Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Bear - Season 2 makes the case for history's "best fictional TV show about a restaurant"

I waited a little while to watch The Bear - Season 2 after its release. I wanted to anticipate and savor my enjoyment of the show.

There probably is no arguing that this is the best-ever fictional TV show about running a restaurant. The only thing that I can think of that comes close is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but that's about a bar and is hardly "run" by the owners. Alice? Nope.

Back in the first season, we met Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), who returned from his wildly successful chef career to take over the operation of his Chicago family's restaurant called The Beef after his brother Michael committed suicide. Those episodes were more about Carmy's struggles re-acclimating to where he grew up and our unique view into the kitchen to witness him teaching a bunch of restaurant workers how to make food magic.

Season 2 keeps some of the kitchen battlefield moments, but now we get a chance (often among a great soundtrack including the likes of Wilco, R.E.M., The Breeders, Taylor Swift, and much more) to learn more about Carmy's team. They work to secure funding to turn The Beef, a fairly run-of-the-mill sandwich eatery, into The Bear, an elite dining experience with high ambitions.

In the lead up to opening night, Carmy struggles to keep his eye on the prize when he succumbs to an actual non-restaurant-related relationship with old acquaintance played by Molly Gordon. But it doesn't seem like he can keep that together.

Meanwhile, the best episodes of the season focus on other players. 

Carmy's second-in-command Sydney, played by an award-worthy Ayo Edebiri, goes on a quest across Chicago to taste other potentially great foods and see if this restaurant direction she's taking her life is a big mistake in a world of daily restaurant failures and economic downturn.

Pastry chef Marcus, played by Lionel Boyce, goes to Copenhagen to apprentice in some of Carmy's former footsteps. 

And Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) transforms, through an apprenticeship he is temporarily sent to across town, from a divorced loser to an exacting and essential component of The Bear's hope to succeed.

In the conversation for best TV episode ever is the Christmas family dinner one, when Carmy's mother Donna, played by a very-high-intensity Jamie Lee Curtis, in maybe her best perfomrance of many great ones, cooks, drinks, wallows, and crashes. But not without inspiring Carmy through food.

The character development and the acting had me fully invested after Season 1, but now the creators have upped it another level. Season 3 can't happen soon enough.

5 out of 5 stars

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