I rarely review television series on the website. I spend most of my time discussing sporting events, recanting loosely based/grossly exaggerated fables of my life, and far too often intertwining the two.
But every so often a TV show comes along that really hits home. For me, The Bear was one such series. It has since blown up, at least in my circles. I went from not knowing a thing about it to everyone I know talking about it the next, for good reason.
An old friend, my new-era television sensei, sent me a text not long ago suggesting I watch the first season of FX’s The Bear. Rarely has he steered me wrong. After all, he’s the one who insisted I watch Breaking Bad years ago, which I did per his recommendation. The problem with Breaking Bad being the first series you binge-watch is that all others pale in comparison. The good news about Breaking Bad being the first series you binge-watch is that you will hold all other programming to that same high standard, as you should for life is too short for bad television.
FX has had its slew of hits over the years. Their series Louie, Atlanta and Reservation Dogs are outstanding. FX also brought you Sons of Anarchy, Archer, Wilfred, Nip/Tuck, The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, original concept shows that are, as the network likes to describe, fearless. As fantastic as all those series were, within each of them you still had to suspend belief. With Bear, that is not the case, for it is as real as it gets.
The Bear is a story about a young chef who takes over his family restaurant. Said restaurant is the perfect example of how a restaurant should, and should not, run. The pitfalls, the personalities, the dedication, the disaster. I’ll leave it at that so as not to divulge too many spoilers, for it is a series you should watch whether you’ve worked in the industry or not. If you haven’t, you might find the show a tad stressful. If you have, I believe you’ll find Bear painstakingly captures what it’s like to work in the restaurant industry, stressful yet rewarding, familial, frustrating, and fulfilling, a pressure cooker set to repeat every time you walk through the door, yearning the well-deserved smoke break once you shut off the lights.
It is as close to industry life as we’ve ever seen portrayed on television. Like whipping up the perfect meal, the creators of Bear have concocted the perfect show for you to sit down and enjoy.
Any series that inspires me to cook is doing its job. The problem is that most cooking-related programming you find on television are “reality”-based shows where chefs must cook or perish, with a Gordon Ramsey-type degrading you while you have thirty minutes to make a dish using ingredients that you’d never find in anyone’s cupboard. Cooking, rather, as both an art form and a profession, is a craft that should be cared for and shared. After all, you are nourishing people with the meal you’ve prepared.
In all its craziness, The Bear captures not only the importance of food but also the bonds that kitchen workers find, not only for their craft, but for one another. It pulls together the familiar requirement that most industry lifers agree upon, the pursuit of one common goal which is to provide the best culinary experience possible.
I have yet to see a television show so effectively portray the highs and lows of working in a high stress kitchen, not just the never-ending tickets (see Episode 7!) but the workload compounded with your personal life and a far too frequent inability to check it at the door. The Bear’s “Original Beef of Chicagoland” is both our protagonist’s workplace and his escape. It is where he finds both solitude and distress.
I’m a sucker for good writing and while I may not practice it on this site, The Bear is beautifully written, acted and shot. You’re convinced these people are trapped by their own volition inside a tiny Chicago restaurant, dedicated to keeping their struggling restaurant alive. Their characters are real, with real problems. You know them because you’ve worked with their kind before. You speak their language, and they speak yours.
Even if you’ve never worked in the industry before, or at a place that cares about the service it provides, I highly recommend you give Bear a whirl. Just be prepared for an elevated heart rate. One Rolling Stone reviewer confessed to his readers that he had to pause the series midway through watching because it was so stressful. Welcome to the back of the house, my friends.
The Bear cordially invites you into its kitchen with characters and a story line you will love, hate, and inevitably embrace. After hearing me rave about the show, one friend asked me, if I already work in such a frenetic environment, why would I still watch this show? Why would those of us entrenched in the industry tune in unless we were gluttons for punishment, leaving us to wonder how we ever got into it in the first place?
I guess he answered his own question. Because, within it, we found home.