Every so often I bust out a post dedicated to a show or movie I have watched as soon as I see it rather than wait for my monthly Media edition. Last weekend I watched an entire season of a streaming service exclusive that rocked my world. Yes, I watched the latest season of Cobra Kai last week. But this post is not about that.
This post is about The Bear.
I caught some of the buzz for The Bear over the summer. But since we didn’t have Hulu at the time, I added it to my list of shows to watch and moved on. I understood it was about a family restaurant in Chicago, but, honestly, I thought it was a documentary rather than a scripted dramedy.
So I was a bit surprised as I watched episode one, and it took me a few minutes to find my footing. But once I did, I was blown away.
The Bear is one of the best shows I’ve watched this year, right up there with Barry and Better Call Saul. Hell, it is instantly one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.
The characters are all so well developed, even in the very tight window of eight, half-hour episodes. You quickly understand who they are and develop strong feelings for each of them.
That ability to squeeze a lot into a little time is a common theme throughout the season. There are plenty of artsy moments, showcases for the culinary skills used by the restaurant’s crew, for example. These moments are satisfyingly brief, so they neither impede the story nor seem pretentious.
The camerawork is off-the-charts great. For starters I’m not sure how they filmed in a tight kitchen. There’s often barely room for the chefs let alone squeezing in cameras and crew, lighting, etc. Second, the show is loaded with exceptionally long shots. I didn’t go back to see if any tricks were used to make multiple shots appear to be single shots or different takes that were stitched together. Several of these scenes feature long monologues or dialogue, so you naturally wonder how many takes it took to get it all onto tape. If you’re into this kind of thing you will geek out on these scenes.
The acting is superb across the entire cast, but Jeremy Allen White just destroys in the lead role of Carmen Berzatto. His extended meltdown in episode seven and his monologue at the AA meeting in episode eight are two of the most stunning acting performances I can recall.
I love the arc of the season in general, and how the show runners present it. Your typical show will spend episode one giving introductions of all the players and backstory on how they got to this point in their lives. In The Bear, we get thrown right into the story with no explanation. Those details are slowly revealed over the entire season. In fact, just minutes before episode eight’s big reveal we are still learning things from the past that set that moment up.
Another wonderful thing about the show is the pacing of the story. We get this kitchen crew, a mix of established faces with established routines and two newcomers who shake things up, and how they battle each other to find common ground until they have a series of big wins that brings them together. Then shit quite literally goes insane and wrecks everything they’ve built together in episode seven, “Review,” and episode eight, “Braciole.”
Oh, man, “Review”! That has to be one of the greatest 20 minutes in TV history. Just a bat-shit crazy, four-alarm, total, mind-blowing meltdown. It will make your chest tighten and pulse rise as you watch everything fall apart. Each element in those 20 minutes is perfect, but what really makes the episode shine is how it is limited to those 20 minutes. There’s no long setup before or cooldown after. We are thrown into the disaster’s midst, watch Carmen and his crew attempt to deal with it, and then get yanked out.
The Bear is a brilliant piece of art. It is a nearly flawless show anchored by terrific writing, a killer soundtrack, and unforgettable performances by its cast. There are hilarious moments, beautiful moments, incredibly intense moments, and moments that can make you cry. It has everything.
Oh, and how did I finally get to the show? When the college football season began I remembered that our Verizon plan offers the entire Disney+ package for free, so I got ESPN+ fired up for the first KU game. It took me until last week to get Hulu going again.