The Bear, Disney Plus review — high-pressure kitchen comedy is one of the year’s best


Full-flavored comedy-drama the bear, is one of the best new series of the year. Following a talented, half-fried cook at a shabby Chicago eatery, the eight-episode FX/Hulu original (streaming on Disney Plus in the UK) plays out like an inspired fusion between Stanley Tucci’s beautiful cult foodie film Big Night and a delirious Safdie brothers production. Think of it as Uncut Veg.

In the cramped, clammy confines of The Original Beef, an Italian-American sandwich joint, tensions simmer and threaten to boil over. The atmosphere, manic and suffocating, is brought to life by some wonderfully nimble camerawork. Our senses are overwhelmed to the point that you’d swear you could smell the rich aromas of seasoned meat and adrenaline. Watching several small crises unfold at once, you wonder why so few shows have tapped into the dramatic potential offered by the exhilarating, exhausting environment of a professional kitchen, while feeling relieved that there haven’t been more. This kind of television should come with a disclaimer for viewers with high blood pressure — and a prescription for Valium.

Speaking of which, chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) desperately needs to find some way of coping with the demands of running his own restaurant. “I’m fine,” he reassures his sister Sugar (Abby Elliott). “I just have trouble breathing sometimes and I wake up screaming.” This is not the only cause for concern. The reason why Carmy — a prodigious, award-winning culinary talent — is now the proprietor of a debt-ridden diner is that its previous owner, their brother Michael, turned to drink and died by suicide, leaving his siblings in charge.

Scene from 'The Bear'.  Lionel Boyce as Marcus, Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu

© FX Networks

While Sugar is eager to sell, and loan-shark Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) is already circling, Carmy is convinced he can turn things round by getting the complacent staff to meet his exacting standards. His new methods quickly rankle Michael’s pugnacious, longtime associate Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who is reluctant to see his functional but unspectacular “system” overhauled by a man once lauded for creating a dish using four types of plum.

As the title may suggest, The Bear is an exhibition of male pride, aggression and volatility. But it also transmits a certain amount of affection and empathy for its vexed, grieving characters, whose inarticulate beef is offset by occasional moments of unexpected emotional candour.

For all of its frenzied, unscripted feel, the series carefully balances dark humor and poignancy, despair and passion, to keep things from ever becoming either too tart or too cloying. A star-making turn from White, meanwhile, is supported by a terrific ensemble — including Ayo Edebiri as ambitious new sous-chef Sydney and Lionel Boyce as the incongruously sweet Marcus — who comprise the so-called “family” of employees at The Original beef.

It may not be to everyone’s taste — its approach too intense, its story too niche — but The Bear is a series to savor. The performances, writing and direction are just too good to binge.

★★★★

On Disney Plus in the UK from October 5 and on Hulu in the US now

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