‘The Bear’ Season 2 Serves Chaos on a Plate, Thoughtfully

How to create something beautiful and delicious out of panic and mayhem? That’s the sticky question at the heart of The Bear’s second season—one that applies equally well to the task faced by the writers of this FX/Hulu show.

The first season was a surprise hit last summer; even if you didn’t watch The Bear, you couldn’t avoid the “Yes Chef!” memes that haunted social media for months. The manic, sweet-hearted series initially revolved around Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a hot-shit chef drowning in grief and debt after inheriting his late brother’s old-school Chicago sandwich spot. White was mesmerizing as the emotionally wounded wunderkind struggling with self-loathing and family baggage. But just as his character yearned to escape the culinary cult of personality and build a new restaurant full of strong supporting players, the series itself had an incredible ensemble cast just waiting to break out of bit-part jail and get some time in the spotlight.

That mass breakout is achieved in season two, and it mostly works. (There are some spoilers for the 10-episode second season, now streaming in full, ahead.) Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) has moved to center stage as head chef and creative partner of The Bear, the fine-dining restaurant she and Carmy are trying to conjure out of their rundown old sandwich shop. Determined to nab a Michelin star, she spends days sampling Chicago’s finest food, getting advice from local chefs, and perfecting dishes. Carmy’s sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) gets sucked into service on the business side of things, where she finally gets to shine. Meanwhile, line cooks Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson) enroll in culinary school so that they can play a more active role in the new restaurant kitchen, while Carmy sends aspiring pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) to Denmark to learn from a desert master. Workers who once had a gig now have a purpose.

The search for inspiration simmers throughout this season. One lovely episode focuses on Marcus’s creative journey in Copenhagen. His new mentor, Luca (played by Will Poulter) tells him that at a certain point, being a great chef is “less about skill and more about being open”— to the world and other people. Marcus puts that advice into action as he drifts through the city, soaking up sights and tastes that he will later transform into new treats for The Bear. Later in the season, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) similarly undergoes a conversion experience while “staging” in a high-end restaurant, where everyone around him takes pride in the tiniest of tasks. “Every day here is the freaking Super Bowl,” his guide tells him. “I don’t need you to drink the kool aid, Richie. I just need you to respect me, I need you to respect the diners, and I need you to respect yourself.” Respect is a concept Richie understands, and by the end of his stint there, he is shouting things like, “Micro basil, fuck yeah!”

The Bear’s self-improvement theme occasionally veers dangerously close to Ted Lasso territory, with regular hits of heartwarming uplift and teamwork. Sometimes that connection feels literal: Sydney’s bible this season is a leadership guide by real-life sports coach Mike Krzyzewski, who offers gems like “surround yourself with good people” and “learn how to listen.”

Luckily, Richie is to The Bear as Roy Kent was to early Ted Lasso—someone who can puncture any scene that threatens to grow too cloying or sentimental. And he’s always reliable for gags based on obnoxious white male overconfidence. When he insists that there’s no mold in the ceiling, you know it will only be a few moments until the ceiling collapses, leaving Richie coated in moldy dust. But he also admits when he’s wrong, and with every episode, his stubborn machismo peels away a bit further, revealing a melancholy character who is trapped in his old ways, scared of being left behind.

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