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FX's The Bear Feels Like a New Chicago Classic

I come from service, Chicago service specifically. I was originally a front-of-house girl—I know every reservation system that has come out in the past decade like the back of my hand—then I moved to a sort of hybrid of back-of-house/front-of-house position. Chits, stages, family, “Yes chef,” “Corner,” “Behind,” and I am sure I’ve said “Heard” in conversations that take place far away from the service floor. Service can be the perfect spot for a creative. I wrote pieces in between shifts, made edits after packing orders, and I’ve cried in the walk-in after a rejection more times than I can count. So I can confirm that FX’s new drama "The Bear" from Christopher Storer is impeccably done, and that the writers have all had to have come from service in this city. If not, they should be teaching a masterclass in script writing research. The story, soundtrack, casting, and locations all come together to create what could be a new Chicago classic TV show.

"The Bear" follows a man named Carmy, portrayed by Jeremy Allen White, (who is a pro at playing a Chicago native at this point after his stint on "Shameless") as he leaves the fine-dining world where he’s a rising star, to come back home and run the family sandwich shop after his brother’s shocking suicide. He’s trying to bring these crystal clean high-end vibes of his former kitchen, to the forever stained floors of the working class one he now finds himself in and it’s going terribly. The family wants to let the place go for good reasons, It’s a money pit, and the memories surrounding it are so bad that his sister Sugar (Abby Elliott) hates stepping inside—but Carmy sees it as a fresh start. He wants to turn it around, but, at first, it doesn’t feel like it’s for the right reasons. It feels like he’s doing it for the clout that could come with the change. He's using the hopeful future success of the restaurant to show everyone, including his dead brother, that he could do it all along. 

Kitchens are a perfect place for any young white cishet man with an inferiority complex and something to prove to thrive in, and Carmy ticks all the boxes. He has the look and feel of your typical millennial chef—sporadic tattoos, constantly disheveled, little concern for his physical and mental health—and it all eventually reaches a boiling point. Everyone around him is affected, his childhood friend Richie who he calls “cousin” (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is resistant to every change he's trying to make, including hiring the green but incredibly driven Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) to come on as his Sous Chef.  

The service industry is also a place where many folks—namely women and Black and brown folks—are overlooked, overworked, and underpaid. Carmy sees the talent in Sydney, her creativity, business acumen, and refusal to put up with Richie’s shit all sell him on her, but like any chef, he uses her as his punching bag when he needs to let off some steam. Ayo uses the series to show us exactly what she’s made of. Her recent stint on the very slept-on "Dickinson"—where she wrote and starred in my favorite episode of the series—solidified my fan status, and she nails "The Bear," where she makes sure that her character is seen as anything but one note.

The cinematography aids in telling the story, with gritty coloring magnifying the tightly shot and often tense kitchen scenes, and the very dope use of rapid-fire stills and videos that represent the psyche of the character on screen. The shots of Chicago in between scenes that would normally act like filler, instead feel like tiny odes to the city. Keen ears and eyes will also pick up on the multiple homages to classic Chicago Pop Culture throughout the series. My favorite one? “Beat City” being played in the background of a certain scene which is definitely an ode to the 1986 John Hughes film “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.”

There is very little fault in the series beyond maybe the unnecessary slurs and perhaps heavy-handed (but welcome to me) Chicago references. Just like a true kitchen, "The Bear" is all heart. Addiction, family trauma, mental health, and gentrification, are all hit on throughout the eight-episode season, but each issue is given room to breathe and story to build upon. With a killer cast, strong writing, and an abundance of surprise guests there is no reason why "The Bear" shouldn’t be cooking a second season meal in the very near future.

Whole season screened for review. All eight episodes premiere on FX on Hulu on June 23rd.

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