Review: Chicago- (and Food-) Centric Series The Bear Improves in Every Way with a Miraculous Second Season

Perhaps the hardest part of making a good show is having a second season that can, at the very least, live up to the first. (Unless your show is on Netflix, then the challenge is actually getting a second season.) The first season is the proof of concept, and the second season is proving that concept can keep its momentum. A lot of shows fall into this trap—I’m thinking primarily of Stranger Things, which seems to lose more and more of itself every season. But what truly great shows do after starting with a “that was pretty good” first season is to overhaul everything and go bigger than ever upon their return.

My thoughts on The Bear‘s first season essentially come down to “that was pretty good.” I like the characters (even if I feel only two of them get a ton of development); it has a great sense of chaos and how to create it; and it has a lot of heart despite feeling like it’s often wasting time. So was I looking forward to it coming back this year? Sure. I suppose I was.

I am beyond delighted to report that The Bear‘s second season is bigger, bolder, and just plain better than its predecessor in every single way, and as a whole, is one of my favorite seasons of television to come out so far this decade. There were dozens of little moments present throughout the season where I thought something like “Holy shit, that was real!” The Bear is a show that seeks to ground itself in our messy, flawed reality, so it’s such a pleasure to see characters reacting to information or occurrences like you or I would. These moments are so perfectly realized, and the writing, directing and acting make them come together beautifully.

As the characters of The Bear spend the season scrambling to get their titular restaurant open in time, the majority of them are given lots of great stuff to do. Head chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), as expected, buckles under the pressure and has a great storyline where he finds himself splitting time between work and a new love interest. Co-owner Syd (Ayo Edebiri) is forced to take over for him, and gets a great episode to herself where she traverses Chicago’s culinary scene and tries to get inspired by other restaurants’ dishes. (In case you’re new to this series, this is a very Chicagoan show.) Dessert enthusiast Marcus (Lionel Boyce) gets a lovely episode where he goes to Copenhagen to find himself. And cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), easily my favorite character in both the first and second season, gets a phenomenal arc where he finds himself and discovers what he’s truly good at.

The Bear balances all of these plots effortlessly, further fleshing out its already developed characters and giving badly needed depth to its more underlooked ones. And yet, despite its sharper focus, it never loses that chaotic tone. There’s an hour long episode that, on top of being an easy pick for my favorite episode of the year, is rife with tension that never defuses. The comedy and drama in its scenes are balanced perfectly, and there are several moments where I felt like I was in the show and I was synced in time with the characters. Where the first season felt like it was relying on gimmicks to get the heightened emotions of the kitchen across, like the one-take episode, this season does it confidently, trusting itself to give the audience perfectly full, sprawling scenes.

There really is nothing that The Bear doesn’t do better with its return to television. I would love to dig deep into the season’s fourth, sixth and seventh episodes, all of which are some of my favorite television of the 2020s so far, but I want to keep spoilers light so you can have the same magical six or so hours I had the privilege to experience. With its second season, The Bear exceeds all expectations and produces something truly unique, moving and memorable. It’s not just a loud and funny show about very, very stressed out people anymore—it’s a testament to the struggle that comes with just getting up and going to work even if you love it, and the immeasurable value of truly finding your place at that job.

All episodes of The Bear are now available to stream on Hulu.

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Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.