SERIES "The Bear"
WHERE Season 2 now streaming on Hulu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Over the 10-episode second season (which dropped June 22), chef Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) and now-partner Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) prepare to launch their new restaurant, "The Bear," with their financial backer Uncle Cicero (Oliver Platt) watching from a concerned distance while Carmy's very pregnant sister Sugar (Abby Elliott) helps with the books. One-time line cook Tina Marrero (Liza Colón-Zayas) and pastry/dessert chef Marcus Brooks (Lionel Boyce) learn new skills in preparation for the big opening, while Carmy's cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) grudgingly does as well. Meanwhile, Carmy has a love interest, childhood friend Claire Bear (Molly Gordon).
MY SAY By general fan consensus, there was one certifiably great episode this season — the sixth, entitled "Fishes." This was the episode that rattles around your brain long after streaming, as it subconsciously probes your memory, poking into dark forgotten corners where your own dim recollection of a misbegotten holiday dinner (it was about the Berzatto family Christmas dinner) is stored. For "Fishes," that was the booze. The gaslighting. The insanity. The self-destruction.
And the Emmys have decided this show is a comedy?
But the episode that follows — "Forks" — might actually be better. This is where Carmy sends Richie to a three-star restaurant to smooth over some of his (umm) rough edges, and where he is consigned to polishing forks instead. At first Richie is indignant, then resigned and finally inspired. He sees the light, or at least gets what Carmy has known all along — the pursuit of excellence for excellence's sake, the unalloyed joy of three-star craftsmanship.
There's a redemptive spirit to this episode, in part because Richie is such a redemptive character. Yet "Forks" does seem to get right at the heart of what "The Bear" is really all about, and the question it explored so well this season: Can human frailty be overcome through art? Can the whole messy fraught package of humanness that burdens us all somehow be vanquished by craftsmanship at the highest level? The metaphor, or case in point, in "The Bear" is culinary art, but any profession, sport or hobby could do, even the making of a TV show like "The Bear." There are so many variables in the pursuit, so many ways to screw up. Carmy knows perfection is an illusion, and this realization cripples him. Yet he soldiers on anyway, like some desolate character out of Beckett: I can't go on. I'll go on …
Then there's Richie, the everyman, the stand-in for the rest of us, as fraught and messy as they come (or come here). He catches a glimpse of the promised land and he likes what he sees. Richie starts to wear a suit by the end of the episode because, as he explains, "I look good in one." In fact, he does.
There are, by the way, lots of grace notes like this throughout the second. They drift by without calling much attention to themselves but effortlessly capture theme or character or tension. In another stand-out episode, "Honeydew," a tightshot frames Marcus' spoon as he attempts to execute the perfect ice cream scoop, with chef Luca (Will Poulter) watching, while somewhere, just out of their sight-line, a sign reads "every second counts..." There's another in "Fishes" when Berzatto matriarch Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis) realizes her dinner has turned into a hot mess, and her face contorts in agony. In that instance you realize "The Bear" is a certifiable tragedy — a tragedy waiting to happen, and one that already has.
The general fan consensus is also that the second season is better than the much-celebrated first, but the first was at least better in this regard: It was eight taut episodes compared to the 10 less-taut, occasionally indulgent and padded episodes that made up 2. "The Bear'' now knows the world is watching, or at least the awards-dispensing TV industry is, and has the stunt casting to prove it — Poulter, Olivia Colman, Bob Odenkirk, John Mulaney, Sarah Paulson all appear. While their cameos were memorable, if fleeting, "The Bear '' is best when those relative "unknowns" are on the screen and pushing the story — White, Edebiri, Moss-Bachrach, Colón-Zayas, Elliott, Boyce.
At least they won't be "unknown" much longer. The Emmys will see to that and the Emmys, by the way, won't be wrong.
BOTTOM LINE With "Succession" now over, "The Bear" makes a compelling case for being the best show on TV.