2023 has already been an exceptional year for TV. We have seen the climactic final seasons of Succession, Barry, and Ted Lasso, the triumphant return of Party Down, Yellowjackets, and The Great, and the premieres of exciting newcomers such as BEEF, Shrinking, and HBO’s The Last of Us. Standing out in such a crowded field is obviously a tall order, but The Bear season 2 was more than up to the task, somehow outdoing its spectacular first season.
I think the reason that The Bear has exceeded any and all expectations two years running now is that the core around which all of its characters orbit is as solid as any great sitcom. The Bear, of course, is more suspenseful, dramatic, and upsetting than the average sitcom, but the titular restaurant — the creation of which the second season revolves around — is as material to the audience as Dunder Mifflin, Cheers, or Central Perk ever were.
Brilliantly, the second season spends as much time outside of the restaurant as it does within its (often falling) walls. In two of this season’s most heartfelt and surprising episodes, we only get a glimpse inside The Bear as the show instead turns its focus to the latest exploits of Marcus and Richie, both of whom grow as characters and people this season.
“Forks,” episode 7, was the highlight of the season for me — an acting tour de force from Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a vulnerable, curious, furious, and stubborn Richie finally finds his purpose.
Character development is a tricky prospect, as every element of the production has to click into place perfectly to avoid spoiling the magic trick. The acting, writing, directing — it is all in service of changing a character we know and love without telegraphing every move or forcing anything unnatural. “Forks” threads that needle beautifully, giving Richie a relatable, meaningful arc in this high-end restaurant where he is entirely out of his element and can’t boss anyone around. While cleaning forks and serving patrons, he learns to not only respect himself but the work he and his fellow chefs (or Jeffs) do every day. And he even gets to scream-sing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” in traffic on his way home, perhaps the most relatable he’s ever been.
The second season also manages to flesh out the show’s characters without it ever feeling like homework. The most notable and riotous version of this is episode 6, “Fishes,” which is an eye-popping cameo-fest that genuinely has to be seen to be believed, but there are plenty of other, quieter examples. We finally meet Sydney’s (Ayo Edebiri) dad, who trusts his talented daughter to find her place in the grueling world of food service but is also understandably worried about the impact all of the stress is having on her.
On the flip side, the show introduces us to Theodore Fak (Ricky Staffieri), who is somehow even sillier and more outrageous than his brother, scene-stealing mechanic Neil (Matty Matheson). In an otherwise incredibly tense season finale, Staffieri had some of the funniest lines in the series to date, and the fact that the show even has room for that speaks volumes.
Another way in which The Bear elevates the medium is by developing its characters in different directions. So often, we watch all our protagonists grow and learn together, overcoming personal and professional hurdles before riding off into the sunset together. The Bear seems to be walking this same path for much of the season but takes a sharp left turn in its closing moments, which is why I now find myself even more excited for season 3 than I was for season 2.
There are too many poignant storylines to recap, performances to celebrate, and shots to be in awe of for one article. The Bear season 2 deserves your full attention, even if your TV backlog is already full to bursting. Every episode is streaming now on Hulu.