The Bear – Season One

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Created by Christopher Storer
Episodes : 8
FX on Hulu
Release Date: June 23rd 2022

The Bear opens with one of the all-time greatest first episodes of any television series in recent memory. Yeah, I hear you, you think I’m being a shameless hype merchant delivering meaningless hyperbole, but if a television show’s job is to grab you from the very first episode and not let go, then The Bear excels and then some. 

Right from its surreally dreamy depiction of an actual bear, Christopher Storer throws us into the mix of things, delivering one of the shoutiest, sweatiest and most anxiety riddled depictions of life inside a kitchen ever committed to screen. You can almost smell the food sizzling away, while the sweat and the anger flows off the screen as it grips like a vice from the get go and doesn’t loosen the tight hold it has on you across its eight masterful episodes. 

There’s something of the Safdie Brothers in those first thirty minutes, a feeling of a rising panic attack that will not stop its ascent. The viewer finds themselves with an urge of wanting it to stop but in this case also not because the hold that Storer’s writing and direction and the performances of the cast have is almost vice-like. Like all great television episodes, you hate that it ends, but you’re almost weirdly glad for the respite, at least until the next episode begins. 

Such is the level of intensity of its opening half-hour that you might be forgiven for thinking how the series will manage to deliver this prolonged sense of anxiety across the remaining seven episodes, but bravely it doesn’t aim for that relentless all the time. Things settle a little in episode two, finding its moments of drama in the atmosphere and the smaller details of its characters lives. It’s a bringing together of one of the very finest ensembles on screen in a very long time, the little moments dotted around either through micro-aggressions or those little moments of hope giving the series a different palette and flavour (apologies for the food metaphors) than the onslaught of fraught emotion than at first appears. 

The latter component does return here and there, most strikingly in the penultimate episode that may very well be the absolute greatest episode of television in 2022, perhaps the best thing put to screen this year. Two minutes into the episode, we arrive at the restaurant with the rest of the characters and writer Joanna Calo throws us into a bubbling build up of drama, anger and toxicity, all of which is captured by Storer behind the camera opting to capture it all in one continuous take. You’re so drawn into the whole thing that it’s around the halfway mark of the episode before you even realise just how it is that Storer is directing it. It’s an astonishing piece of television.

Could this be one of the very best television series of 2022? Yes, and then some. The term world building is thrown around so much nowadays that it has almost become one of those terms that is a catch all for so much and weirdly so little, and yet Storer right away doesn’t just build a world, he encapsulates so much of the stories of its characters as we meet them that one almost feels like that we have (in the best possible way, mind you) been thrown into a television series mid-flow. 

You could imagine a whole season or two of television leading up to the moment when we first meet Carmen Berzatto, thrown into he deep end of running his late brother’s Italian beef sandwich shop. The deep end almost doesn’t cover it because even the viewer is scrambling to catch up with the details of his life, the suicide of his brother, the debts that have only grown worse and the onslaught of dialogue that usually ends with ‘yes, chef’.

A rare moment of calm for the staff of The Original Beef of Chicagoland.

It captures the minutiae of its characters lives and their behaviour so delicately and perfectly that it counterbalances the more ferocious moments beautifully and in a manner that makes the balancing act of its moments of ferocious pace and small character moments something of a tour de force. It’s anchored to a star making performance from Jeremy Allen White, his face always etched with a sad haunted look, determined to be the best he can be but doing it in an environment that doesn’t expect his approach to the world of this particular kitchen. 

Flashbacks from his past working for one of New York’s best restaurants are haunted by the presence of his sociopathic boss (played with a surprising amount of malicious menace by a very much cast-against-type Joel McHale), scenes that themselves are more quietly distressing but no less so when the level of toxicity is played as potently and graphically as they are here. That it’s coming from an actor best known for comedy and being incredibly silly in a dead pan way in either Community or The Soup/The Joel McHale Show makes it even more shocking.

It’s not a gloomy doom fest thankfully. Storer and the cast here find moments of humanity and hope in the littlest of details, and while Allen is the emotional centre, it’s the performances from Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Liza Colon-Zayas and Lionel Boyce that elevate this even further to classic status. These are characters that do alarming things, wonderful things and sometimes joyful things, but Storer captures life in violent grace strokes, and the joy is balanced out with occasional bitterness, vindictive emotions and high tension. It makes the scenes of sweetness and light all the more joyful, and you might be surprised to find after the first episode that those types of moments are to be found more frequently than you might have expected.

The series is frequently anchored to White who delivers some of the finest acting of the year, but the heart of the series is frequently to be found in Edebiri’s performance as Sydney, becoming the sous chef and who has ambitions for both herself and the the restaurant and who balances out the intensity of Carmen with her own positivity and hopes for the future. Sometimes those hopes get thrown under the bus, and her decision at the end of the penultimate episode is one of those ‘oh no’ moments that has an air of inevitability to it that you desperately hope will not happen, and is captured with subtlety and grace. It’s a legitimate star making performance.

The use of guest stars and cameos throughout are surprisingly masterful and never call attention to themselves. You get the obligatory ‘oh’ moment when you see them, but then you’re sucked back into the stories and the words that are being delivered. 

It’s hard to know whether to recommend this as a binge or not. The tension is soaked to perfection, but to watch it in one go might almost be too much. Then again it’s hard to look away. It’s the perfect television series. You can’t stop, you can’t look away and you’ll just want to keep going. 

A masterpiece and instant classic? Yes, chef!

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