Those Gallagher siblings are moving on, and with The Bear, Jeremy Allen White’s making like Emmy Rossum in a very different way after the pair portrayed Shameless siblings for over a decade. Both were not easy roles, but Lip Gallagher had some tough seasons drenched in alcoholism, opening the door to some of the most heartbreaking moments of the otherwise dramedic show. Both White and Rossum are shaking off that show with Rossum taking a hard left into physical transformation-land to portray a billboard queen in Angelyne. That’s a splashy way to depart from a household-name role, but White’s leaving Lip behind in a subtler way. Don’t get me wrong, The Bear is not a subtle and calm TV show. It is, however, a lot more nuanced than portraying one of the f*cked up kids of William H. Macy’s strung-out patriarch character.
Yet as the saying goes, you can take a guy of out Chicago, but can’t take the Chicago out of… you catch my drift. The Bear does put White back into the Second City and into something vaguely resembling an underbelly. The show is, at once, a quick-and-dirty little ditty and a surprisingly layered story about how you can choose your family, rather than get stuck with a biological one that ain’t so great for one’s well-being. There’s some sweetness to be found here and there, but overall, this is a story about the tug-of-wars experienced by White’s character, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a former NYC fine-dining chef who returns home following a family death. He undertakes running the family sandwich shop, where all hell breaks loose on a daily basis.
Carmy’s not used to this grind, where he’s struggling to balance the books and still attempting to express some sort of creativity through food. He’s got a loose-cannon of a cousin, portrayed by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who’s prone to waving (dangerous) things around and brandishing megaphones in order to (paradoxically) calm down situations. This is where I say that Ebon Moss-Bachrach really is something else. He’s a versatile actor, but no matter how many varied roles (The Punisher, NOS4A2, The Dropout) he takes on, I can never initially see him onscreen without thinking of a certain “mature” scene on Girls. That’s clearly my problem, not his, because he’s pretty great in The Bear while giving us a taste of exactly why Carmy probably left home in the first place.
And you might wonder why this show called The Bear. Admittedly, I’m mildly disappointed to report that The Bear is not a reference to The Revenant, and the title doesn’t come from the name of the family restaurant, The Original Beef of Chicagoland. Let’s just say that there are some surreal interludes that explain the show’s title, but things really don’t come into full focus for those moments until the season finale. There’s plenty of some baggage involved with the fam, and Carmy’s got unfinished business, which probably will never be finished, although he will try to exorcise those demons by attempting to transform this sandwich shop into a food mecca while militantly addressing everyone as “chef,” and boy, he’s doing the work.
It’s a frenetically paced show with Carmy on an urgent crusade and pushing his motley kitchen crew to the brink while it’s apparent that his grip on reality ain’t all that. He’s got a lot of work to do on himself for, well, reasons. Fortunately for all involved, he hires a young up-and-coming talent (played by Ayo Edebir) as his sous chef who ends up being far more practical than Carmy, although they bounce off each other well. Both of them harbor pasts that could properly be described as “complicated,” and as their dynamic develops, their articulated revelations — about how they both ended up in this place — speak volumes about where their partnership could eventually take the joint.
This first season, however, is all about the urgency of running this heavily trafficked restaurant while beginning that journey in a flat-footed way. The camaraderie is part of the sheer fun of watching the kitchen crew interact, but emotions also run high on a regular basis. The show makes stunning effect out of the high-pitched, often steam-related noises at moments when tensions run high, often reaching a literal boiling point and even, at times, sparking fires. It’s a bubbling journey that occasionally falls into simmer mode during moments of Carmy’s quiet reflections, but that calmness never lasts long. The clattering noises, the chaotic visuals, and the grittiness of the work at hand all serve to bring us into the present after diving into Carmy’s mind about the past. He’s a messy guy who’s attempting to wrap his arms around an overflow and somehow keep it all contained, and it’s a fascinating train wreck to watch.
Ultimately, The Bear is a show where relationships, familial and otherwise, can stress one’s sanity to the max. Food frequently ends up being synonymous with the way that these characters communicate, although the show’s careful not to get preachy with its ultimate message to the audience. The first season’s the perfect length, as well, without feeling like it cuts corners to achieve 30-minute runtimes. Carmy, as a character, is a trip to witness, as he pushes himself to the brink in an attempt to absolve himself of (at first) a mountain of baggage. I do hope that, eventually, the guy can take a day off, but for the time being, Carmy keeps doing his thing and giving Jeremy Allen White a real opportunity to prove himself as a leading man. Although Carmy himself is no charmer, be careful because this show might just creep into you and give FX another sleeper of a streaming series (on Hulu), and another truly original one at that.
‘The Bear’ streams on Hulu on June 23.