When the FX dramedy series “The Bear” launched its first season of eight episodes on Hulu in June, viewers flocked and the critics swooned. The high-octane show set in a stressed-to-the-max Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago drew a rare 100% fresh score from 70 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, attracting the kind of raves generally reserved for shows with either “Breaking” or “Bad” in the title. It was binged heavily and proved to be the hit of the summer, renewed for a second season a mere three weeks after the show’s debut. And while it arrived too late to qualify for Emmy consideration in 2022, it’s faring extremely well in Gold Derby’s lists of predicted upcoming Golden Globes and SAG Awards nominees in the comedy categories. It’s currently running fourth in Comedy Series for the Globes behind “Abbott Elementary,” “Only Murders in the Building” and “Hacks,” while star Jeremy Allen White is tied for second with Bill Hader of “Barry” for Comedy Actor. In the SAGs, “The Bear” ranks fifth for TV Comedy Ensemble, while White is running fourth for TV Comedy Actor.
So, it was hardly a surprise that a sizeable crowd beat a path to the TV Academy in North Hollywood Wednesday night to watch a special SAG Awards screening and panel honoring “The Bear.” The panel, moderated by series recurring player and real-life Canadian restaurateur Matty Matheson, was attended by series creator and co-showrunner (and writer-director) Christopher Storer; co-showrunner and writer-director Joanna Calo; and castmates White (appearing via video hookup while out of town on a film shoot), Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Lionel Boyce and Abby Elliott. They basked in the love of an adoring industry audience that watched the show’s seventh episode,”Review,” a typically frenetic and intense 20 minutes that notably was filmed in a single take from start to finish.
What works in favor of “The Bear” having a successful awards season run for its freshman campaign is the fact it’s so singularly novel and daring. There is nothing else like it on television and arguable never has been. As Storer said on Wednesday from the stage, “There hasn’t really been for whatever reason a restaurant show (on TV or streaming), and we learned on day one that it’s because they’re really hard, and they’re very tricky and messy and the resets are like a real pain in the ass. And I think most of the time when you see something about a restaurant, it’s about how awesome the chef is. Truth is it’s a small business and it’s really hard and really stressful to run one, and equally tough to depict it in a TV series.”
On the other side of the coin, the series is about as atypical a comedy as one can imagine. It’s at least as much of a drama, filled with dark laughs but also tension and anxiety. And while lead White turns in a consistently jittery and magnetic performance, it’s impossible to imagine him competing opposite the Steve Martins, Martin Shorts and Henry Winklers of the world. At many points, “The Bear” is about as funny as the heart attack it induces in its viewers. So being neither animal nor vegetable, fish nor fowl could be a problem. On the other hand, brilliant is brilliant no matter how you label it.
Not that anyone was openly concerning themselves with awards on Wednesday. The producers and cast instead contented themselves by playfully responding to questions and in general having a good time being near the top of the list of most talked-about shows of the year – any year. It’s a whirling dervish of a creation that grabs you by the throat and never lets go, in large part because we feel like Carmy (Allen) may just go nuts and start stabbing people at any moment. He’s a fine dining-trained chef who has to return to run the Chicago shop after his older brother commits suicide.
Creator Storer was asked why this show so appealed to him creatively. “I wanted to write a show about a dysfunctional family that dealt with anxiety and with sort of what it’s like to feel lost,” he replied. “And I had a lot of experience in restaurants, one of my best friends is a chef, and I think it feels like a natural place to sort of set a show, something that can be alternately loud and scary and funny and intense. When (co-showrunner) Jo and I started working on the scripts, there was something inherently kind of cool about any workplace where people are stuck together for 12 hours a day and the temperature can go to a million degrees very quickly but then also go back to chill.”
The critical response to the show was unanimous. It included praise like the following:
- “An unmissable feast for the senses.”
- “An addictive concoction of chaos within the protagonist and his kitchen.”
- “‘The Bear’ will sink its claws into you, pull you in for an anxiety-inducing hug, and you’ll love every tension-filled moment of it.”
- “One taste and you’ll devour your way to the finale. Every bite is memorable.”
- “‘The Bear’ is horrifically stressful. It’s also thrilling, ambitious, funny and devastating.”
- “As anxious as ‘The Bear’ might make you feel, it’s a gorgeous show, riddled with moments of short, sharp beauty.”
- “A darkly funny, frenetic and intense gem.”
White, previously a regular on Showtime’s “Shameless,” was asked Wednesday night what attracted him to this role. “It’s the juxtaposition of someone who is incredibly confident in his craft and insecure everywhere else,” he replied. “I found that very endearing and kind of exciting.”
Check out the entire panel discussion above.
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