The Astonishing Success of ‘The Bear’

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Even setting aside Jeremy Allen White’s earth-shaking Calvin Klein ad earlier this month, it’s been a very good January for The Bear. On the heels of its second season, the FX drama that centers around White’s character Carmy, a Chicago chef trying to revive his brother’s restaurant, has proven both a fan favorite and a critical darling. The internet was flooded with memes inspired by the show following its July 2023 release, and its Season 2 premiere was the highest rated debut in Hulu history. Then came the armfuls of Emmys, Golden Globes, and Critic’s Choice awards that the show — and its stars — took home this month. And considering it’s a breakneck, anxiety-inducing kitchen drama led by a relatively unknown cast, this level of success is even more impressive.

Before its first season, few people had heard of Ayo Edibiri or Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Jeremy Allen White was the guy from Shameless, not the face of Calvin Klein or the beefed-up star of a buzzy, Oscar-bait film. It seemed unlikely that a show focused on the tedious intricacies of opening a new restaurant would so thoroughly capture the popular imagination. But it consistently managed to use this context to mine the most universal of human experiences — imposter syndrome, depression, family bullshit — in ways that audiences found deeply relatable.

Compare The Bear to the other big winner at the Emmy Awards last night — Succession. The final season of the HBO drama about the machinations of a family-run media empire was positively primed to be a critical and commercial success. We’re in an era when “eat the rich” stories are more popular than ever — see The Menu, Billions, and Parasite — and Succession offered a unique window into the (mostly) self-induced suffering of the super-wealthy. Pair that delicious drama with stunning performances from Brian Cox, Matthew Macfayden, and Sarah Shook (among others), and you’ve got an obvious hit on your hands.

That The Bear was so openly accepted by the restaurant industry certainly played a role in its success. Hearing chefs and line cooks say that the show closely mirrored their own experiences — though there have been some criticisms of the way it depicts restaurant work — made it feel even more viscerally real, which intensified the show’s emotional impact. Sure, we’re all still very much enjoying the “eat the rich” era (see: Saltburn) but one cannot survive on voyeuristic schadenfreude alone.

Following the success of The Bear, surely television executives who have the power to greenlight new shows have learned one thing: audiences are clearly desperate for working-class shows that feel like they’re about and for regular people. We’ll get more of that when The Bear returns for season 3, likely sometime this summer, but here’s hoping that this massive awards season success opens the floodgates for more shows that feel as real as The Bear.

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