Day 14 of our Cultural Advent Calendar, in which we count down our highlights of 2022 day by day until Christmas and beyond. Today we end our favorite TV shows and streams of the year with a banger: “The Bear” (Hulu/Disney).
Gastronomy has been spending time on our screens lately. It started with Boiling pointthe gritty, single-shot drama starring everyone’s favorite Scouser, Stephen Graham.
In it, Graham tore up the screen as a screaming but likeable head chef desperately trying to keep his London haute cuisine restaurant running against all odds. And everything was really unlikely. Health warnings, nut allergies and rude customers abounded in the drama of the racing pulse.
More recently we had The menu. In this horror satire, Ralph Fiennes is the garish but likeable chef of a fine-dining restaurant as he treats his wealthy and spoiled clientele to a meal to die for…(spoilers), literally.
For all of Boiling point anxiety-provoking tension and The menu Slender but still funny cynicism, there was a chef drama that stood head and shoulders above the rest.
The golden spoon of course goes to “The Bear”.
Debuting its first season this year, “The Bear” follows Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a working-class lookalike of Timothée Chalamet (aka Sexiest Man Ever) who returned a career in gastronomy to take over the family sandwich shop after the suicide of his brother.
In the process, Carmy wages war on his belligerent “cousin” Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach); jousts with upcoming talent Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and competes to get older staff Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) on his side.
Disaster after disaster threatens to destroy the restaurant – from money worries to senseless demands for service. And that’s without even touching on the overall story of Carmy dealing with the grief of losing her brother.
I gave another glowing review from the show to its release. This year has had many amazing shows, but the reason this one is in my best of 2022 is because it embraces a genre that’s almost overdone at this point and takes it to a whole new level.
For all of Boiling point a knack for articulating the incredibly difficult job of a night in a restaurant; and The menu The skewer arc of pretentiousness surrounding restaurant culture, “The Bear” has captured something unique.
“The Bear” had all the thrilling service scenes of Boiling point and poked fun at flashy gourmands just as much; but it also celebrated the act of cooking like no other show.
Carmy and her team’s dedication to making food that connects with people by bringing them joy is never forgotten in the show’s drama. All the punishments of Carmy’s high expectations and difficult changes are in the service of something. Yes, there are difficult times. But ‘The Bear’ never ends in cynicism about the importance of food itself.
That is to say that of the movies and shows about cooking, it’s the only one that takes place in an affordable restaurant. “The Bear” is a show about love, heartbreak, family, community AND the love of food.
With such a backbone to the show, the show’s drama lands with a far louder thump than its imitators and the adoration for restaurants makes it feel closer to the passion of an Anthony Bourdain documentary than the great drama offered elsewhere.
The Bear is available on Disney+.