The critically acclaimed and Twitter-famous show airing on FX and Hulu, The Bear, is back for its second season! This season, we follow our favorite stressed-out characters as they work to transform their restaurant from The Beef to The Bear. Turning this barely-running sandwich shop into an upscale fine-dining Michelin star-worthy restaurant would be hard enough, but the crew has to do it in three months. Season One was amazing, but for me, Season Two really takes the cake for multiple reasons.
I watch a lot of cooking shows. Too many cooking shows, to be honest. I was watching one while binge-watching this season of The Bear. If you go on any streaming service, you will, without a doubt, accidentally run into five different cooking shows. Each one of these shows has its own focus ranging from the food itself, the way the food is made, or who is making the food. The point is we consume and make a ton of food-based media. The Bear beautifully succeeds in pointing out how capitalism and consumerism work together to poison something authentic and special: the joy of cooking. Let’s start with the primary reason, Chicago.
Where Season One began to romanticize Chicago, Season Two continues and outdoes Season One entirely. The cinematography feels like a love letter to Chicago. It’s beautiful to see how the architecture and the history of Chicago reflects in the food itself. This is proof of why Chicago is the only city where this show works. There’s a lot of talk that goes around about Chicago mainly about crime and policing. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and act like all of that talk is untrue, but there is something special and unique about Chicago.
Chicago is not like other cities. It’s not New York, Los Angeles, or Atlanta. It’s not Paris, London, or Tokyo. Chicago is nearly just as big, if not bigger than, these cities but not as established creative-wise. This is not to say Chicago is meritless in comparison to other major cities. Quite the opposite, actually. The Windy City is incredibly authentic. Where people in other major cities may be hungry, people in Chicago are starving. Chicago is not the place you move to to look like you made it on social media. The city runs on culture, not consumerism. The Bear‘s setting in Chicago works so well because hustle culture can’t thrive there. It especially works because the food scene in Chicago is next level. We have everything from hole in the wall mom & pop shops to Michelin Star restaurants.
The Bear, like Chicago, takes the quote “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and calls it out on its bullshit. Carmy loves what he does, but had to Google the word “fun.” Why? Because he was having none. He’s making a new restaurant, he’s living out his dream, and he’s miserable every step of the way.
This should be the happiest time of his life, but the thing about doing your passion as a job is at the end of the day, it’s still a job. It’s still a job and if you’re not turning a profit or making money, it’s your ass on the street. It’s also just a job; a job that stresses Carmy out so much that he keeps jeans in his oven because that’s how much cooking stresses him out. A job that means you work such long hours, your life becomes work, and one day you wake up alone and realize everyone moved on without you.
That’s the realization Carmy and Sydney have this season in different ways. Sydney realizes she is putting everything on the line to try to get a third (literally one Michelin star) of what Carmy has accomplished and it is literally making her sick. Carmy realizes that nothing he’s gained or accomplished makes him happy. All he can do is wonder if being happy is even possible for him. His Uncle tells him point-blank that making and keeping The Bear successful will take every second, every drop of blood, everything that he has and all he will get is a kick in the balls daily. This is exactly what capitalism does to us, it asks us to give everything and in return, we don’t even get nothing we get punished.
But The Bear doesn’t just show us the horrors of capitalism. It shows us what we should be doing instead. It shows us that the point of having a passion is not to have a job but to simply have passion. At many points during the show, we see these chefs who we normally see work with caviar, crudité, bone marrow, etc. for consumerism, instead making simpler food as an act of love.
My favorite example of this is when Sydney makes Nat an omelet. They’re in the middle of a discussion about the restaurant and Nat is tired and pregnant. Sydney wanting to do something nice makes her an omelet. It’s nothing special. Three eggs, butter, and Boursin cheese. Topped with chives, crushed sour cream & onion chips, and cracked pepper (I’d actually do anything for Sydney to make me this omelet). It’s my favourite scene in the whole season. Sydney later tells Carmy that it was the best part of her day because she loves taking care of people.
This season drives home one vital point: the best food and service comes from restaurants run by people who just want to make someone else’s day. Carmy realizes that he can use his cooking skills to make his girlfriend dinner because no one has ever done it for her. Donna makes an, admittedly disastrous, Christmas spread because she just wants to make things pretty for her family.
We make food out of love. Love for ourselves but also love for others. Professional chefs give their all every day to do it for total strangers. Cooking is, at its core, about community, which is the opposite of capitalism. It is not the love for making food that is the problem; it is the way capitalism and consumerism take advantage of that love and demand shorter waiting times, quiet plates, sparkling forks, and overall a level of perfection that is not only impossible but poisonous.
The Bear’s Second Season really reminds all of us that our hobbies and passions are not meant to fuel capitalism’s need for constant work. We should be able to take time to make our dreams come true, not rush them because of money. The people who so carefully make our food deserve to have stress-free work environments.
To take it even a step further the people who make our entertainment deserve stress-free fairly compensated work environments as well. The Bear almost didn’t catch on until a few people on Twitter noticed how amazing it was. We only get shows like The Bear that teach us lessons like this and execute them beautifully by funding new ideas and treating the teams with those ideas with care. I loved this season of The Bear and I look forward to seeing what more it will teach us.
Needing to read more from Sydney? Check out this culture critique of How Marketed Queerbaiting and Shipping Culture Work Together.