We just watched the premiere of the new series “The Bear.”
The series is set in Chicago and seems almost like a spin-off from the lead’s former role as Lipp (Philip) on “Shameless.” Jeremy Allen-White portrays the lead chef in this story, which is described in the synopsis this way: “A young chef from the fine dining world returns to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop.”
First, the good things about the series: 1) The acting (2) The Chicago setting, especially the exterior shots often used in “Shameless” (3) the cast.
Second, the bad things about the series: 1) the scripts by Alex O’Keefe and Christopher Storer, (who also directed) (2) the opportunities for conflict in this restaurant setting (3) the basic interest in a show that is heavy on cooking lingo where at least half the scenes take place within a gritty Chicago corner cafe.
Jeremy Allen-White is as impressive as he was in “Shameless.” He’s good, and I’m sure he will continue to be good. It is difficult to remember that he is not “Lipp” (Philip) Gallagher any longer, but is now Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto. For one thing, the latter name conjures up images of an Italian family. Jeremy, with his piercing blue mesmerizing eyes, looks about as Italian as I do (which is not very Italian). Let’s just say that he made a better Gallagher than he does a Berzatto. Carmy was Michael’s brother, but Richie was his best friend, if I understood the family dynamic properly (it was not totally clear).
Co-star for the series is Ebon Moss-Bachrach. He is apparently Carmy’s cousin, Richie or perhaps just the dead Michael’s best friend. Unclear, like many other things. Richie is used to doing things “the old way” in the restaurant. Carmy wants to improve things. Change is good for Carmy and Sydney, but bad for Richie. Carmy and Richie spend most of the first episode screaming at one another over changes in the menu, how they prepare food and other topics that were about as riveting as whether or not Kim Kardashian and Kanye West reconcile. [In other words: not interested in either of those things, and certainly the decision as to whether or not to scrub spaghetti from the menu is not High Drama in my world.]
Mediator in the family friction is a new hire, Ayo Edebiri as Sydney, the sous chef. She seems way too good for this corner eatery. Part of the manufactured conflict is apparently going to center on Liza Colon-Zayas as Tina, who resents Sydney’s new-found influence and attempts to undermine her at many turns. Somehow, watching a bunch of stewed onions fall on the floor does not qualify as high drama. The visit from the Health Inspector, who gives them a grade of “C” is also not our idea of excitement, but the feeling that this entire endeavor is sort of doomed by debt and other every-day ills made me think about how stressful it is to fill up my gas tank these days. All of the financial shortcomings that Carmy faces do not make for very good escapist fare. In fact, his inability to pay for the foodstuffs necessary to keep the restaurant going was depressingly true to life. Right now, escapism from the realities of inflation and high food prices is on my menu; watching a restaurant go under because of the inflationary pressure we all feel is not.
What is wrong with the scripts?
The language is very “chill” and “trendy.” My husband and I were confused on at least 3 occasions by various terms used, including the use of the word “fire” over and over (to mean good, we think). There were 2 other terms or phrases that we failed to completely understand. We had to figure out the meaning from context (never a good sign.) This did not add to our enjoyment of the plot. It’s as though O’Keefe and Storer want to use the latest slang to show how cool they are. Regular folk like me out here in viewer-land are not as “up” on junior high/highschool/college slang, so, for us, it just left us feeling lost. We felt like we had not been given the secret password or shown the club handshake, but we ended up not caring.
We also failed to see the point in all the “Yes, Chef” terminology. I actually taught many, many culinary arts students. One of them used to bring me tomato bisque soup in my English class, which I appreciated. Somehow, I don’t see all of this “Yes, Chef” and “We need to organize in battalions” stuff as being Real World. Perhaps I am wrong. [I will ask my favorite student Austin Johns if this rings true next time I see him]. I still get taken on tours of various restaurant kitchens in this area by my former students, one of whom, taking me through the kitchen at Bass Street Landing, when I expressed surprise that he remembered me at all, said, “I always remember anyone who made a difference in my life.”
There were some murky seeds planted that may yield drama and conflict in the future, but I don’t know if we’ll be watching long enough to find out. What seeds? Why, exactly, did Michael
What seeds: Why, exactly, did Michael, the brother of Carmy and previous chef at the cafe, commit suicide. Was the envelope on the floor Michael’s suicide note? Who is “Nico?” What is going to happen regarding the $300,000 in loans that veteran actor Oliver Platt, who makes a quick stop in the restaurant( but is not even credited on the cast list) is owed. Are we going to see Oliver Platt again? I would tune in again to see Oliver Platt, but when he isn’t even listed on the cast credits, I’m not sure I’ll be back.
I appreciate that this was a noble effort. I’m sorry that I’m apparently too backward to become excited about the revelation that Carmy took off mid-day to go to an Al-Anon meeting. I don’t know why Carmy seems to have no life beyond the restaurant. I find the character of “Sugar” under-written and underwhelming.
Moving along, “The Old Man” is getting really exciting. It’s some of the best TV of the year. It makes cooking a hot beef sandwich seem even more mundane, by comparison.