For a couple years now I’ve been seeing people around the web chirp the praises for a show I never considered watching. Not for any particular reason, but more due to the fact that there was always something else to watch, and the thumbnail of a disgruntled group of restaurant employees led by an even more displeased twenty-something dude with a surfer hairdo didn’t exactly lure my interest. But when the show took away an astonishing ten statuettes at the 75th Primetime Emmy’s last month, my wife and I realized that we could no longer let this show pass us by. Now nearly finished with the second season, and I’m kicking myself for not jumping in earlier. Because The Bear is without question one of the best things I’ve seen on television in recent years. From its performances, to its editing, to its anxiety-inducing pace, this is a masterfully crafted show that doesn’t skip a beat nor waste a single second. I could outline dozens of reasons as to why this series works as well as it does, but for the sake of efficiency here are the two that are particularly important to mention.
Unashamedly Flawed Characters, Performed Beautifully
One of the trends I’ve noticed over the past decade or so within modern film and television are writers (who oftentimes must bow to the whims of executives, especially when higher budget products are concerned) afraid to write characters that are flawed. A fear that creating a character that’s purposefully unlikeable will turn off audiences and make for an unwatchable show that has no one to root for. As such, you’ll get a flurry of stories with characters that flirt with their defects, but only on a superficial plot level that forgoes genuine nuance in favour of a simplicity that negates any and all character investigation, which results in a “palatable” experience that requires nothing from the audience watching.
The Bear doesn’t care to be “palatable.” Its characters are, like humans, flawed. Arrogant, obnoxious, frustrating, uncommunicative, deflective, condescending, unassertive—they run the gamut of human traits; from the good to the exhaustingly bad. Yet, it’s within the way in which the show keeps things grounded that had me continue to care for these messy mob of misfits. I genuinely abhorred every character in The Bear at one point or another, but never once did I not want them to succeed. To overcome their personal struggles that has led them to act the way that they do and find success, professionally and personally. The character and dialogue writing of this show is some of the best I’ve seen in recent years. It never tries to send a message, or keep up with modern-day lingo that has characters sounding more like they’re in a Twitter (X) thread than actual people talking. It doesn’t try to make excuses for a character’s behaviour in a trite way, or abruptly run to a resolution. Rather, it allows those moments of wrongdoing to breathe, and for their stories to happen naturally with an arc that doesn’t feel forced.
Writing can only go so far if the performances don’t hold up. And boy do the performances in The Bear hold up. It’s rare to see a group of actors not only holding their own individually, but to share a riveting chemistry as an ensemble. Whether it’s them having to play off one another in the chaos of the kitchen where characters are having to talk over one another incessantly, in the one-on-one scenes that sees two characters share a quiet moment, or in the solo moments of wordless introspection, every actor—and I mean every actor—brings forth a truly inspired performance that brings their respective characters to life with a nuance and grounded-ness that’s incredibly refreshing. The show also does a great job in giving each character a moment to shine. Even if it’s a small close-up reaction shot or a couple words of dialogue, the culmination of these moments combined with each actor’s efficiency in bringing out their “inner life,” gives us all we need to know about what they’re going through at any given moment, and where they are in their arc.
If you’re looking for a series that showcases the importance of editing, The Bear is it. Joanna Naugle, Adam Epstein, Nia Imani, and Megan Mancini are four names that need to be recognized when mentioning this show. They’ve mastered their craft and have cut a show that doesn’t skip a beat. The Bear moves at a break-neck, borderline frantic pace, and rarely gives you a chance to breathe. When it does, these editors are sure to do so purposefully to hone your attention on a specific moment, character, setting, or thing. Its pace, though unsettling and at times anxiety-inducing, is always servicing the story at hand. The cuts aren’t perfect, either. This isn’t a Whiplash where the edits are following the kicks of a drum. Some cuts fall off the beat, are at times jarring or outright incoherent, but never random for the sake of being so. It all comes together to create an energy. An energy that sets the show’s tone. A tone that’s both chaotic and unhinged, while remaining grounded and emotional. Every frenzied scoop of a ladle and chop of an onion that has characters screaming “behind!” and “corner!” is always spliced with a quick close-up of something that gives the narrative heft or nuance, and puts the emotional core, the stakes, at the forefront.
Suffice it to say, The Bear has me hooked. It’s a series that knows exactly what it is, from the production design, to the performances, to the editing, and it never apologizes for being so. It’s written with a realism that feels truthful rather than cynical. Its characters are humanistically flawed, but never without nuance, and are all performed with a beautiful heart by each of the cast members. I’m glad it’s gotten the recognition it deserves, and hope it ends when it should, rather than when Hulu deems it needs to.