‘The Bear’ Season 3: Tastes Great, Less Fulfilling


The first two seasons of “The Bear” had style and visual flash to spare, but each also had a grounding story arc. Season 1: Carmy returns to Chicago after the suicide of his brother, Michael (Jon Bernthal), to save the family restaurant — then an old-school sandwich joint called the Beef — while evolving it. Season 2: The Beef is chaotically and expensively rebooted as the Bear, the amount of days left in the renovation ticking off at the beginning of each episode. Each question was resolved — the Beef stayed afloat, the Bear made its opening — while teeing up the next.

Season 3, on the other hand, is incremental and a test of patience. A good restaurant tries to level up (and, again, stop bleeding cash). Conflicts that existed keep existing. Carmy pushes and punishes himself (he quits smoking, to save a few minutes a day for work). Syd bottles up her anxiety and doubt. We begin the season wondering if Carmy will make up with Claire, if Syd will sign her partnership agreement, if the Bear’s patron, Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt), will pull the plug. By the time the season ends with “To Be Continued,” we’re still wondering.

But it would be simplistic to say that the problem is a lack of plot action. In fact, its two best episodes, both in the back half of the season, move the overall story little or not at all.

“Napkins,” directed by Edebiri, is a flashback for Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), who becomes a line cook after losing an office job and wandering into the friendly chaos of the Beef, where she commiserates with Michael. “This place, it sucks,” he says. “But I swear, there are days that it is so much fun.”

In “Ice Chips,” Carmy’s pregnant sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott), goes into labor and is forced to turn to the last person she wants in a crisis — her mother, Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis), the volcano of liquor and cigarettes who erupted in last season’s flashback “Fishes.” The bitterness between them isn’t forgotten, but they reach a kind of understanding; in Donna’s intense gaze, you see how a mother looks at a daughter and sees the future and the past, her own life represented outside her.



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