The Bear Season 3 Episode 1 Review

The Bear is at the pinnacle of contemporary television. In reality, forget about that; it’s one of the best television shows ever produced, and season 3 builds on the excellent work of the previous two seasons. It’s hectic, joyful, demanding, and revelatory in ways that a sitcom about a diner selling beef sandwiches shouldn’t attempt. Chefs (including The Bear’s cast) frequently discuss the honour of being a part of so many significant events in people’s life, with their cuisine serving as the focal point of memories. It’s difficult not to be romantic about The Bear in those words.

The third season of The Bear feels like a confident progression of an already terrific show: it is complex, chaotic, and uplifting in equal measure. It isn’t completely constant, which is why it’s not the perfect score Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) would die for, but the flaws contribute to the flavour.

When we last saw Chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, he was as alone as a human being could be at a restaurant that had just served a full house of friends and family. Trapped in the frigid, blue light of the walk-in refrigerator, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) cursed, pounded the wall, and blamed his relationship with Claire (Molly Gordon) for keeping him from achieving perfection. “I am the best because I didn’t have any of this f-cking bullsh-t,” he snarled out loud, oblivious that a distraught Claire, who had left Carmy a voicemail expressing her love for him, was hearing on the other side of the door. Then he provoked a fight with his “cousin,” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), which ended with both men screaming, “You f-ckin’ need me!”

That was how the outstanding second season of FX’s The Bear concluded, following the tumultuous, if not wholly failed, soft opening of the restaurant that the show’s characters had spent months constructing. The climax ended a season of professional development for Carmy and his level-headed deputy, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who invested in training the staff of his family’s Italian beef restaurant for fine-dining perfection. While the line chefs attended culinary school, Richie learned front-of-house technique, Syd found inspiration in Chicago’s food scene, and pastry prodigy Marcus (Lionel Boyce) apprenticed in Copenhagen. Carmy made equally significant progress in his stunted personal life before convinced himself that he had to choose between art and love. The show’s intense third season, now streaming on Hulu, explores just how wrong he is.

It’s an arc set in Carmy’s lonely, neurotic head, which has never been The Bear’s strong suit. Grief over his brother Mikey (John Bernthal), which felt somewhat generic for much of Season 1, has given way to an obsession, instilled by an impossible family whose intermittently violent dysfunction we witnessed in Season 2’s anarchic holiday-feast flashback episode “Fishes” and fueled by an abusive former boss (Joel McHale), with external validation in the form of a Michelin star. Sombre to the point of melodrama, the bloated premiere, “Tomorrow,” set the morning after last year’s finale, drifts through the most emotional moments of Carmy’s career—a bleak slog, despite the return of an ensemble that has expanded to include McHale, Olivia Colman, Will Poulter, John Mulaney, and actual New York culinary titan Daniel Boulud.

Fortunately, “Tomorrow” is the season’s worst episode (and, to be fair to creator Christopher Storer, The Bear never loses sight of its tortured-artist chef’s self-centeredness). “I think you managed, in a miraculous way, to make this about yourself,” Syd remarks to Carmy at one point. It’s followed by “Next,” in which Carmy scribbles a preposterous list of the restaurant’s “non-negotiables,” ranging from a direction to “constantly evolve through passion and creativity” to a totally new menu every day, damn the already-overworked employees. Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt), The Bear’s cantankerous backer, is also taken aback by Carmy’s idealism, as he cannot justify the price of procuring an entirely different supply of high-end ingredients each morning.

The season hits its stride with Episode 3, “Doors,” a great half-hour of kitchen chaos. It begins with a scene that highlights the season’s major subject. Marcus delivers a eulogy at his mother’s burial, who died while he was working at the friends-and-family opening, and reflects on how she made him feel loved. By the end of her long illness, she was unable to talk. “It almost felt, sometimes, like that communication was better,” he says. “Like, we really had to pay attention to each other.” That intense dedication to others is at the heart of The Bear Season 3. Carmy, who comes across more as a villain than a hero in these episodes, exemplifies how neither a person nor a restaurant can exist only on art.

The notion that food service is about making people feel cared for—that the service is just as important as the food—pervades the season. While Carmy and Richie’s relationship deteriorates, Sydney, reflecting each character’s loneliness, takes the time to firmly but kindly bring Tina’s (Liza Colón-Zayas) talents up to speed. Colón-Zayas receives a well-deserved highlight on the show in “Napkins,” a flashback episode masterfully filmed by Edebiri that recalls Tina’s journey to working at The Beef. She wanders into the shop in a desperate attempt to find work after being laid off. Richie, sensing Tina’s sadness, gives her a free coffee and sandwich. That gesture of compassion sparks a teary chat with Mikey. “Do you like the work?” she inquires. His frank response: “I like the people.” Tina gets it. He hires her.

The themes of care and interdependence transcend the kitchen, as they must in a play that celebrates work but recognises that it isn’t everything in life. We witness “dead moms club” members Syd and Marcus realise that, as she puts it, “it’s scary, relying on a person.” Parent-child relationships become a theme, from Tina telling Mikey, “I don’t need to save the world, I just want to feed my kid,” to Richie questioning his place in his daughter’s life now that she’s about to have a stepfather. It all culminates in another great episode, “Ice Chips,” which is largely a two-hander in which Carmy’s sister Sugar (Abby Elliott) is admitted to the maternity hospital with their often-terrible mother, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Donna, because no one else answers the phone when she phones to announce she’s in labour. For the estranged mother and daughter, the Ronettes’ ‘Baby, I Love You’, blasting from Donna’s mobile speakers, says what words cannot.

That is not to argue that generations of emotional traumas are healed in the span of ten television episodes. The Bear’s patient realism sets it apart from so many previous comedies in which damaged characters aspire to become better people, such as Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, and Shrinking. Despite a few epiphanies, the season fails to address its main conflicts. Tina has yet to become a master chef. Richie has yet to truly show up for his ex. Syd is yet to face the most difficult decision of her career.

Carmy may be beginning to understand that the culinary dictum whatever grows together, goes together applies to more than simply produce. But, like a young tomato plant thrusting its stem out of the earth, he still has a lot of growing to go.

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