Film and TV

No Sophomore Slump For The Bear in an Outstanding Second Season

Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri in Hulu's The Bear.
Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri in Hulu's The Bear. Screenshot

The Bear was one of last year's breakout shows, dropping all of its episodes one summer night and instantly becoming a sensation, with viewers discovering and binging the first season in one sitting. The show had a frantic and anxiety-driven vibe as it chauffeured its audience through its culinary world and intense emotional drama with plenty of heart.

It was very concentrated, and even through the stressful storytelling and direction of the show, it was small and personal in the best way, ending by opening its restaurant doors to so many possibilities. There was so much meat left on the bone story-wise, and for all its characters, that looking back now after watching the second season, it feels like it was all just a great setup for what the show could be when the runway is clear so it can really take off, and it does just that.

The second season of The Bear understands its components, has elevated and expanded its menu, and served an incredible second season of television.

While the first season followed The Beef and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) returning home to run and save his family business, the second season follows the renovation and elevation of what was once The Beef into The Bear, the dream restaurant of Carmy’s conception. The staff that grew into a dysfunctional family is along for the ride, and the anxiety and intensity of the kitchen are replaced by the stress and pitfalls of opening a new restaurant and all the headaches and scrambling it takes to get that done.

The first season was more focused on its three characters by design. Carmy, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) were the show's engines, driving the narrative. They were flanked by several side characters who weren't necessarily the focus but had individual moments and performances that made them interesting enough to want to learn more about them and to see how this massive shift for all of them has impacted their lives.

The show does just that, giving a bigger role to Carmy’s sister Sugar played by Abby Elliot, and giving these a beautiful arc of excitement and new experiences to someone like Tina, played by Liza Colón-Zayas. We always knew there was depth with Tina or Sugar, but now we get to see it, and it makes the show that much more rewarding. Even a hilarious character that was on the peripherals of the restaurant, like Neil, played by real deal chef Matty Matheson, is given more and runs with it and is able to add to every scene he is in.

One of the best episodes of the new season is an episode dedicated to Marcus, the sweet pastry chef played by Lionel Boyce, who gets sent on an adventure overseas to learn about his craft to come up with three desserts for the new restaurant. It uses the information we learn in earlier episodes about his home life, ambitions, and life before finding The Beef that mixes into a beautifully directed excursion with an incredible guest performance that will not be spoiled here.

With the supporting characters getting even more time to shine and develop, the trio that drove the first season have interesting developments in their own right. One of the season's recurring themes is the idea of the things you might have to give up to succeed. Carmy is an incredible chef, but it was through stunting his own social life and growth and obsessing over being the best that allowed him to reach the heights he has.

On the other end of the spectrum is Sydney, who sees the chef Carmy is and wants that level of success, wants that Michelin star but might not realize the amount of sacrifice it takes to get there. They both deal with this idea in the season, with Carmy showing new sides of his character and Sydney navigating the opportunity she has in The Bear and what it takes to seize it. There is a ton of depth to both Carmy and Sydney this season, and White and Edebiri deliver great, very different performances that can carry the show when needed.

Both characters have a purpose though something is driving them, as opposed to Richie, who is, looking for purpose, feeling like he brings nothing to the table, and trying his best to hold on to his place because he has nothing else. Ebon Moss-Bachrach delivers an amazing performance, and Richie's storyline is one of the real highlights of the season, with arguably the best episode of the entire series focusing on the character.

The incredible guest appearances last season were executed so well and were a big reason the show's emotional swell toward the end of the first season, and its payoff, in the end, hit so hard. This season features a flashback episode that will not be spoiled but is jam-packed with a crazy amount of talented actors that perform alongside the already fantastic show cast.

The sixth episode is the season's biggest swing. It’s all the anxiety and relentless filmmaking from some of the best and most stress-inducing moments from the first season dialed up several notches in the claustrophobic setting of the Berzatto family home.

It’s a bottle episode but serves as an explainer for the entire series. Despite the guest list being stacked, the episode accomplishes so much. It explains their family trauma and why Carmy is doing what he is doing. Sugar’s arc in the season makes more sense, and we learn why Richie is the way he is while the show flexes some serious star power in its guest stars. The episode reinforces the show's strengths and what it's most interesting in. The Bear wants to dive into these complex emotional and familial interactions and put its characters in situations where these genuine and relatable conflicts arise, letting these incredible performers do their thing at the highest level while we sit back and watch the fireworks.

The season starts ambitiously, delivers even more incredible moments, and successfully lands the plane. The level of execution, acting, and emotional depth and development that takes place is everything you would want out of a second season of a show that started off great but clearly had much more to give. The Bear has confidently established itself as one of the best shows on TV, operating at an extremely high level and able to just go for its vision and actually pull it off.

The Bear is streaming on Hulu.
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David