‘The Bear’ Season 3 Premiere Is Ballsy as Hell


People are divided over whether The Bear is a comedy or a drama. Regardless, I will say this: It is absolutely the best show on television that always gives me a migraine.

After several aspirins, I’m working through what I admired—and was put off by—in the first batch of episodes I watched of Season 3 of the Emmy-winning series, which returned this week. (I cannot handle binge-watching this series; if you can, you have a stronger constitution than me.)

The Bear’s greatest strength, and the reason why I think so many people from so many different demographics have come to champion it, is that it is the rare TV show that doesn’t treat viewers like they’re stupid. It trusts them to understand every tonal shift—which, on this show, is a wrecking ball swinging like a pendulum—and narrative departure. It certainly has faith in viewers’ strength and fortitude, parachuting us into the relentless, loud intensity of The Bear kitchen with no easing in or buffer.

Reviews for Season 3 have ranged from ecstatic to pans, a spectrum one should expect from a show this popular and, thus, this scrutinized at this point in its run. But there’s no denying that this is an undeniably audacious TV show.

Case in point: the Season 3 premiere. After a second season that won just about every TV award it was eligible for, was lauded for the bullet train of stress that was its “Seven Fishes” episode, and had a finale that ended with a calamitous screaming match at a restaurant opening, The Bear’s return episode features almost no dialogue.

Given the bedlam The Bear is known for, launching Season 3 with a poignant, montage-filled tone poem is a ballsy swerve. Yes, some of the best episodes of the series have been on the quieter side, like last season’s spotlight on Lionel Boyce’s Marcus, “Amsterdam.” But to launch a new season in such a manner, with a depressive, hyper-emotional lilt, is a fascinating way for a series to meet a moment of so much hype and anticipation.

Through a patchwork of moody, largely wordless flashbacks, we see how Carmen (Jeremy Allen White) got to the point where we last witnessed him: in the midst of triumph at the restaurant opening, yet still painfully self-destructive. We see the support of his sister, Sugar (Abby Elliott), and the emotional abuse of other family members. It’s revealed how the antagonism and, eventually, belief in him from mentor chefs shaped his culinary passion. And we get more insight into how his brother’s death and breakup with his girlfriend irrevocably damaged him.

I found it to be a stunning episode of television, but jarring as a season opener; in fact, that’s part of what impressed me the most about it.

The outing will surely rankle those who are most outraged over The Bear’s categorization as a comedy. (Their argument doesn’t get any less strong as the season progresses; in the first three episodes alone, I wept my way through glimpses of two different funerals, and winced through an excruciating-to-watch anxiety attack.) But that’s where the show’s audacity comes in. It’s not long into Episode 2 that we’re ricocheting between a seven-person screaming match like a pinball with a rocket attached, an example of outlandish chaos that might be one of the more humorous sequences in the series so far. Although, that might demand on how much of people shouting “fuck you” at each other in rapid succession you can take and still call it funny.

That tonal dance is why I think so much of what I’ve seen of the season so far is so bold.

There’s familiarity to the early episodes, which is to say ear-splitting, pulse-racing chaos. But the show seems to sense that such a harshness becoming familiar, when it was once so novel and groundbreaking, isn’t a good thing—that it could even become a rut. Did I marvel at the editing, the choreography, and the pandemonium of Episode 3, “Doors”? Yes. Did each time someone shouted, “Doors!” amplify a growing headache as I watched? Immensely so.

I admire a meandering season that doesn’t do the same thing fans expect, and I admire that it trusts our intelligence to go along for the ride of thwarted expectations—for the sake of a series that continues to evolve.

Now I’m going to put an icepack on my head and turn on the next batch of episodes.

This post was originally published on Daily Beast

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