Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Review: “The Bear” Season 3 — All Character, No Plot — is Really Just the Appetizer to What Might Be a Great Meal


Now that I’ve seen all of “The Bear Season 3,” I know why Hulu just dropped it for bingeing instead of releasing it one or two weeks at a time.

The reason? Fans would have stopped watching it before the end. And that would have been a mistake.

If anything Season 3 — a drama, not a comedy, there are no laughs — takes time to build up to anything. Even then, the best episodes — concentrating on Tina’s backstory and Carmie’s sister giving birth (with Jamie Lee Curtis back as Donna, magnificently) — are standalone. They have no “bear”–ing on any of the others.

There’s no question that “The Bear” is great. It’s also ambitious now. But I think in rushing to make Season 3, Christopher Storer either had no cohesive plan, or just figured that he’d tell actual story in Season 4 (or Season 3, Part 2). Almost nothing happens in this season, but there’s a lot of character development among the supporting players. And if you like the Fak brothers, there’e a lot of them this time around. They are the comic relief, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of “The Bear.”

The person we learn least about is Carmy, star Jeremy Allen White. Storer has turned him into a Bruce Weber model, brooding in muted colors. I’ve never seen so much brooding. Carmy is emotionally constipated, which is too bad because originally it was his adventure we were all on. But between long montages, clips from the first two seasons, and endless cooking of expensive, small Per Se type dishes, Carmy is barely present. I hope he’ll come back soon.

The key theme for these 10 episodes: something called “Haunting.” The Faks keep talking about “haunting” as something tangible — basically stalking or ghosting (to use the modern slang) a person you love or hate. It’s like cerebral planking, or putting a hex on someone. But Carmy is actually haunted, by his brother, Michael, who committed suicide, by his own history, etc. When he picks a fight with the star chef who abused him psychologically, it’s almost as if he has exorcism when the chef says, I made you into a better person. Are the ghosts gone? We’ll see.

The standouts are many, however: Oliver Platt is so good as Uncle Jimmy, you realize how much time he’s been wasting on “Chicago Med.” Ayo Edebiri just disappears into Sydney, the heart and soul of the show. She’s living this empathetic young woman, who could also have her own show. Abby Elliott — she astonishes me when I think of her dad, Chris Elliott, and his dad, radio star Bob Elliott. What a family. And there aren’t enough good things to say about Ebon-Moss Bacharach, who plays “lost” with unusual subtlety.

Some random notes: “Billions” creator Brian Koppelman is a great Easter egg as Uncle Jimmy’s bookkeeper sidekick. I loved the Eddie Vedder version of Dave Wakeling’s insanely great 1982 hit, “Save it for Later.” All the music, especially the Nine Inch Nails score for Episode 1, is tremendous. The music supervisors have nailed Emo-Sad for this series, underlining Carmy’s melancholy.

So let’s just say Season 3, Part 1 is a placeholder. In the old days, when a series would have 20 episodes, these 10 would just be the appetizers to the main course. Let’s hope the back 10 are a sumptuous meal.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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