As the searingly hot summer sets in, The Bear‘s second season places us in a frigid Chicago winter, where our beloved, stressed chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and his crew are hard at work turning their now-shuttered sandwich joint “The Beef” into “The Bear,” an upscale dining destination.
The second season of Hulu’s surprise hit from Christopher Storer (Eighth Grade, Ramy) proves that without change, even the most timeless meals can go off. Sophomore slumps are a hit show’s worst nightmare, but The Bear (★★★★☆) proves that great television can handle a little taste of something new.
After the nerve-wracking end of season one saw “The Beef” shot up by local gangsters, we now find ourselves thick into renovations for a reinvented restaurant that is opting for high-class dining over local favorite status.
We see Carmy struggling to get things on track with little time and even less cash, while creating a new menu from scratch with his Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who is battling insecurities and has doubts the herculean effort is worth it.
Carmy’s cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), now trying to work on his temper, helps renovate alongside the immature Fak (Matty Matheson, whose role feels meatier this season), while baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce), splits his time between creating desserts and hospital visits to see his mom.
Meanwhile, Carmy’s sister, Sugar (Abby Elliott), is being courted to step in as the project manager, as Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) are sent to cooking school for the formal training they will need so that the new restaurant can earn a coveted Michelin star.
The first noticeable change is how season two’s chaos lies in its renovations, leaving behind the stress of working in a restaurant in favor of creating one from the ground up in an improbable three months. The series smartly pulls some focus from Carmy to give its cast some space and open up their outside lives. As a result, Sugar and Richie feel more authentic as people, getting to grow on their own while showing they aren’t wacky sidekicks only for the plot.
The brightest example of this comes with Tina and Ebraheim, whose culinary school journeys provide some of the season’s early highlights. When Syd gets the idea to ask Tina to become a sous chef, Tina’s joy is palpable. When Ebraheim struggles at school, small wordless scenes of him or Tina worrying do tremendous amounts of work for the story in showing how these people are struggling with change.
By broadening the scope of The Bear‘s story onto more of its characters, the brilliance of this series makes itself even more apparent.
The second season still retains a sense of urgency, but replaces it with a slower, more engulfing variety — the dread and stress of a deadline. We are constantly reminded at the top of each episode how many weeks are left until the new restaurant is scheduled to open. And time is running out fast.
The series still maintains its humor, wonderfully balancing drama with dry, dark humor, sometimes simultaneously. Richie’s retorts to Fak, such as “mold is a buzzword,” come at just the right moments to remind us that The Bear is a comedy.
Still, the second season isn’t without problems. The series isn’t able to adjust its overall tempo at times, and some episodes happen at a breakneck pace, while others silently come and go, all of it ground into a mush after too much all at once. Again, the largest detractor here remains the binge model the series is released on. Episodes meld together and make it hard to enjoy the smaller pieces of this series that make the show worth watching at all.
New characters, such as Claire (Molly Gordon), a romantic interest for Carmy, never get to shine among the narrative’s chaos. With eight key characters, the half-hour episodes are simply not long enough to truly bring new ones into the mix without others suffering for it.
The first season was almost forgettable, its eight episodes feeling like a blur, and the same feeling lingers over this season that, once again, flies by. A larger conversation needs to be had in how the binge-viewing model has hurt the quality of television, but for now, we will just have to include The Bear on the list of binge-viewing casualties. (Self-regulation in your own watching may be the key; schedule viewings a week apart.)
Still, season two delivers even more of what made The Bear a hit the first time around. The series understands what makes it sing and turns up the heat, with its cast, characters, and writing better than ever. There are flashy guest stars, heart-wrenching flashbacks, and episodes that may make you redo your best TV of all time list.
Things aren’t cooked to perfection, but that doesn’t stop The Bear from being one of this summer’s best television treats.
All episodes of both seasons of The Bear are available on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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