‘The Bear’ Gets a Glow Up. Is That a Good Thing?

The trajectory of FX’s “The Bear” has mirrored the fortunes of its characters. Over three seasons, what started as a scrappy half-hour comedy about a band of gritty Chicagoans running a sandwich shop has now become a cultural phenomenon about those same characters running a fancy restaurant — in suits and Thom Browne chef’s whites, no less.

The show has always had an elegant, consumer-friendly sheen (see: the internet frenzy over the T-shirts that its star, Jeremy Allen White, wore in the first season). But its cast members are now household names: Mr. White, who plays Carmy, is a Calvin Klein underwear model, and Vogue called Ayo Edebiri, who plays Sydney, “Hollywood’s most beloved new star.”

Their A-list status coupled with the show’s eye-popping run of celebrity cameos — by actors, comedians and chefs — can make it seem like watching “The Bear” is no longer like paying a visit to the neighborhood joint that’s a bit rough around the edges, but serves delicious food. Instead, it’s like going to the kind of place where you might look around at the crowd and wonder if you’re dressed well enough.

In a chat that has been edited and condensed, Styles staffers shared their thoughts about the series’s glow up and third season, which premiered last week to mixed reviews.

Minju Pak Is there a change in the way the characters are written or portrayed this season?

Joseph Bernstein It seems pretty similar to me? I guess because they have the fancy restaurant now, there’s marginally less “gritty Chicago” content. Fewer shots of Carmy in what appears to be an efficiency sleeping in a nasty twin bed.

Katie Van Syckle I think one example is Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his shift to being a guy who “wears suits now.”

Marie Solis Yes, I was going to mention that, too. Same with Neil (Matty Matheson). I think the show plays up that dissonance for laughs — that the core of these characters is the same, and it’s funny that they’re so buttoned-up now.

KVS Richie started to make this shift last season but really leaned into it. In an early episode, there is a moment when he is in their new clean kitchen, sipping from an espresso cup.

MP We went into this sort of talking about how the actors themselves have had their own “glow-up,” but in fact the show’s plot has mirrored it in a way. Act 1: grit. Act 2: glowing up. Act 3: glow up achieved.

JB I mean, conflict makes for good drama, and it feels like there is an absence of dramatic conflict. Possibly because the glow up has been achieved.

MS Totally. I think now that the show is more about fine dining, it capitulates a little more to the food culture we see elsewhere in media. The first episode of the season had the feel of “Chef’s Table.” There are shots of people swooshing sauce on plates and applying microgreens with tweezers, set to dramatic music.

JB Yes. Instead of poking and prodding at fine dining culture, which could produce its own set of interesting conflicts, the show seems pretty set on celebrating it.

MS It reminds me of how “Succession” was criticized for trying to skewer the rich while at the same time indulging the viewer’s desire to ogle their opulent homes and “quiet luxury” clothes.

KVS I wonder if Carmy is in love with fine-dining culture, in a first love sort of way, and maybe he’ll go back and realize that he had something with The Beef all along.

MP What did you all think of the celebrity and real-life chef cameos?

KVS I found many of the celeb and chef cameos a bit jarring, except for Josh Hartnett. He slid right in unnoticed.

JB I like the scene with Carmy and Daniel Boulud because it seems kind of romantic.

MS It seems like part of what we’re getting at is that the whole show has gotten a bit more refined — the actors’ profiles have risen, the show is portraying a style of dining that’s more polished and prestigious and now it’s star-studded, too, with the celebrity cameos.

MP I do think the show is trying out some things: It’s asking questions. Is it a comedy or drama? Are these people likable or not? Is this experimental?

MS It’s an odd mix — I think the show is trying to do something different and more lofty, but it also has an element of aspirational lifestyle content. Maybe that’s just the way people watch TV these days. When the show premiered, people coveted Carmy’s white T-shirt — which was $85.

JB The German company that makes those shirts, Merz B. Schwanen, just opened a store in New York.

MS And this season there is a J. Crew x ‘The Bear’ capsule.

MP You mean the branding and celebrity and the experimental aspect go hand in hand?

JB To me these things go together. Because the first episode looks to me like a high-concept ad.

MP And what do we think of the food?

JB I think of eating at this restaurant that had a chef’s table, and the chef had these tasteful Japanese sleeve tattoos, and then his big flourish was a bunch of meats wrapped inside each other, with a bourbon glaze.

MP Worth it?

JB I honestly can’t remember. It was probably really good.

Joseph Bernstein, Minju Pak, Marie Solis and Katie Van Syckle contributed reporting.

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