Nothing compares to a frosty beer on a warm summer day. Or, perhaps, a beef sub dripping with salty au jus. Although The Bear takes place in the scrape-ice-off-your-car thick of winter Chicago, the series is now officially a summer show, TV’s version of a refreshing beverage on a sweltering June afternoon. Just two seasons in, FX's The Bear has quickly become a summer tradition: Every summer, we’ll be desperate to binge a new season of the perfect Hulu show, a plastic quart container of ice water in one hand and an Italian beef sandwich in the other.
Creator Christopher Storer’s fast-paced restaurant dramedy returns almost exactly one year after its series premiere with a second season that is just as fresh as, if not improved over, the original episodes. The first season became a massive hit in 2022 thanks to catchphrases like “YES, CHEF,” stellar performances from Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri, and a jaw-dropping single-take episode that sent viewers flying through the halls of a messy kitchen. All those delights and more are back for Season 2, which, in the first four episodes provided to press, takes a slight departure from Carmy Berzatto’s (White) point of view.
Carmy has opted to give a facelift to the family restaurant, The Original Beef, which he operates with his sister Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto (Abby Elliott) and cousin Richie “COUSIN!” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Using the money discovered in the Season 1 finale, the team introduces a new-and-improved eatery to Chicagoans: something more upscale, but equipped with what Sydney (Edebiri) calls a “chaos menu.” While the Berzattos work on the budgeting and delegating clean-up tasks to folks like Richie and Fak (Matty Matheson), Sydney devises new specials and organizes her back of house (restaurant speak for “kitchen”) team.
The original aim is to have the restaurant open within six months. Considering the money the revamping takes, let alone all the permits and cleaning required, this seems like a fairly reasonable goal. But Sugar, Carmy, and Sydney squirm over the amount of time the restaurant will be closed. They shave the schedule in half. Now, the objective is just three months. That’s just 90 short days to gut the place and start fresh. In a sequence that’s almost as appealing as all the food plating scenes, the trio parses out responsibilities week by week, scribbling goals in Sharpie onto pastel Post-Its and smacking those notes onto their big three month calendar wall like targets.
But we’re in The Bear, so nothing goes as planned. That $90,000 proposed budget for the facelift soon doubles as the team realizes mold, cockroaches, termites, and a few raccoons are abiding within the walls of The Original Beef. Plus, the restaurant was never officially registered correctly with the IRS. None of the permits they submit are approved. No one is applying to work at the restaurant. The drive to move so quickly, it seems, is a mistake.
While The Original Beef (set to be renamed “The Bear”) isn’t cranking out meaty sandwiches, the series finds clever ways to bring mouth-watering meals into the picture. Although the IRS and mold are big issues, perhaps the most concerning dilemma is that Sydney appears to have forgotten how to cook. Though her vibrant practice dishes look delicious, they’re too acidic, too salty, or flat out terrible. To drum up inspiration, Sydney taps into the Chicago food scene, hopping from restaurant to restaurant to taste buttery slabs of pork, soup dumplings with charred scallions, and mega sundaes drizzled in caramel and dolloped with whipped cream.
More time is spent with Sydney this season—and thank goodness, because who doesn’t love Sydney? She struggles to refine her palette, while also trying to convince her father (Robert Townsend) that the restaurant biz is, albeit sticky (literally and figuratively), a rewarding industry. But her recipe issues, along with Carmy’s increased disinterest in the restaurant as he flirts with family friend Claire (Molly Gordon), force Sydney into an existential spiral of her own. Instead of working on the menu, Sydney spends her evening doom scrolling through food news websites, terrorizing herself with dozens of “[Said Restaurant] Closes Due to COVID” headlines.
The Bear may be at its best when pandemonium strikes, but the series has calibrated the amount of disarray the characters face. Everything is overwhelming, but at the same time, the disorganization never feels too forced. The struggles always feel real, insurmountable but never artificial initiatives to move the characters along their frenzied storylines.
When Sydney and Carmy send baker-in-training Marcus (Lionel Boyce) to Copenhagen to refine his dessert skills, one might expect the precise chef he’s training under (a marvelous Will Poulter) to be highly critical and harsh. But that would just be too much for poor Marcus, who has already risked quite a bit to work in Copenhagen, as his mother is sick in the hospital. Instead, the show gives us a rare, needed minute of exhalation: The artistic Dutch pastry chef is kind, understanding, and meticulous, all at the same time.
As The Original Beef undergoes a massive overhaul, so too does The Bear, which now takes more time to develop other characters’ storylines. The bond between Sydney and her sous chef, Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), brings more feminine energy to the restaurant. Sydney’s menu struggles double as a deep dive into her psyche, where we get to watch her poke through her memories in nostalgic montages of old meals and her childhood. The best, though, is Marcus’ standalone episode, directed by Ramy Youssef. In Copenhagen, we get a more quiet, methodical look at the culinary arts—really mirroring Marcus’ character—and how that creativity can distract oneself from larger issues in life.
While The Bear still feels as kinetic and stressful as its award-winning first season, and Carmy is still very much at the center, the series does itself a massive favor by shifting gears in Season 2. By giving us a break from the turbulent chaos of Carmy’s mind, The Bear cooks up one big melting pot full of new stories. That, in turn, paints a better picture of the most important character of all: the restaurant itself, which is equipped with a big, beating heart—and arteries clogged full of grime and grease.