Restaurants offer their customers calm, welcoming spaces to unwind, spend time with loved ones, and most importantly, enjoy a meal that they often cannot prepare themselves. If they leave satisfied with their evening, customers seldom question what happens behind closed doors. Christopher Storer’s comedy-drama series “The Bear” offers a glimpse into the culinary world, and it’s far from calm.
“The Bear” was released on Hulu on June 23. It stars Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a skilled chef working to breathe new life into his late brother’s sandwich shop, The Original Beef of Chicagoland. Carmen attempts to impose new standards and practices on a stubborn, yet experienced team after leaving the world of fine dining,
One of the show’s strongest assets is its writers, who, co-showrunner Joanna Calo reveals, have all worked in food service. She tells The Hollywood Reporter that they were able to direct more of their energy towards developing the show’s characters because they knew the ins and outs of the restaurant industry.
This is evident in the main characters, whose fully developed backstories and personalities contribute to their roles in the kitchen. The most compelling of these characters is Carmen, who suffers from anxiety as a result of working under emotionally abusive head chefs, and struggles with grieving the loss of his estranged brother – fostering unhealthy habits in his professional and personal lives.
White’s performance aids in understanding why Carmen acts the way he does, especially during tense scenes. He maintains a straight face and monotone voice throughout most of the show, which speaks to his character’s tendency to bottle up his stress and anxiety.
White doesn’t hold back when his character gets overwhelmed by stress and lashes out. Tight framing and close ups draw attention to White’s sweaty, red face as he yells, causing his veins to pop out of his neck. His habits of stomping around the kitchen and punching the air as he speaks demand his staff’s, and audience’s, undivided attention. White also communicates Carmen’s stress in more subtle ways throughout the series, like a lack of eye contact with others.
Most impressive of all is the show’s sound design, especially in its penultimate episode, “Review.” In his latest attempt to modernize The Original Beef, Carmen introduces an online order system. The chefs are clearly unprepared for the amount of orders coming in. The sound of order slips printing, the phone ringing, the chefs’ frantic footsteps, electric guitar riffs, and pots and pans clanging together all compete for the audience’s attention and collaborate to create the perfect storm.
Layers upon layers of sound effects and music are enough to send someone into sensory overload, add a chorus of screaming chefs to the mix and they will feel the tension that the characters feel. Throughout the scene, an enraged Carmen barks orders at his staff and storms around the kitchen, throwing any object that obstructs his path. The other chefs, stressed as ever, turn to Carmen’s methods, adding to the chaos and causing their boss to lash out even more. This calculated chaos immerses the audience in the world of “The Bear,” transporting them from the comfort of their living rooms to the center of The Original Beef’s kitchen, unprepared to face Carmen’s wrath.
“The Bear” is easily the most addicting show of the year. Its rough-around-the-edges characters grabbed my attention, and its quick pace kept me engaged. The show has more than its fair share of anxiety-inducing scenes, lighter subplots about found family and embracing your creative side help create a perfect balance between tension and peace. I found myself deeply immersed in the show’s world thanks to the masterful performances and incredible sound design. I highly recommend “The Bear” to everyone except restaurant staff. Don’t torture yourselves on your day off.
“The Bear” was renewed for a second season in July. It is available to stream on Hulu.