When it was originally on: 2022-Present
Original network: Hulu. Or maybe “FX on Hulu”
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A young chef from the fine dining world returns to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop.
Why I picked it: This is one of the buzzier streaming shows of recent memory, and seems like it might be up my alley anyway. (I love food!) I’m still not entirely sure how much of a full-on “hit” it is outside of critic circles, but it at least seems to have that potential.
What I liked: So much! Within the first minute, I instantly know the main challenge that would plague our protagonist: deep financial troubles. There’s overdue bills; our restauranteur ordered 200 pounds of beef, but can only afford 25. Somehow, he has to come up with the rest. Some pilots take a little bit to warm up to, but this one throws you in the deep end right away and I was hooked. Opening up a vending machine and using a bag of quarters to pay for beef is now in my hall of fame of “show don’t tell” ideas.
I also love the dynamic between Carmen and his cousin, Richie. These two spend most of the episode yelling at each other, yet when Carmen is getting torn apart by nerds waiting to play an arcade game, Richie comes to his rescue. I’m a sucker for this trope where family members can’t actually admit that they love each other, but will clearly be there for each other through thick and thin. The relationships already feel so rich and complicated and we’re only a half hour into the story.
I was already primed to like this show because I love food and food tv so much, but I also think the show is cleverly using food to look at a more fundamental theme of human conflict. The Bear is going to be a battle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” vs. “let’s strive for true greatness even if it means more risk.” To up the emotional stakes, both Carmen and Richie view their version as the “right way” to honor their fallen family member’s memory. In Carmen’s case, a brother, in Richie’s case, a cousin.
One of my favorite moments occurs when someone on the restaurant staff asks the potential new hire Sydney if she’s going to win over the family with “impressive” or “delicious.” Sydney shrugs and says “delicious is impressive.” This one line tells us so much about the Sydney character. She refuses to buy into the false dichotomy that is dividing the rest of the characters. She’s the outsider, yet understands both Carmen and his family better than they understand each other. That makes her an extra fun ingredient in The Bear soup.
What I didn’t like: At this point, a lot of the supporting cast kinda blends together. However, the pilot is so good at bringing us into its world that it kind of gets away with that. The world is vivid, and these characters are part of what makes that world, so I’m willing to forgive the fact that many lack their own individual vividness at the beginning.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It seems like a great midpoint between comedy and drama, and it’s hard to find shows that nail this tone the way this pilot did.