The Bear Season 2 Starts with a Simmer Before Letting It Rip

TV Reviews The Bear
The Bear Season 2 Starts with a Simmer Before Letting It Rip

Second seasons are often cursed; especially when it comes to shows that knocked it out of the park with their debut seasons. Christopher Storer’s dramedy on Hulu (via FX), The Bear, fits that bill perfectly. The biggest hit of the summer last year—exceeding the expectations of its writers, cast members, and creator, too—The Bear Season 2 had an awful lot to live up to. I want you to keep that in mind when you start bingeing the series, because there will be moments when you feel that the follow-up to such an airtight debut is a little skewed and off at first before it finds its footing. That feeling will slowly evaporate as you get further in (past the first half), and you’ll recognize the same passionate and full-on show you fell in love with the first time.

Season 2 works quite differently than its predecessor. Since we now get 10 episodes with varying runtimes, the script is a little looser, taking the time to flesh out each character’s arc. Picking up where Season 1 left off, we join Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and his work (and real) family as they attempt to build and open a brand new restaurant from scratch. To get a grip on the million things that come with opening a joint, Carmy’s sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) steps up as project manager. Investing every penny their brother Mike (Jon Bernthal) left them in tomato cans, they still come up short and have to pitch Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) for financial backup if they want to execute their full vision. Thus the majority of the plot revolves around problems the Berzattos need to solve in order to get the place running before they can actually work in it.

While they do that, as the clock counts down to the opening day, Carmy uses his culinary connections in the industry to send his employees on advanced training. That means we often follow those characters individually in a new environment rather than collectively as part of a team. The biggest appeal of The Bear was the not-so-smooth dynamics among a rough kitchen crew as they learned to work together and got to know one another personally and professionally. The debut season unfolded in a tension-filled vacuum that forced these people to be confronted with each other at all times. That created the panic- and anxiety-inducing atmosphere The Bear triumphed more realistically than any other film or series before. In contrast, Season 2 is more opened up and often takes place outside the restaurant, focusing on one or two characters at the time. The trouble with that is that not all of these people are as interesting on their own as they are within a team.

The irresistible power of the series was the raw and explosive chemistry between characters, oftentimes driving each other to the verge of a breakdown of some sort. That roughness, however, also polished their effectiveness as a team and forced them to become brutally honest and vulnerable. With its new approach, Season 2 eliminates that aspect almost completely in the first five episodes. The absence of that volatile energy is not only palpable but gets to a point where it almost feels like you’re watching an entirely different show—not a bad one, mind you, but not the one you expect. It’s all part of the plan, though, gradually building up to a boiling point where all hell breaks loose.

So while it takes a minute to adjust to this slower pace at first, the series does a good job balancing that out with fantastic wit, sharp humor, and a spotlessly chosen music selection (the songs playing extensively in the background, low-key, is a nice touch). Storer clearly had a well-conceived plan going into the new season, so the periods that Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson), Marcus (Lionel Boyce), and Richie spend away will eventually pay off (some more than others). Carmy believes in them enough to know what they need to maximize their potential.

And then there are the surprises, which would be a sin to spoil (the network was specific about spoilers for a reason) because every one of them is a blast. Admittedly, the crew worked from a bigger budget this time, and Storer didn’t waste a penny on anything unworthy. Let’s just say that Season 2 will make a lot of viewers who wanted certain subplots to properly unfold in Season 1 very happy. In these 10 episodes (which were sent out to critics for review), anything that remained largely undiscussed before gets addressed beautifully and heartbreakingly.

This brings us to the dysfunctional family relationships and mental health issues the Berzattos are inherently cursed with. We saw that seed planted in the first season (Carmy’s touching speech about his brother at Al-Anon), and now the writers dig into revealing where all of that comes from. That’s still the most potent part of The Bear, which elevates it into among the best dramas currently on television.

What hasn’t changed (thankfully) in this new season, however, is the passionate love for food. Cooking and eating are still the love language of most of these characters, and the writers once again highlight in tasteful and mouth-watering ways what it all means to them. Whether it’s meat, pasta, or artistically prepared desserts, the effort that goes into making them is evidently a craft that requires relentless honing. Besides their emotional bonds, it’s what unites these people more than anything else.

Overall, The Bear remains one of the best original shows on TV, even if the performances often outmatch and rise above the writing this time around. With such a talented cast—and many emerging young actors—it’s not that surprising that Season 2 lets it rip once again.

All 10 episodes of FX’s The Bear premiere Thursday, June 22nd on Hulu.

Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Slant Magazine, and Certified Forgotten. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Substack (@akospeterbencze).

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