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The Bear-season 3-Jeremy Allen White.png

This Season of ‘The Bear’ Leaves Us Starving

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | July 5, 2024 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | July 5, 2024 |

The Bear-season 3-Jeremy Allen White.png

In the 2022 film The Menu, Mark Mylod’s dark satirical send-up on fine dining, near the end of the third act, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, the sole diner who doesn’t come from a world of privilege, dresses down unhinged Chef Julian Slowick’s (Ralph Fiennes) sick, deadly games, capping off her rant with a well-aimed shot at his ultra-fancy, though insubstantial, multi-course meal: “And the worst part is I’m still f*cking hungry.” When the credits rolled on that last episode of The Bear, I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment in this new season that, coincidentally, also had fine dining in the forefront, but doesn’t work hard enough to penetrate beyond the surface-level ‘restaurants are hard but worth it’ mentality. The result is, with a few notable exceptions, episode after episode’s worth of sauces and microgreens framing a tiny bit of narrative sustenance in each 30 to 40-minute entry. In other words, I was still f*cking hungry.

It’s a jarring change up considering what a strong showing the first season was, followed by an even better second season that delved deeper into the trauma that plagued several of the central characters, especially Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), whom we left in the season two finale at an emotional low during one of the most successful nights of his professional life. The opening of The Bear was a watershed moment for the entire crew; witnessing how each member pushed through and evolved was the show’s biggest strength. It was, to keep the food metaphors going, a winning recipe.

But much like Carmy’s insistence on having a new menu each day to largely disastrous results, the season throws out much of the focus on The Beef-turned-The Bear staff in favor of a more macro view of the cooking profession. There were sprinkles of this last season, mainly as an inspired means to highlight Marcus (Lionel Boyce) leveling up as a pastry chef and pushing Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to understand pride in the quality in one’s work, with a few guest stars coming in to provide an outsider’s perspective. Rather than turn the dial up on our crew, however, this season gives so much attention to the outer restaurant world that it eclipses portions of episodes, including the season’s biggest offense, which is dedicating a good two-thirds of the finale to a veritable host of celebrity chefs as they share cooking platitudes with stilted delivery (the price one normally pays when casting non-actors).

It’s the sort of content I love to hear in a food podcast, not in the season finale of an award-winning dramedy, especially when crucial plotlines are being dangled in the air. Committing that much airtime to chefs repeating roughly a dozen variations of ‘through food you get to touch people’s lives,’ while we await Sydney’s (Ayo Edebiri) decision as to whether or not she’s going to leave The Bear for another, likely more stable, opportunity, failed to intrigue me; when I was then met with a “To Be Continued” title card, it infuriated me.

Celebrity chefs aside, the season as a whole can be summarized as unfocused, with the main cast getting various shades of short shrift, with Marcus arguably the biggest sacrifice (he loses his mother and spends the rest of the time working, the end), but even Carmy feels stunted here. A painfully cringey scene with his personal boogeyman, Chef David Fields (Joel McHale), is the closest thing we get to a big character moment, but it feels limited in emotional scope despite, or possibly because of, the countless painful flashbacks beforehand.

Moss-Bachrach gets the most acting pasture to roam around in—he shines especially bright in scenes with his onscreen daughter, Eva (Annabelle Toomey)—going back and forth between butting heads with Carmy, thanks to their clashing visions of what front of house entails, and his attempt to cope with his ex-wife’s impending nuptials (I need to say it: insisting your former spouse attend your wedding is a worrisome overstep of boundaries).

What adds to the frustration is that when it’s good, it’s really good. “Napkins” is the season’s standout episode—quite an accomplishment for first-time director Edebiri—and the greatest example of why The Bear is such a success. Tina’s (Liza Colón-Zayas) origin story, which only lends her already fantastic line cook to sous chef path even more weight, is a brilliant and all-too-real slice of life packed into a little over a half hour. What’s already a great episode is made superb by a phenomenal scene featuring Colòn-Zayas and Jon Bernthal, reprising his guest role as the dearly departed Mikey Berzatto, as two people who quietly bond over their woes and being perfectly ordinary humans whose mutual goal in life is simply to make it through each day with as little strife as possible.

“Ice Chips” is the other successful episode, though the laggy pace keeps it from greatness (Abby Elliot single-handedly makes up for it). Aside from that, however, the best of the season comes in pieces, usually between the repetitive glut of flashbacks that begin to border on tedious. Without a defined throughline running along the season, the show’s quality gets dragged down by its lack of cohesiveness. Yes, we know it’s about fine dining and reaching the pinnacle of perfection, I only wish that pursuit of perfection translated to what’s being depicted on screen.

Kaleena Rivera the TV Editor for Pajiba. She can be found on Bluesky here.