TV & Showbiz

‘The Bear’ Season 3 is a clanging, wailing beast

Season 3 of “The Bear,” now available on Hulu, is a volcano of self-loathing. Befitting a show set in Chicago, “The Bear” moves mostly in a loop, revisiting the past and bringing old wounds into the present aboard a clattered, howling beast. This loop makes all the local stops: mesmerizing food porn, bitter shouting matches, elegant monologues, small moments for the audience to learn culinary techniques, a character’s backstory that boils down to “they were poor and needed a job.” Doors open right on suppressed rage.

When we last saw our Bear friends, the friends and family preview night for their revamped restaurant had collapsed because Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) had locked herself in the refrigerator — but really because of the fragility and fickleness of the clique at large , and the fact that the characters usually hate their friends and families. Everyone screamed even louder than usual, with Carmy and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach throwing themselves through the fridge door in hysterics, and Carmy and Claire (Molly Gordon) splitting up. Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) was left with all the responsibility, but none of authority. This season’s action begins moments later, a blue cloud of dejection hanging over everyone.

I used to think “The Bear” was claustrophobic, but now I think it’s claustrophilic: this show loves the tight spaces, the pressure of close quarters. Its hugs are heartbreaking, suffocating, too much. Even dermatologists don’t require such detailed examinations of every mole and pore on people’s cheeks.

The show often mentions real restaurants and many real chefs appear as themselves. (They appear a little too often this season: save it for the endless mutual appreciation societies on “Top Chef.”) The ubiquitous jargon, the if-you-know details and the fly-on-the-wall style give everything an air of legitimacy — it may not be untrue, but it’s real. Or wait: maybe not real, but true.

That veracity is tempered by the show’s hunger for fabrication. Barnburner monologues give way to dialogue so repetitive it might as well be a Meisner exercise. Comic relief becomes sitcom clowning from a dumber planet. The show’s standout cameos can take you out of the action and make you think”Ooo, Jamie Lee Curtis“and not alone”oooh, dysfunctional Christmas.”

Characters in “The Bear” struggle to express themselves and be understood, so they repeat everything, over and over, louder and louder. What’s annoying is when the show itself does this too, always adding a line for good measure – just to be extra sure that you’re 100 percent sure you understand what it’s about. In a scene late in the season, Carmy and Luca (Will Poulter), Carmy’s old chef buddy, muse about how many peas they shelled for a particular dish while working together. Sydney says it sounds like “a trauma court.”

“It’s a big trauma dish,” Luca chuckles. “The funny thing is that Carmy made a dessert version.”

“So he kind of recycled your trauma, I think,” Sydney says.

“That’s all we can do, right?” says Luca.

We know! We know! Oh my god, “The Bear,” we know! The premise of the show is repurposing trauma into a dish!

“The Bear” has a distant relationship with sex and romance, and that was one of Season 1’s spiciest calling cards: lots of knife work, but no fork or spoon work. The attempts to graft Claire into the mix were laughable in Season 2 — did her character get lost on the way to “Chicago Med”? — and Season 3’s emphasis on her beguiling excellence feels forced and fake.

Fortunately, she’s less present this time, and Carmy is such a derogatory guy that extra desire doesn’t ruin anything. The show’s highs remain incredibly, dazzlingly high, and its ability to overwhelm you is exhilarating: it’s the front car on the roller coaster for 10 episodes.

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