‘The Bear’ Season 3 Claws Into the Perils of Seeking Greatness With a Driven Jeremy Allen White

The third season of FX’s “The Bear” puts a major emphasis on the stress to deliver perfection. It’s a worthy theme considering it now applies to the show itself. Few stories are as difficult to keep in one lane like the rise of an underdog. We root for them while they struggle to climb but once they reach a pinnacle, the story has to find new ways to justify itself. Showrunner Christopher Storer still keeps the concept together through its very texture. Food becomes a metaphor for the drive to create and express. Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) is now attempting to run a high-end Chicago restaurant the way other people try to launch a film or open an art gallery.

While the last season ended with heartbreak and family ruptures, this one begins in contemplation as Carmy works in the kitchen of what used to be the Beef, now turned into the Bear, remembering his days as a training chef under the perfectionist eye of expert chefs (Olivia Coleman and Joel McHale). He needs to stay focused despite having fought with cousin and collaborator Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), not to mention nearly ruining everything with girlfriend Claire (Molly Gordon). Desperate to get a Michelin star, Carmy is soon turning up the volume a little too much. He fashions a list of iron “non-negotiables” the kitchen staff must follow. Chef de cuisine Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) is stunned to learn Carmy is already revising their hard-designed dishes and wants to change the menu every day. Carmy’s pregnant sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott), who is in charge of the business end, frets over the planned expenses. It is essentially elegant chaos as the customers and reservations come in, and Carmy struggles to keep the kitchen, and himself, together.

Those accustomed to the grit and energy of the last two seasons of “The Bear,” the latter which grabbed multiple Emmys, might find it tricky to instantly get into the rhythm of this one. It begins with the dreamlike, meandering nature of slow burner TV, flowing in and out of Carmy’s past and present. The premiere is evocative and eloquent, easing us into the character’s current mental state. You could say the season truly begins with the second episode, as Carmy tries to drill his vision into the staff. Here “The Bear” starts to take on the tone of other shows like “ER,” where it becomes about the day-to-day, minute-by-minute operations of this space where everyone is lumped together. Instead of a unifying plot, this season is much more about The Bear as a place that branches out into everyone’s own lives. Marcus (Lionel Boyce), for example, deals with the loss of his mother, and channels it into being the team member who doesn’t question Carmy’s non-negotiables from the get-go. He needs the intensity to refocus.

While Carmy gradually becomes a bit monstrous, it adds to the fascination of watching The Bear function. As with last season, some celebrity chef cameos drop including Kasama’s Genie Kwon, Danish chef René Redzepi, and Paul “Uncle Paulie” James as a line cook who used to work at The Beef. But even more dominant than in previous seasons is the performance of Jeremy Allen White. With this being his true breakout role, White is now expected to push further. He’s an obsessed mess who can’t text Claire but is eager for any updates. Anyone who has worked with perfectionists or film directors recognizes his tunnel vision attitude, dismissing Richie’s valid demands that the front house be kept in the loop. He doesn’t seem to really notice when Sydney starts feeling more like an assistant than an equal. Carmy cares about her, but the creative venture is what consumes his inner and outer resources. 

Eventually, the side stories about Sydney moving into a new place, Richie trying to be a good dad or Sydney giving birth feel weaker because the situation in the kitchen becomes so volatile. Lush dishes look sumptuous to the laymen, but Carmy twitches at one wrong detail and starts all over. Money man, Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt), is the equivalent of a good producer, flipping out constantly over Carmy spending on particular cheeses and other ingredients. The side material thus threatens to feel like total filler. It’s a curious cocktail of material because Carmy’s own journey becomes less clear. Even if he gets that Michelin star and impresses the city’s restaurant critics, what next? Like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the struggle now becomes developing a fuller arc. What exactly are we rooting for as an audience? 

“The Bear” may have lost some of its original grime and edge, but now in this new territory, it’s far from disappointing. This is still excellent television, driven by performances and moments that feel taken from a documentary. Good shows know what they’re talking about and there’s little doubt Storer and team has dived into the restaurant world’s inner and outer corners like anthropologists. Carmy is no longer the empty-handed underdog. He’s running the show and it doesn’t get any easier. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score provides the adequate amount of crackling synth and elegant piano to capture the haze our flawed hero floats in. It is harder to see where this show is going, but it’s a rush still worth tapping into. “The Bear” has a unique understanding of the wonderful stress, madness and euphoria of being part of a grand enterprise.

The Bear” season three begins streaming June 27 on Hulu.