A workplace comedy. A family drama. A peek inside a claustrophobic kitchen. An examination of recovery. It’s hard to imagine all of these genres mixed together in a KitchenAid. But that’s exactly what FX’s “The Bear” does — and why it’s set to make quite a splash at awards season.
Led by Jeremy Allen White’s very strong Carmen, who has left his high-end New York restaurant job to come home to Chicago following his brother’s death to take over his sandwich shop, the show is a high stress yet extremely satisfying watch. Carmy cooks up the chaos (pun intended) for all eight of the episodes, which stream on Hulu — a model that works excellently for a show so anxiety-ridden that it may be tough to commit to without a binge option.
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Ayo Edebiri comes barreling in, perhaps when Carmy needs her most, as Sydney, a skilled new sous chef. Their chemistry as two experts in their field with very different backgrounds radiates off the screen from the moment they meet, something that happened while they were training at the Institute of Culinary Education.
“When we started at culinary school, we were instantly almost competitive with one another which was very, very weird. We didn’t really know each other. We’d met and we were excited to do the show, and then this quiet competition started to sort of impress our teacher. It was odd but worked for the show,” says White.
As they began reading scripts together, “it felt great instantly,” says creator Chris Storer. Co-showrunner Joanna Calo adds that they could never have predicted the chemistry of the entire cast (including Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Lionel Boyce and Liza Colón-Zayas) and how everyone really came together.
“The relationship that Ayo and Jeremy have is so special and really different from the relationship that she has with Ebon and the relationship that she has with Lionel,” she says. “There is this really special thing where they all took the assignment really seriously and became friends in different ways.”
For Edebiri, that assignment began when she started to tap into Sydney — first when training with White but later while in kitchens, asking to work alongside other women chefs wherever she could. (It wasn’t always easy to find, she notes.)
“We’ve all experienced the same thing just in different ways,” she says of the learning experience. “When you’re in a woman in a male-dominated industry, in an industry that’s not built for you to have a sustainable life, when your vocation is your passion, then you have to reconcile the thing that you love and then, turning that thing into capital, into money and to rent, how crazy that can all feel.”
She had a past in kitchens — her first job was working in a nursing home restaurant. While attending school in New York, she continued working in the service business.
“The hours can be flexible. I started out doing stand-up so I could work a brunch shift, I could swap with people and barter or whatever to make things fit my schedule,” she recalls. “When things were not certain, I would be picking up shifts… It can be good and then you turn around and it’s like, there goes a little bit of my soul!”
That comic timing — something she thrives on — comes through in Sydney. The fact that the show falls under the comedy umbrella is interesting in itself; in fact, White wasn’t even told the genre at first.
“It wasn’t really pitched as a drama or a comedy. I think we were just like trying to focus on this on this world and try to do it justice,” he says. “I think Chris spoke to me mostly about tone. We talked about the Safdie brothers a lot and that energy and then we talked a lot about kitchens and the kind of pressure and sacrifice of time for these people.”
The balance of the specific tone that worked and the need to tell an authentic story was at the top of Storer’s mind. The writers consistently brought in friends and family who worked in the industry for tips on how to make it just right — and who could share how past shows got it wrong.
“It’s a really hard business and it takes a lot of people to keep it afloat. The more and more we dug in, the more and more we saw that it was just like any other small business — you’re always worried about money and the anxiety was always high, and then there’d be moments of joy and like kindness would break through some of the toxicity that also seeps in,” Storer says of the restaurant world.
From the beginning, Calo says, they knew “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna get it right, so we’re going to talk to as many people as we can. … The show wouldn’t be what it is without them.”
As with so many other series, “The Bear” thrives on its relationships — between the people in the kitchen (and how they interact both at work and outside of it) and the people who enter their worlds in different ways. At the center, Carmy is battling the relationship he has with himself, his sobriety and how to move forward after his brother’s death.
“His life was so not full. It was so focused on industry and moving forward. I remembered a time in my life where I was really wrapped up in, not only my work — I think that can be a good thing — but also in success and whatever that meant to me at the time,” says White. “I think Carmy is, at times, battling with a similar thing. He’s in this very lonely place and any empowerment or confidence is coming from his craft and that leaves him in a very delicate and vulnerable position.”
That position doesn’t leave much room for anything else. In the first season, most of Carmy and Sydney’s lives revolved around their work and they both still had (and have) a lot of work to do on themselves. Still, it didn’t stop viewers from sharing their hopes on social media that their characters’ working relationship could develop into something romantic.
“I know there are people who are very invested in that, and I understand and I appreciate it, but it was not that for me,” Edebiri says with a laugh, noting that it surprises her every time she reads someone who sees that potential. White agrees: “No! It was never discussed by anybody.”
It’s rare to see a platonic male-female relationship on TV — and it “never came up” to make it more, confirms Calo.
“We wanted to make something that was about friendship and a partnership,” adds Storer. “It really is so funny that that is one of the things that people took away — of all the heavy shit that’s going on in the show! It was interesting because Ayo and Jeremy, since they are our friends and are such wonderful people, I think there is this charisma that comes off both of them.”
He continues, “From the beginning, it was like, we should just show people being really good at their jobs and pushing each other. Selfishly, I hadn’t seen a show without a romantic plot and was like, that could be kind of cool and interesting.”
With the way Season 1 ended, White doesn’t believe Carmy’s even in the position to be a mentor to Sydney — let alone anything more.
“Certainly not! I hope that’s something that’s explored a little bit in the second season — if he can kind of get out of his own way a little bit, how can he help everybody else in the kitchen and also how can they help him? I think, in this first season, he was far too fracted and had a lot of selfish thinking going on. I think he wanted to be there for Sydney, but I don’t think he was capable.”
White and Edebiri haven’t read Season 2 scripts yet, though the producers planned it out at the same time they were planning Season 1. In fact, they have a roadmap for the entire series but aren’t sharing just yet how long they see the show going.
While Season 1 was all about “finding a family and feeling anchored,” Calo says Season 2 will home in on hospitality, taking care of others and making the cast’s lives a bit bigger. At the center, Carmy will still be reeling from his brother’s death and his own demons in the sophomore season, too. “Nobody’s fixed and everyone’s a work in progress,” adds Storer. “Every second counts.”
As for what else is to come — and the possibility of seeing Jon Bernthal again — the producers are staying mum.
“Originally, we weren’t going to see him at all. And then we realized we really wanted to see who this person was, especially for Jeremy’s character and Ebon’s character, to understand who this person was to them,” says Calo. “So then there was just this one scene, and the casting was really also very hard because we kind of knew that if we didn’t get the perfect person, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
The flashback scene with Michael was the very last scene the group shot. “Watching it film was pretty damn cool. We had seen the journey that everyone had been on, so seeing that sort of exclamation point was pretty cool,” adds Storer.
The second season will also dive further into what the new restaurant will look like and whether or not Sydney will get profit sharing: “It really is the natural extension. The thing we talk about a lot is that winning is losing, so even though they have this new opportunity, it still creates a lot of the same problems,” says Storer.
Throughout their research and the access into restaurants, Calo says that they’ve learned just how difficult profit sharing is in that world, “even for people who really deserve it,” so she’s hopeful to pull back the curtain on that.
“Season 2 really is about the opportunity to start fresh and what does that mean. What does Carmen and Sydney’s dream restaurant look like? But also at the same time, what is a dream restaurant in 2023 look like? I think that’s the thing they’re sort of battling with,” says Storer.
On the acting side, Edebiri and White admit that they’ve been traveling so much that they may need to brush up on their kitchen skills before production begins this month. “I just chopped some onions and I was pretty appalled,” says Edebiri with a laugh. “It was not up to par. I was not satisfied.”
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