‘The Bear’ Season 2 Sizzles As A Second Course

The season is flavored with thoughtful, unsuspecting humor, with less severity than before. It oozes with intention, peppering drama with laughter.

Content warning: Suicide 

In its second season, Hulu’s “The Bear” brings back the beef — only this time the journey to Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto’s (Jeremy Allen White) own restaurant opening is burdened by an $800 thousand dollar debt, moldy ceilings and a sulking cousin. 

The season also marks the return of the heartwarmingly gritty kitchen staff — inspiring wannabes of Allen White’s rugged, blue-collar look to buy more white T-shirts. 

Episode 1 “Beef” resumes the show’s signature chaos through rapid cutaway sequences of Chicago, screaming matches between stress-worn characters and an 18-month deadline to pay off the familial debt first acquired by Carmy’s brother. His death was the focus of season 1. 

With an overwhelming list of tasks to complete before opening, Carmy instills the help of Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and his sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) to juggle an estimated six-month project in just three. A marathon of work befalls the unrelenting tribe of motley chefs, establishing a season kneaded with collective strife and whispering endearment. It’s Chicago in essence.

Resultantly, the skeletal space of The Original Beef transforms into a pressure cooker of trauma, comedy and conflict as Carmy’s new restaurant The Bear develops. 

The complicated venture is lightened by the humorous antics of the employees, including “Cousin” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) as well as chefs Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and Neil “Fak,” played by Canadian chef Matty Matheson.

Season 2 continues to toe the line between a drama and comedy, with witty moments like Richie’s “The Original Berf” shirt, an accidental misspelling from a printing error. 

Episodes expertly weave gentleness into the staff’s distress, playing into the familial comradery born under the failing conditions of the restaurant. In a touching scene, Tina and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) are sent to culinary school and initially bond through the uncomfortable experience of learning formal cooking techniques and forfeiting their old ways. 

Episode 4 detours from the happenings in Chicago and takes viewers to Denmark, where Marcus shadows baking expert Luca, played by Will Poulter (“Midsommar,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), trading in chocolate cake for shiso gelée. While the episode reminds viewers of Marcus’ heartwarming determination, the character’s ethos was a focus in the previous season, leaving a disjointed episode that distracts from the season’s plot. 

After reintroducing viewers to the enduring characters made lovable through season 1, the show pivots to the new. 

Encountering his high school crush Claire (Molly Gordon), Carmy hesitantly embraces connection. The prototypal brunette love interest is a necessary but imperfectly executed addition to the series, challenging Allen White’s conveyed reservation in a predictably simple way. 

The pair venture to a college-style party, reminding Carmy of the typical early-adult experiences lost to his early chef years in Copenhagen. The episode is an unremarkable build up to the show’s main course: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. 

As the longest episode of the season, “Fishes” serves up a Sopranos-esque holiday dinner from Hell, flashing viewers back multiple years before Michael Berzatto’s suicide. Making his return home from Copenhagen, Carmy is reminded exactly why he left. 

Matriarch Donna Berzatto, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is a walking therapy session, dishing out a seven-fish meal customary to Italian-American Christmas celebrations, alongside a heaping plate of narcissism. 

Richie’s wife is pregnant and sick. Mikey is coping with addiction. Natalie struggles to please her mother and Donna struggles to cook the lobster. 

Adding to the antics are John Mulaney and Sarah Paulson, who make appearances as Carmy’s aunt Michelle and her effeminate boyfriend Steve. Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul,” “Breaking Bad”) is also among the big-name guest cast, stirring the pot as uncle Lee. Mikey’s resentment at Lee builds after being interrupted for repeating a story he had already told. Afflicted by substance abuse, Mikey begins erratically throwing forks at Lee, who tells Mikey he is “nothing.” Eight minutes of chaos ensue, prompting a monologue from a bothered Steve, who is forced to deliver the meal’s prayer. 

The scene marinates deep familial wounds with surface-level absurdity. It’s everything “The Bear” excels at, all at once. 

Seemingly nonsensical incidents are met with deep glimpses of strife resulting from the complicated Berzatto dynamic. Natalie’s incessant need to please her guilt-dishing mother, for example, garnishes Curtis’ theatrical hysterics. 

Amidst a frenzy of flying forks and untouched fish, a drunken Donna closes out the night by driving into the Berzatto’s living room — a dramatic end to a layered evening. 

Cousin Richie maintains his endearing aggression as the focus of episode 7. On a search to find his purpose, Richie acts as a stage at a Michelin Star Chicago restaurant by Carmy’s orders. Though reluctant to embrace the intensely refined setting, Richie triumphs in his role, culminating in a celebratory dance session to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” 

The experience chips away at the character’s under-explored combative exterior, softening the struggling, Swiftie-fied father. 

After successfully passing the fire-suppression test, The Bear is ready to service customers. The newly-renovated upscale joint fails to resemble its predecessor, the charmingly grubby Original Beef.

Altogether, “The Bear” season 2 is a return to its strengths — its characters. It prioritizes the crew’s loving, ever-enduring familial culture in spite of relentless circumstances. It forfeits the severity of season 1 without neglecting the immutable tolls of grief.

Allen White’s Emmy-winning performance as Carmy is as intense as before, revealing a character obsessed with perfection, yet scared of vulnerability. By the final episode, Carmy distances himself from Claire, painting her as a distraction from his success. 

Edebiri’s Sydney acts as the unwavering backbone of The Bear’s operation. Her clever spunk continues throughout the season, but the impacts of her mother’s death were trivialized and underdeveloped. 

The entrée-worthy performance by Moss-Bachrach as cousin Richie was the highlight of season 2. Through all 10 episodes, Richie transforms from a sullen, unfulfilled father to a blossoming leader. He seems to be prioritizing himself for the first time in his life, seriously considering his own needs after his ex-wife’s new engagement. 

In episode 10, the character cements himself as the moral grounding to a fiercely tunneled Carmy, who is often absorbed in his own internal-hellscape, discarding his developing relationship in the process. 

The season is flavored with thoughtful, unsuspecting humor, with less severity than before. It oozes with intention, peppering drama with laughter. Much like an Italian beef — it’s as juicy as ever. 

Season 2 of “The Bear” is now streaming on Hulu.

Featured image courtesy of FX.

Hanna Houser

Hanna Houser