Is there anything more Chicago than footage of perfectly seasoned meat being cooked into an Italian beef, the city’s most praiseworthy sandwich, set to “Via Chicago” by Wilco, the city’s most praiseworthy band? In the case of FXs The bear, in fact, yes, in a way: Before the site-specific bit of food and ear porn in the pilot, two guys, one of them with the Chicago area code “773” tattooed on his left bicep, shot each other. other very Chicago signifiers: a billboard advertising Malört, a really awful liquor, and an illuminated sign for Vienna Beef making some really good hot dogs. The city hovers over The bear all the way through, whether it’s in anyone gripping that the neighborhoods “Pilsen, Wicker [Park]and Logan [Square]Has become “shit”, or in how two characters in particular spit out syllables with just the right attitude and non-cartoon-like Chicago accents.
But the most obvious reference or city-as-character moment is hidden until the opening of episode seven, where Lin Brehmer, breakfast host of the local radio station WXRT, introduces Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago”, noting that “while you have heard all roads lead to Rome, some roads lead from Chicago. ” The demo version of the song starts with heavy acoustic strokes before Stevens’ delicate delivery takes the stage, and we are hit by a montage of city life: water towers and skyline and traffic and beautiful architecture and electricity and side streets caught on a morning commute and even Superdawg Drive-I (coincidentally is the location of a Wilco photoshoot to Spin). Then it goes for it, and some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the city’s history are thrown in: Barack Obama’s campaign, Al Capone, and the brutality of the police during the Democratic National Convention in ’68, to name a few.
If it all sounds a bit much like a big leap to what’s apparently a very funny (albeit very dark) show about what’s going on in a mom-and-pop restaurant, it’s strangely not. (And if you have any connection to that city, can you mock the above description – that Sufjan song? Could they be more on the nose? – but honestly, the effect is moving.) The bear has the rare ability to turn tones on a dime without feeling stretched or manipulated or undeserved, where a comic piece about accidentally nailing Ecto Cooler to a children’s party for a minute is followed by an emotionally guarded extreme Chicago- guy telling a tear. -eyed story of a deceased family member the next.
But back to the other guy, him with the Chicago tatten. It’s Carmy (Shameless‘Jeremy Allen White, who delivers a rather remarkable performance and seems to be a part of that sad-eyed-greasy-hair-in-need-a-cigarette-break thing going on, even though he strangely loves a guy running a greasy spoon). He was a glowing chef in New York, after being named the best young chef (or something) of the year by Food & Wine, as well as winning a James Beard Award. Now, after a shake-up in his family, he’s back in Chicago to run their restaurant, a traditional River North called The Original Beef of Chicagoland. (A much smaller complaint here: No place in Chicago wanted “Chicagoland” in the name of their restaurant, as it designates the suburbs. But we assume they had to for legal reasons. Anyway.) What’s more, he’s there to increase their game and “high,” as one Food & Wine critic could write, a timeless, classless meal.
None of this fits well with his cousin – but not technically Cousin – Richy (Ebon Moss-Bachrach who gives a great, funny, motoric turn), an Energizer Bunny by a friend of the family and a regular fuck-up who has nothing but the beef to keep him calm. There are too many good deliveries from Moss-Bachrach – who play one of the grades that get The Chicago accent without straying into caricature, the kind of guy who throws out “treasure” ironically – but here is one:
“I can not believe that I accept orders from one Goddamn little child right now. All my life I had to listen to everyone behave worried about him all the time. ‘He’s a baby. Do not get Carmine in trouble. ‘ You know? I was also a baby once, Sydney. Nobody cared. “
And what the hell, here’s another one, one of the many comic rat-a-tat exchanges between him and Carmy:
“Bullshit. That curse is complete fucking shit.”
“Perfect timing, I …”
“Who does he think he is? You know he’s not even Italian, right? One hundred percent Polish. Fucking insulting.”
“You know you’re not even Italian, do you?”
“More Italian than that guy is.”
Speaking of Sydney (Ayo Edebiri, also excellent and kind of the show’s anchor), it’s the young aspiring chef’s relationship with Carmy that becomes The bear‘s focus. Like Carmy, she attended the Culinary Institute of America. Like him, she has an impressive resume where she cuts the teeth of local favorites Smoque BBQ and Alinea. Like him, she is incredibly ambitious, and she takes over the kitchen as deputy manager, bringing the clumsy group of employees to a state of operation similar to that of an exquisite kitchen, especially Marcus (Lionel Boyce), who gets the pastry bug. And like Carmy, her mentor (in this case)…Carmy) can be a cock, reject good ideas and tune out when there are real problems to solve.
The rest of the cast is also aces, both in the kitchen (Liza Colón-Zayas as a skeptic who has been tossing sandwiches at Beef for decades, and consulting producer, chef and Vice personality Matty Matheson, who is a not-quite-on-pay-handman) and out of it (Abby Elliott as Carmy’s worried sister and Chris Witaske as her awkwardly sweet Midwestern husband).
One caveat though: Do yourself a favor and give The bear at least two episodes before the verdict. It’s hardly a blow to the pilot, but it dumps you into a work environment that is so intense and chaotic and cramped that it takes some time to figure out and see the show and its characters beyond the chaos and flashbacks. Once acclimatized, The bear becomes something of a marvel, a show with its own rhythm and with characters one generally wants to be around, even if they are about to lose it. The penultimate episode, the same with the moving montage intro set for Sufjan, ends with one of the most impressive directorial ventures I’ve seen on television this year: a 10-minute single-shot climax that creeps through the narrowed kitchen like everything. falls apart and characters come across, this is also the soundtrack of Wilco (a wild live jam of “Spiders [Kidsmoke]”), Which may be appropriate: This show, like the band, like the humble sandwich, may contain wealth.