After emerging as the bona fide TV sleeper hit of summer 2022, satisfying viewing palates of audiences and critics alike, FX’s The Bear is back for seconds from the crew at the grimy Chicago sandwich joint.
The Bear follows culinary award-winning New York City chef de cuisine Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, who earlier this year won both the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series.
Last season, Carmy came back to his hometown of Chicago to take the reins of the family’s Italian beef sandwich shop, following his older brother Michael’s suicide. Along the way he found himself in an all too familiar territory, envisioning a new culinary path of sprucing things up in the kitchen, while his new crew members gradually started their own personal transformational journeys, with each forced to confront the past and reckon with who they wanted to be in the future.
Indeed, the inaugural season ended with Carmy officially retiring the old restaurant’s sign and installing a new one in its place, clearing the way for the new 10-episode season, in which he faces the struggles of restarting a business, juggling dealing with bureaucracy and contractors with the creative agony of menu planning. The transition also brings new challenges for his staff, now forced to come together and push the boundaries of their abilities and relationships, learning the true meaning of working in the service industry.
In preparation for his role, Jeremy Allen White went to classes at a culinary school in Pasadena, California, and later shadowed staff in the kitchens of restaurants, while also receiving advice from producers on set.
“When I started hanging out in restaurants and I was in culinary school, I was maybe not too detail oriented, but I wanted to become a really great chef,” said the actor while promoting season 2 at the 2023 Television Critics Association Winter Tour. “I wanted to become as good as Carmy, and that’s not realistic. It’s not possible. It’s just not real. And I think what executive producer Matty Matheson and culinary producer Courtney Storer were really helpful with, was kind of talking about that dance and movement. That’s something that can be learned and can be kind of faked. And so, it took some of the pressure off of myself. I mean, just having them – they were really, like, bullshit detectors throughout. You know, if you’re doing something silly, they’ll stop you. So, they were just kind of protecting us the whole time.”
On going back to the kitchen for the second season, White added, “I’m confident we can get back in our bubble and there will be some muscle memory to it. But I do remember I was texting our co-showrunner Joanna Calo in the summer, just kind of checking in – ‘How are you feeling with all of this craziness?’ – and she asked me the same. And I was like, ‘It’s good,’ but there are so many opinions and a lot of ideas being thrown at us that aren’t necessarily our own. And that’s a beautiful thing, because people take away what they take away from something, and that’s television and film. They get what they get. But it was nerve-wracking having other people’s ideas and opinions about the show that aren’t our own. We’re standing here right now and trying to make something, like, as true and pure as we did kind of the first time around.”
One of the show’s breakout stars is comedian Ayo Edebiri, who plays up and coming chef Sydney Adamu, whom Carmy early on appoints as his sous-chef, but not without encountering obstacles to overcome.
“As somebody who’s written for TV, this is one of the greatest shows to just be in service as an actor on,” said Edebiri, who has written for such shows as Dickinson and What We Do in The Shadows, “I remember even just reading the pilot, being, like, ‘I’m reading something and I don’t feel my annoying little writer brain being, like, “I know exactly what’s going to happen next.”’ Every episode is like a surprise in the best way, and so I kind of like also being in a makeup chair and sort of hanging out and not having deadlines.”
Edebiri also talked about honing her acting toolkit in a kitchen environment.
“The producer would be, like, ‘Why do you think you’re moving like that? Why are you carrying something like that or trying to chop big and aggressive to show off? You don’t do that, and you don’t need to. You can command energy in a different way. You don’t have, like, big booming guy voice or whatever. And what if you didn’t? What if you were quiet and everybody were to listen to you in that way?’ So just opening my mind in those ways, too, I think, was really fun.”
The show’s creator Christopher Storer, who has previously worked on Ramy, Little Voice and various stand-up comedy specials, concluded, “Heading into Season 2, we were really lucky that we sort of had a pretty solid map of what was going to happen in Season 2 even before we were done shooting Season 1. So, it was nice to not have to necessarily react to anything that we had heard about the show or read about the show. And in terms of tone, I think, when we all started making the show together, it was so far under the radar in Chicago that we almost felt like a student film – in the best possible way, because our crew, who are, like, the best, and people that we had worked with for kind of ten years and family that we had kind of grown up with, we sort of felt like it was honest to the restaurant industry, which also is kind of, like, funny and absurd and gnarly and intense. So, I think in terms of balancing tone, I felt like we all kind of checked each other in keeping it honest to some degree, and I think that’s kind of where we landed.”