Working FOH (front of house) or BOH (back of house) in a restaurant, big or small, is an experience that bonds so many people together. Those who haven’t worked in this industry don’t understand the hold these kinds of careers have on us, or why we go through hell for them. The Bear captures this lifestyle so perfectly, better than I have seen in any series or film thus far.
For reference, I have been some part of the restaurant industry for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a hostess, server, dishwasher, prep cook, bartender, manager… you name it. I’ve worked in family establishments, pubs, country clubs and fast food. I may not have been a chef, but I’ve been in every kind of kitchen you can imagine, especially ones like “The Beef”, the sandwich shop featured in The Bear.
The show follows Carmen Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) who was once a top chef at the “best restaurant in the world”, after his brother Michael (Jon Bernthal) commits suicide, leaving their family food joint to him. Micheal and “Carmey” had a distant relationship as adults, and Carmen was never even allowed to work at The Beef, so being the heir to the family business seemingly made no sense.
“The Bear takes a hard look at the restaurant industry while relaying a deep story about family, loss, addiction and mental health.”
Desperately trying to save the family business, and reconnect to a lost brother, Carmen works himself to the bone to try and make amends. With a complicated kitchen staff played by an excellent cast, The Bear takes a hard look at the restaurant industry while relaying a deep story about family, loss, addiction and mental health…oh, and the food looks amazing.
After hearing feedback online about how The Bear portrays the kitchen, I chose to sit down to watch it with someone who has zero experience in the restaurant industry. After the first episode I asked him how he felt, and his response was “stressed and anxious”, I said “Good, you just worked your first kitchen shift”.
The Bear brought a chaotic first few episodes, the equivalent of an insane Friday night rush. I felt every ounce of tension in the room, and judging by the questions my non-industry watch-partner was asking, they added plenty of phrases, props and tricks only our FOH and BOH staff would catch.
The attention to detail was excellent and really helped to pull me into their kitchen, like I was part of the staff. Perhaps the most realistic moments for me were the glimpses into Carmey’s dreams. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant can tell you about the nightmares that haunt them. They range from seemingly silly things like forgetting someone’s refills, to an entire staff walk out leaving you to handle a packed dinner service on your own—and for some reason, pantless.
Others have tried to capture the restaurant industry, like Waiting or Clerks 2, but many err on the side of humour, where The Bear really focuses on the anxiety, panic, tension, and sense of family a restaurant creates. Jeremy Allen White brings his experience with tension and drama from Shameless to The Bear, and boy can he ever yell.
There is a power behind everything Jeremy Allen White does in this series. Whether it’s lighting a cigarette, screaming at the top of his lungs, or praising someone’s work, he commands the screen and is truly captivating. He manages to hold the audience for a monologue lasting seven minutes without so much as a cut or change in angle. I never looked away.
The supporting cast in The Bear is nothing to scoff at either. Every character has a deep backstory that the show slowly lets the audience in on. People we assume are just screw-ups, like Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), are revealed to be much deeper than they seem. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is the green chef, who Carmey inspires to see a real future in the kitchen.
The over-eager chef, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) is nervous, funny, confident and impatient all at the same time. Hard-ass cook, Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), reminded me of every OG staff member (including myself) who was resistant to change, and her character arc is something I look forward to if we see a second season.
Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Punisher) isn’t the only surprising name attached to the show either, especially considering how little we actually see him in season one. Oliver Platt (The West Wing, 2012) plays Uncle Jimmy, who the Berzatto’s seem to owe a lot of money. Chris Witaske (Lady Bird, Love) plays brother-in-law Pete, who I think there is more to than we know so far. And somehow Joel McHale (Community, Love, Death & Robots) plays a truly haunting NYC Chef.
“The Bear tells a beautifully broken story…”
We are introduced to Carmey’s sister Sugar (Abby Elliot), and eventually his late brother Mikey, played by Bernthal, who seemed like a perfect family at once, torn apart over time. Bernthal’s role is small, but significant, and I’m eager to see if we get to watch more of the past unfold if the story continues.
My only complaints are some strange choices in dream sequences (but hey, they’re dreams) and less than perfect CGI used for flames. Outside of those, all I wanted was more. More story, more screen time for actors, more episodes, you name it.
The Beef is a grimy, broken symbol of the Berzatto family. A place that everyone who had a relationship with Mikey holds dear, and every character is connected to it in some way. Some want to see it thrive, drown or stay the same, but everything is truly connected. The Bear tells a beautifully broken story that just happens to take place in a very accurate representation of the restaurant industry. It sets things up perfectly for season two, and I’m eager to see it.