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Why "The Bear" Backlash Was Inevitable and Misguided

Why “The Bear” Backlash Was Inevitable and Misguided

Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) in season 3 of “The Bear.” FX

Warning: this post contains spoilers for season 3 of The Bear.

It’s a story we’ve seen many times before: something gains massive popularity, and soon enough, critics emerge to declare it overrated, not worth the hype, or beloved only by the masses lacking sophisticated taste. Occasionally, they’re correct. Take the later seasons of Ted Lasso, which lost their charm post-pandemic, transforming from sweet to overly saccharine. Yet, more often than not, these critics are simply being contrarian, unable to enjoy something popular because it challenges their sense of cultural superiority.

Given its acclaim over two seasons, it’s not surprising that The Bear is now facing a similar backlash. Despite critical praise and several standout episodes regarded as some of the finest in TV, the show’s ubiquity has made it a target. Jeremy Allen White’s newfound sex-symbol status, frequent “Yes, chef” quotes, and high visibility at awards shows have all contributed to this growing fatigue.

The reviews for season 3 haven’t been kind. The New Yorker described it as “overstuffed and undercooked.” The Guardian found it “unbelievably frustrating,” while Variety called it “a step down” and “aimless.” Slate put it bluntly: “The Bear Is Not a Good Show.” Their criticisms, however, appear exaggerated. It’s like watching Carmy himself discard beautifully crafted dishes simply because they fall short of his exacting standards.

Season 3 isn’t perfect. It leans heavily on stunt casting and cameos from real-life chefs, takes risks that don’t always pay off, and ends on a cliffhanger with a “To Be Continued” title card. Given that Seasons 3 and 4 were reportedly filmed back-to-back, it’s more apt to view the current season as part of a larger narrative rather than a standalone story. But to label it as bad is an overstatement.

The Chicago Tribune review’s final assessment remains a mystery, but the mixed descriptors that flash as Carmy reads it (“delicious,” “sloppy,” “confusing,” “innovative,” “excellent,” and “disappointing”) seem to encapsulate public sentiment. We don’t know if Sydney will stay or leave the restaurant, but we witness Carmy becoming more entangled in his own mental struggles. Jeremy Allen White aptly noted that Carmy continues to avoid his issues, a behavior that traps him in a cycle of perfectionism and grief, all while he fails his team by imposing his unattainable standards.

This season, Carmy also distances himself from Claire, his love interest, who overheard him call her a distraction. He’s too damaged to apologize and partly believes she’s a distraction from his obsessive culinary pursuits. This internal conflict isn’t enjoyable to watch, but it is authentic. Personal growth is rarely straightforward, and The Bear captures this complexity unflinchingly. Carmy’s journey is far from over, reminiscent of Don Draper’s dark arc in early season 4 of Mad Men.

Patience is a virtue when it comes to prestige TV’s complex characters. We must endure their lowest points to witness their growth. In Carmy’s case, his rock-bottom moment strains his relationship with Sydney, disrupting the partnership that fuels the show. Nevertheless, this discord is essential for their development. Critics who fail to see the importance of this conflict are missing the point.

While Carmy isolates himself, the series takes time to explore secondary characters in remarkable ways. The episode “Napkins” delves into Tina’s backstory and her bond with Mikey. Richie and Natalie’s evolving friendship is both heartwarming and poignant. “Ice Chips” stands out as it examines Natalie’s tumultuous relationship with her mother, Donna, culminating in a powerful, emotional climax as she goes into labor. These episodes showcase the series at its finest, underscoring its depth and compelling storytelling.

Even the season finale, which some may find divisive due to its unresolved nature and numerous real-life chef cameos, highlights why The Bear resonates with many. The passion these chefs have for their craft is palpable and relatable, even if fine dining isn’t your interest. This drive and dedication speak to anyone with a deep love for their work, making them feel seen and understood.

The show’s core message is that passion and ambition are meaningless without the people who support and challenge you. Carmy is on the brink of a significant realization: all his drive is pointless if he ends up alone. The Bear beautifully conveys the importance of family, both biological and chosen, and the value of collaboration and mutual support. It’s these themes that make The Bear truly exceptional.

Source: various sources