The cinematography is claustrophobic, to say the least, combining aggressive close-ups with frequent long takes to drag us right from the comfort of our sofas and into the culinary madness that ensues. Only when the end credits roll do we have time to breathe. Disney+ ought to have issued some trigger warnings, as these scenes will surely give warlike flashbacks to anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of working in hospitality.
In a show where the camera crew barely leave the kitchen—essentially following the sitcom formula—, it is the characters that are paramount to its brilliance. Each is as raw and complex as the next. The Bear rejects the emotional catharsis we crave so often on screen; there are rarely any heart-to-hearts, the characters aren’t validated or rewarded for their hardship, and life is generally unfair to them. As a result, their relationships come to life in a way that is beautifully unforced and painfully real.
The Bear is undoubtedly worth your time. While far from flawless, it is a refined masterpiece and a career-defining role for Jeremy Allen White. The Bear is Friends if it were directed by Anthony Bourdain, it is hard-boiled yet intimate and never shy of some chaos. The result is an experience that wares us down to the bone. Eight episodes is about all the human spirit can endure…and yet we’re still ravenous for more.