“The Bear” offers an intriguing, character-driven glimpse into the inner workings of a restaurant kitchen through the prism of clashing egos — and a dysfunctional family work unit that someway pulls all of it together when the warmth is on.
It’s a world that feels very authentic, and there’s an excellent reason for that: the eight-episode FX series — streaming exclusively on Hulu — was created by Christopher Storer (“Ramy”) and counts renowned Chef Matty Matheson as a co-producer (he also has a small role); Storer’s sister, Courtney Storer, is a chef and serves as culinary producer. The strong ensemble solid, headed by Jeremy Allen White (Phillip “Lip” Gallagher from “Shameless”) as moody protagonist Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, creates an ego-deflating/inflating atmosphere fraught with tension, exhilaration, dark comedy, casual pettiness and bonding.
Our story begins as Carmen, an acclaimed, tattooed, award-winning chef, leaves his high-pressure job and toxic boss in a sterile, world-renowned Recent York City restaurant and returns to Chicago to take over the family’s chaotic sandwich shop following the suicide of his brother, Michael, who ran the place along with his best friend, Richie Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richie Jerimovich, the most effective friend of Carmy’s late brother, Michael. Matt Dinerstein/FX
The Original Beef of Chicagoland is a grungy, beaten-down, grease-stained storefront-part of an area neighborhood with a gradual, loyal clientele (thanks partially to its ’80s-era video games). But it surely’s thisclose to bankruptcy and gets by on a wing and a prayer. When the series opens, Carmen has only been there a short while and is trying, and mostly failing, to ascertain a semblance of order to his recalcitrant, veteran kitchen staff, who don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for this hoity-toity wannabe intruder into their insular world. They’re still loyal to Michael, and it doesn’t help when Carmen hires Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri), a young, motivated sous chef who immediately clashes along with her set-in-their-ways colleagues.
Ayo Edebiri plays Sydney Admu, a no-nonsense sous chef who’s hired by Carmy to run the kitchen.Matt Dinerstein/FX
But there’s greater than meets the attention; Carmen’s family and friends, especially Richie — loud, argumentative and in-your-face — resents the best way he “left” the family behind to pursue his highfalutin chef ambitions; his sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott) — nicknamed “Sugar” — is supportive, but Carmen didn’t show up for Michael’s funeral and hasn’t seen their mother since he’s been back, so there’s that. “I’m gonna fix this place,” he says to Sugar concerning the sandwich shop. “Nobody’s asking you too,” she counters. Meanwhile, he’s nearing a breaking point attempting to make sense of Michael’s shambolic bookkeeping while micromanaging the staff, staving off a bid to purchase the place from his Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) — to whom Michael owed mountains of money — acclimating to his recent environment and keeping his anxiety-bear at bay (and never having much luck in any of those scenarios).
The supporting solid features restaurant staffers Marcus (Lionel Boyce), the resident baker with a talent for cake design and an eagerness to learn; Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), who’s extremely wary of Carmen and Sydney and isn’t shy about hiding her disdain; and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson), who doesn’t say much — but, when he does, he gets his point across. Matheson plays Neil Fak, the good-natured fix-it-all who considers himself a part of the shop’s family. They’re the glue that keeps “The Bear” running on all cylinders along a gradual course of drama, dark comedy, disappointment and redemption — and it’s a robust recipe for an enjoyable series with White, Edebiri and Moss-Bachrach leading the charge.