‘The Bear’: Jeremy Allen White Reaches for Glory in Riveting Season 2

Nothing beats a character like Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) of FX’s award-winning “The Bear.” He’s flawed, like all of us, and holds on to that one talent that could promise success or eternal disappointment. In season two of this unique series that combines grit with warmth, Carmy is still chasing his dream of opening a restaurant in Chicago. The inaugural season was a great first taste, combining the personal drama of Carmy’s journey with the intricate details of the restaurant world, along with its cutthroat business practices. Now he’s really diving into wanting to establish a high-end restaurant with his team of friends and collaborators. The challenges Carmy faces involve lingering grief over the passing of his brother, and also the various roadblocks one faces in getting a business started. It’s not a recycled show about easily identifiable villains and plot twists. Just getting the right permits can feel like battling a cosmic Marvel threat.

After discovering $300,000 his late brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal) left in some tomato cans, Carmy has the seed money for initiating the new restaurant. He still needs to remake the interior of The Original Beef of Chicagoland which was the joint Mikey had been running. Not only does Carmy need to work with his sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott), to get all the bureaucratic essentials in place, he also needs sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) to get the staff adjusted to the techniques a high-end kitchen requires. The staff also faces their own personal journeys. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) cares for his ailing mother. Sydney is facing pushback from her father (Robert Townsend), who has high expectations but also wonders if she can really trust Carmy. Kitchen regulars, Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) and Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), are tasked by Sydney to attend cooking school to replenish their skills for the new place. Carmy’s cousin, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), is the one who still tries to fight back a little, hoping to retain some of the spirit of the original restaurant.

Creator Christopher Storer keeps what worked so well in the first season and expands on it, first gripping us with the stark details of Carmy racing against time to make his dream happen. The richness of the writing lies in its combination of detail with the simplicity of life’s human turns. If you have ever tried to start a venture, then you understand the sheer suspense and anxiety when Carmy learns overall kitchen renovations will cost about $95,000. There isn’t the greedy atmosphere of other entrepreneur shows. Carmy is driven by that universal need to make a life out of what you are. Doubt then becomes the most powerful obstacle. Ritchie sit in the basement looking at old family photos and then challenges the purpose behind this whole project. Carmy is still mourning the loss of Mikey and part of White’s award-winning acting is how he evokes the exhaustion of hard work with the inner turmoil of genuine sadness. Abby Elliott brings a lighter, funnier sort of humor in turning Natalie into the necessary, nagging voice in all businesses, keeping Carmy focused on those pesky small details like permits.

When there are plot twists they tend to be decisions that are understandable but only pile more pressure on Carmy. Desperate for a bigger cash infusion, he goes to see his uncle, Jimmy (Oliver Platt), and asks for $500,000. The final deal is that if Carmy doesn’t repay the borrowed money in 18 months, then Jimmy gets the restaurant and property. Such moves keep the show suspenseful but believable. Platt is a colorful actor, but he carries the scene like a genuine, cold business deal where if it fails, then it’s on Carmy for giving it a try. Later, Natalie provides another twist in the season that is very personal and also raises the stakes for her in a completely believable way. Much of “The Bear” feels taken from episodes from real life, as if Storer and the writing team jot down their friend’s experiences or listen in on conversations that make it into the scripts. Shootouts don’t derail plans in this series, because in real life a pregnancy is enough of a major cliffhanger.

The other characters are also given ample space this season to grow. Restructuring the restaurant means having to acquire new skills which sets the kitchen staff on their own journeys. It’s endearing to see Ebraheim and Tina arrive at a culinary school like nervous new students, giving each other the advice of not looking anyone in the eye. Half-way in the season pastry chef Marcus heads for Europe, where he decides to expand his skills by training with a former colleague of Carmy’s, Luca (Will Poulter). It’s a wonderfully meditative episode where working on a giant dough mound leads to eloquent, down-to-earth reflections on living. Carmy remains the intense, brilliant mind at work, clearly modeled at times on Anthony Bourdain with that combination of pirate attitude and sophistication. Then an encounter with a woman (Molly Gordon) from his past at a local store reminds us he also has a heart, or just desire, that adds yet another layer to his evolving life. In its diversity of personalities and experiences, all coming together in the microcosmic world of a kitchen yet to be, “The Bear” is thrilling television fueled by the great craft of the writing, directing and magnificent performances bringing it to life. It’s a brilliant dish that hopefully stays on the streaming menu for many more servings.

The Bear” season two begins streaming June 22 on Hulu.