By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
3 Stars (out of four)
Ten new episodes on Hulu.
It’s time to Bear Down.
Just about every major character in Season Two of the Chicago-strong, darkly funny, beautifully written and at times deeply moving “The Bear” is leaning into the next chapter of their lives with energy and passion — and in some cases, more than a little trepidation:
Chef/restaurant operator Jeremy Allen White’s Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto tells Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney, a talented chef in her own right: “You’re going to have to care about everything, more than anything” in order to make it in the restaurant business, but Carmen is also at least considering the possibility of some kind of life outside the kitchen. As for Sydney, she’s committed to being Carmen’s partner and protege, but also to finding her own voice, her own path.
Richie aka “Cuz” (the intense and fiery Ebon Moss-Bachrach), best friend of Carmen’s late brother, Michael, is trying to control his fits of rage, even as he wonders if there’s a place for him in this world.
Pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce, doing beautifully layered work) and veteran line cooks Tina and Ebraheim (Liza Colon-Zayas and Edwin Lee Gibson, both subtly powerful) have been given the opportunity to expand their respective horizons.
Carmen’s sister Natalie aka “Sugar” (the wondrous Abby Elliott) has a lot going on in her life, but she finds it increasingly difficult to stay away from the restaurant. This motley crew might drown without her.
As for Fak (Matty Matheson), what can I say, he’s still the funniest, warmest, most likable guy you’d ever want to hang around with — even though he might drive you crazy from time to time.
“The Bear” creator Christopher Storer and co-showrunner Joanna Calo once again make great use of the city; even the obligatory interstitial shots of CTA trains whizzing along are framed in a unique and fresh way. And while the subject matter here is much more grounded and grittier than “Ted Lasso,” the one thing these series have in common is a second season in which we get to know more about the lives of a myriad of fascinating and well-rounded supporting characters.
The electric White is still front and center (there’s a reason he won all those awards), with the brilliant Edebiri essentially a co-lead, but a number of other players have their own story arcs, their own moments to shine — and the gifted ensemble cast is more than up to the task. It’s a joy to watch them at work.
(Note: I’ve seen the entire 10-episode run of Season Two, but per the guidelines issued by FX, this review is concentrating on the first four episodes. Even with that, we are going to tread lightly and withhold any detailed discussion about major plot developments or new additions to the cast.)
As you’ll recall from the finale of Season One, Carmy has made the decision to close The Original Beef of Chicagoland and reboot with a restaurant called The Bear.
Spoiler alert: Not all will go smoothly.
Even before the facelift begins, Carmy notices that Richie’s shirt says “Original Berf,” to which Richie deadpans: “It’s a printing mistake. Collectors’ item.” Anyone who has ever owned or operated a new restaurant will no doubt nod in recognition at all the discussions about permits and taxes and certifications and inspections — not to mention the name-drop of Bar Keepers Friend, an essential cleaning product.
Carmy is still dealing with grief, anxiety and an almost paralyzing inability to enjoy life. (He actually Googles “fun” at one point.) Yet, there’s still hope. When he makes a possible connection that actually could have a meaningful impact on his heart, we hear the perfectly placed soundtrack selection of “Strange Currencies” by R.E.M.:
I need a chance, a second chance, a third chance
A fourth chance, a word, a signal
A nod, a little breath
Just to fool myself, to catch myself
And make it real, real …
As was the case with Season One, the musical choices are great, from “The Show Goes On” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range to “You Are Not Alone” by Mavis Staples to “Handshake Drugs” by Wilco. Even when “The Bear” indulges in the obligatory karaoke scene because it’s practically TV Law that every series must at one point have a karaoke scene, it will knock you out.
Chicago remains a primary character in this series, from the location shots to the mentions of real Chicago eateries to guest cameos by some prominent local culinary figures. (We even get a dessert scene in Margie’s Candies.)
In Season One, “The Bear” showed the promise of greatness. In Season Two, that promise is delivered.
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