• Dom. Jul 14th, 2024

The Bear Season 3 Round Table: All Sizzle and No Steak


Jul 3, 2024
A Carmy Problem - The Bear

It’s a dead horse we’ve been beating over and over again — The Bear is a show that should be dropped by the episode.

That said, with that approach, some of the third-season episodes would have withered on the vine, which is problematic in more ways than one.

We’ve gathered TV Fanatics Jasmine Blu, Stephen Silver, Tyler Johnson, and Carissa Pavlica to discuss the season’s highs and lows.

How did the season stack up against the previous two? How did you come to that comparison? Was it based on the strength of storytelling? The Acting? Expand.

Jasmine: I love The Bear, and it was one of the series I looked forward to most. However, compared to the first two seasons, I felt “whelmed” — not “overwhelmed,” and not “underwhelmed,” just… somewhere in the middle.

I thought the acting was phenomenal, as usual, but it felt as if the series had officially bought into its own hype, which impacted the style and storytelling.

Related: The Bear Season 3 Ending Explained – The Restaurant Reviews Are In

The directing and cinematography were very arthouse, and ironically, for a series about fine dining, there wasn’t any restraint with some of the techniques used.

I found many aspects of the season self-congratulatory and pretentious, and this is something I referenced in my “Blue Sky” series piece; this season of The Bear felt as if they were writing for the Academy and auditioning for their next award rather than writing to the audience that has come to enjoy the series. 

One of the best examples of this is how they overused the Faks to justify why they’re a comedy.

Stephen: As much as I liked the new season and thought it was better than most of what’s currently on TV, I don’t think it was quite up to the level of the previous seasons, especially Season 2, which I consider an all-timer television season. 

There wasn’t really any one episode up to the level of “Fishes” or “Forks,” nor were there any individual scenes as good as Jimmy’s Steve Bartman/Alex Gonzalez speech, which was my highlight of Season 2. 

I binged Season 2 right before watching Season 3, which made the latter look worse by comparison. 

However, I did enjoy the ratcheting up of the tension, which this series has always done very well. 

Tyler: How’s this for an appropriate analogy? I once had the pleasure of eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago that specialized in the dubious genre of cuisine known as molecular gastronomy.

The meal was visually impressive, and it was certainly memorable, but it ultimately left me feeling vaguely unfulfilled and unsatisfied. In other words, it was a lot like The Bear in its third season. 

Frankly, it’s sort of surprising to me that this season has elicited such strong reactions. 

Related: The Bear – Where Have We Seen Them Before?

I felt that while there were moments of genuine hilarity and profound emotion — as we’ve come to expect from this show — they were so few and far between that the ten episodes I just watched left no strong impression at all.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this season was bad, but it was rather forgettable, which is not a word I ever thought I would use to describe The Bear.

The acting, as always, was top-notch (although I’d like to see the writers give Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri more to work with), but increasingly, it feels like this show has no idea what direction it wants to head in, story-wise. 

Carissa: It’s hard to follow these responses, so I’ll agree in great measure.

Jasmine is correct that the show has failed to consider its audience. A friend of mine considered this season poetry, but poetry isn’t sustainable in long form. I fear the longer the show continues, the more abstract it will become.

Tyler’s point that this was a forgettable season hits home. There were two outstanding episodes, which we’ll discuss later, but other than that, I couldn’t pinpoint any episode in particular. That doesn’t say much for the season as a whole.

It also brings me back to poetry. Episodes and arcs aren’t melting into each other for an overarching story. Instead, each episode plays like a unique poem in a book of poetry. There are similarities that got them under the same cover, but they don’t move emotions or ideas forward.

The Original Beef is gone but not forgotten. What surprised you the most about the opening of The Bear?

Jasmine: I was actually surprised at how well they took to the shift.

I expected the adaption period to be rougher with some of the technical stuff, but for the most part, the rest of the team was pretty solid, considering the drastic change from beef joint to fine dining. It was Carmy who threw everything out of whack.

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Carmy’s changing menu was ambitious and made me cringe right off the bat, even if I could understand his thought process behind it.

What caught me completely off guard was that he apparently wasn’t keeping up with which variations of a dish he made for any given day, so they didn’t even know which duck dish the reviewer tasted.

Stephen: Not a ton, honestly. I knew they wouldn’t just open and have everything be successful and hunky-dory, with everybody getting along in the kitchen and no financial problems; that’s not what this show is. 

Someone had a viral tweet about how they’d be mad if their favorite neighborhood sandwich spot suddenly turned into an expensive, high-end restaurant. I would have liked for the show to have done more to convey what the restaurant’s clientele thought of that. 

Tyler: Well, at least they kept the service window for sandwiches! I found myself frustrated by Carmy’s actions throughout this season, especially when it came to running his dream restaurant. The title “chef” means so much to him, but he seems to forget that it derives from “chief.” 

A real chef is more than a cook; he’s a leader. And with his wasteful approach to inventory, his refusal to listen to the counsel of his partners, and his constant tantrums, Carmy looked a lot more like a first-year line cook than the seasoned professional that he believes himself to be.

The Bear diehards are always praising the show’s authenticity, but for me, that was another aspect of this season that just didn’t ring true.

Carissa: For all the hard work that went into transforming The Original Beef into The Bear, I would have liked to have been included in the interim, the planning, the training, the menu prep, and opening night.

I agree with Tyler that Carmy’s attitude is hindering the restaurant’s success. If I were Uncle Jimmy, I would have done more to reign him in. His flagrant disregard for finances is frightening.

Related: The Case For the Short-Running Show: Why The Bear Should End With Season 4

Stephen mentioned how shocking it must have been for the regular customers to lose their go-to sandwich spot, and we did sense their annoyance when the window wasn’t open. People loved them for what they were.

I would have liked to see Carmy delve deeper into the restaurant’s history rather than try to replicate the success of his mentors, whom he very much disliked.

What do you think of Carmy and Sydney’s working relationship after the opening of The Bear?

Jasmine: I was so heartbroken about those two. All season, I kept waiting for one “I’m sorry” gesture just to have some hope that a conversation would be had in the future to smooth things between them, and it never happened.

My heart went out to Sydney because there was so much emphasis on legacy and cycles, and in some way, Sydney is Carmy’s legacy, but he’s inflicting the same type of trauma and anxiety onto her that his mentor did to him, and he seems none the wiser about it.

Sydney’s fears were manifested all season as she got shut out repeatedly and was shown that she was not truly a partner, no matter what the contract suggested.

She was always open about how she felt regarding this and wary of whether she would be his partner. Sadly, Carmy was so deeply caught up in his own head that he didn’t realize that he had let her down and left her alone despite his assurance that he wouldn’t at the top of the season.

I wasn’t surprised by any of this, but it was genuinely heartbreaking to see the dissolution of that partnership before our eyes.

Stephen: This was one of the better-handled aspects of Season 3. They would likely have natural disagreements, and the show did a good job establishing that Sydney (“I had a left Twix for dinner last night”) might be looking for security and stability. 

And yes, the show did the right thing, but not having them become romantically involved. That’s just plain not what this show is. 

Tyler: I hope Sydney never “clicks the button” and permanently tethers herself to Carmy.

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He got everything he wanted this season — with the exception of Claire — and he was as whiny and irritating as always.

Sydney wouldn’t qualify for medical insurance until three months after she signed the contract, and that’s totally unacceptable. She’d need a top-tier plan to pay for all the therapy she wou she would need from working with Carmy.

Carissa: Jasmine hit the nail on the head. Carmy has been a wreck as a result of his mentorships. He’s lost his sense of self. That he is now inflicting this on his mentee is so disheartening.

If Sydney is looking for an out this early in their journey, it’s possible this is a relationship that will not be mended.

How would you explain Carmy’s journey so far? Where does he need to go next?

Jasmine: It’s the breakdown before the breakthrough. He’s been freefalling to rock bottom for a while, but he’s been able to bury himself in work and everyone around him.

Unfortunately, that’s not a sustainable avenue for working through things, so he’s unraveling, and we’ve been placed into his headspace all season to feel and experience that with him.

He needs to finally hit bottom, likely when things fall through with the restaurant because of this review and perhaps after losing Sydney. Then, he can maybe have that long-awaited reunion with Donna and try to move on.

Carmy thought confronting David Fields would be that cathartic moment that gives him some form of closure and peace, but many of his issues stem from Donna, and until he can make some headway with that, he’ll continue to have issues.

Stephen: The show spent a ton of time in Season 3 — you could say too much time — establishing the exact touchstones that made Carmy into what he is (the trauma of Mikey’s death, his perfectionism, the dysfunction of his family).

At this point, that is all clearly established, and it might be time for the show to go beyond that show what he learns from it. 

Tyler: What journey? Frankly, I believe this show has a serious Carmy problem. It’s written itself into a corner with a terminally obnoxious protagonist.

He’s demonstrated zero growth over the course of three seasons, and at this point, any developments would seem so out of character as to feel implausible.

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I’m a fan of likable antiheroes like Don Draper and Tony Soprano, but Carmy lacks the all-important “likable” part.

Carissa: Carmy has gone backward instead of forwards. He arrived at The Original Beef with a beef of his own and he’s been unable to squash it even with the excellent opportunity afforded him and the incredible people who surround him.

Carmy needs intensive counseling. He’s treating people horribly and losing his way. He needs to do some soul-searching to determine why Mikey left him the restaurant. I think he’ll be surprised when he discovers the answer.

Sydney can’t bring herself to sign the partnership agreement. What should she do?

Jasmine: My darling Sydney is in a rough spot. Her gut is clearly leading her away from The Bear, and she should probably trust it.

Sydney has one of the toughest positions because she’s fairly new to The Bear family, but she’s already such a vital piece of it. She has also left before and had to return.

Right now, signing that agreement is like attaching herself to a sinking ship, sure, but to something where she doesn’t feel valued and has become the antithesis of what she wanted and desired from this experience.

They’ve all become her family relatively quickly, but if we haven’t learned anything from The Bear, it’s that family can be toxic and detrimental to your health and growth, and she has to look out for herself as well.

Stephen: It’s the classic choice between security (a better-paying, presumably less chaotic job with Adam) as opposed to loyalty (staying at The Bear.)

It would certainly make sense for Sydney to take the job with Adam, but the show’s status quo bias would appear to make it likely she stays at The Bear (or leaves temporarily before coming back).

Tyler: Run! Sydney was the heart and the moral center of this show this season, and watching her try to salvage her partnership with Carmy was like watching someone stick it out in an abusive relationship.

Related: Should The Bear Ditch the Cameos & Get Back to Basics?

Carmy is a narcissist and an emotional infant, and he seems unlikely ever to change. That’s a big problem for his co-workers and for this show.

Carissa: She should cut ties with The Bear. If Carmy continues on his destructive path and Sydney stays, she’ll wind up following in his footsteps.

She’s been forced into a position of being his therapist and his mother, and that’s untenable for a working relationship. More importantly, The Bear needs to refocus, and splitting them up might be the best idea for the show.

As much as I don’t want to add more characters to the already long cast list, pitting Sydney and Carmy against each other with competing restaurants would be a breath of fresh air for the series, which is already feeling long in the tooth.

What were your favorite two episodes of the season and why?

Jasmine: I had a difficult time connecting with full episodes of the season, but the one that stood out the most for me was “Napkins.” 

Liza Colón-Zayas’ performance was utterly sublime, and it made me wish that we got to spend more time with her throughout the series.

I’m the oldest of a single mom, and watching her struggle to find more employment and then sharing that her goal was as simplistic as just wanting to be able to feed her kid was so honest and real; I love it.

When she finally showed up at The Bear and Richie was so genuinely kind to her, it gave me so much more perspective on their bond. That conversation with Mikey was a highlight of the season.

I also appreciated “Violet” for Marcus’ quiet moments that captured his grief. I loved the moments with Sydney and her father, and of course, Richie and his daughter and that awkward interaction with Frank.

Stephen: I loved the two in the middle section, “Children” and “Napkins.” My favorite guest star of the season was not John Cena but rather Brian Koppelman (the co-creator of Billions) as “The Computer,” in the scene where there is chaos and arguments. 

And “Napkins” provided some much-needed background in Tina, as well as one of the better Mikey scenes the show has done to date. 

Tyler: My all-time favorite episode of The Bear is last season’s “Fishes,” and nothing from this season came close to approaching that level. I guess I most enjoyed “Napkins” and “Ice Chips” — not coincidentally, the two episodes that took us away from Carmy’s toxic kitchen.

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Carissa: This is the easiest one for me. “Napkins” and “Ice Chips” were incredible standalone journeys for the characters involved.

Neither Liza Colón-Zayas’ nor Abby Elliott has had their chance to shine, and these episodes afforded them that opportunity. Both rose to the occasion beautifully and Ayo Edebiri’s direction of “Napkins” was superb.

What were your least favorite episodes of the season and why?

Jasmine: It’ll probably be an unpopular opinion, but I actually wasn’t a fan of “Ice Chips,” and it goes back to the self-congratulatory, feeding into its own hype bit.

The performances were great, and I appreciated that Natalie had such focus because she’s often the unsung hero of the series, but it lasted way too long and quickly started losing its appeal and meaning because of that.

I wasn’t a fan of “Forever,” the season finale, either.

The “To Be Continued” was nasty work, considering that it spent the majority of the installment with secondary and tertiary characters waxing poetic about what this industry and their passion mean to them.

In no way did the season finale or the season earn that “To Be Continued” at the end of the finale; I found it frustrating.

Stephen: I didn’t really hate any of the episodes, but in “Legacy,” I was irrationally angry on behalf of Natalie, having been made to pick up heavy restaurant supplies while nine months pregnant. 

I am not a Claire hater by any means. Her presence in the show is different from the restaurant’s action by design. Molly Gordon is a tremendously appealing performer, and her appearances are always accompanied by some of the best pop music of the last thirty years.

But that scene in “Apologies” where the Faks visit her at work is one of the cringiest things I’ve ever seen. 

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Tyler: John Cena is a charismatic star who’s capable of doing great things in the right role, but I thought he was horribly miscast in “Children,” and his cartoonish storyline about “haunting” one of the Faks dragged the whole episode down.

But that episode was outdone by this year’s season finale, which was the series’ worst episode thus far.

Complete with a maudlin title, “Forever” completely tossed aside the subtlety that has enabled this show to achieve occasional greatness.

It practically begged us to care about storylines — like Carmy’s clash with Evil Joel McHale — to which the writers had devoted almost no time throughout the season.

Loaded with celebrity chefs and callback characters, it was a meandering mess that came at a time when this series really needed a win.

Carissa: The premiere and the finale were the worst. That’s where the series was most interested in buying its hype. We didn’t really need more about Carmy’s past through practically dialogue-less flashbacks to set the tone for the season. Been there, done that.

And the finale felt more like an interlude than the endpoint. If the season was building to something, it should have been Carmy’s opportunity to get his head out of his ass. Instead, it landed flat.

I’m also not keen on anything that tries to establish Claire or the Faks as pivotal characters. Claire feels like she belongs on a different show entirely. We’ve seen, what, maybe five scenes of her and Carmy together? It’s a nonstarter.

And the Faks, too, belong on a different show. They are merely comic relief on a very serious show that wants desperately to prove it’s a comedy. It is not and never will be a comedy.

Reviews are all over the map. People seem to either absolutely love it or feel a bit disappointed in the latest season. Where do you stand?

Jasmine: I’m sadly closer to the latter than the former. 

I get the concept of this season and what they were angling for, and I say that because I’ve noticed a very irritating pattern with prestigious shows, and this one in particular, of people stating that if you dislike it, then it’s because you didn’t understand it.

I said it above, but it felt as if the series bought too much into its own hype and absorbed all of the noise.

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It’s not lost on me that as the characters struggle through this shift from a meat sandwich shop to fine dining, the audience has to experience a similar shift between a raw, unpolished chameleon series and the echelon of premier TV.

It also has the Post-strikes feel of many series, feeling like a filler season or an in-between season that sets us up for when the “real” storylines and so forth happen.

Stephen: Once again, it is probably the weakest of the three seasons, but it is still better than 95 percent of what’s on TV. By the end, it did start to get a bit repetitive, especially with Carmy remembering the same five things over and over again. 

Tyler: It pains me to say this, as this a show that I’ve developed great affection for over the years, and were there parts of season three that I really enjoyed, but as a whole, it simply wasn’t very compelling television.

It was so egregiously unfocused that no single storyline made much of an impact.

It kept doing this annoying thing where it would flashback to a scene from an earlier season — a time when this show knew how to deliver an emotional wallop — in an effort to create the illusion that anything interesting was happening.

It didn’t work for me, and based on the reviews I’ve read, it didn’t work for a lot of people.

The finale ended with Carmy receiving what sounded like a mixed review for his restaurant. I felt the writers’ way of anticipating and, in a way, addressing the response to this season. But acknowledging that you effed up isn’t a sufficient response.

Fittingly, that seems like the sort of lesson a chef might learn under the tutelage of a strict mentor.

Carissa: The premiere set me on edge immediately. All told, nothing much happened this season. Sydney’s desire to get out of dodge is the most significant outside of the two breakout episodes we talked about above.

As far as moving the story forward, it was more like a brief vignette than anything to build upon. This is one time I wish the writers would take into consideration the fans and critics thoughts on things rather than disregarding reactions.

How should the story continue from here?

Jasmine: I can honestly say that I don’t know where the story is going from here, and it would be hard to speculate or even state what I would want from it.

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At this point, I’d like Sydney to maybe tell Carmy that she wants to take the other offer, so maybe it’ll be the kickstart that he needs, even though I’m more than aware that the grass is very rarely greener on the other side.

I’d love Will Poulter to stick around in some capacity, as he may be critical in either assisting Carmy in the inevitable fallout from the review or potentially mentoring Syd.

I don’t have a clear idea of how the story should evolve from here since there are so many unresolved issues.

Stephen: Once again, status quo bias will indicate that the restaurant will remain in business, Carmy will remain its chef, and Sydney will continue working there.

But there will continue to be speed bumps and uncertainty.  I’m not really in the business of making predictions or demanding certain storyline decisions. But I remain very interested in seeing where The Bear goes. 

Tyler: I’ll refer back to my earlier comments about the show’s Carmy problem. His lack of likability is continually thrown into sharp contrast by his surrounded by such endearing co-workers.

I’d like to think that this show can rebound from its meandering, unfocused third season and its issues with its central character, but frankly, I have my doubts.

If I were to offer any advice to the writers, it would be to ditch the flashbacks, stop with the stunt-casting, and get back to basics. 

Also, when it comes to pacing, try to bear in mind that every second counts!

Carissa: If it were my show, I’d have Sydney depart The Bear (the restaurant, not the show!) so that Carmy can make some headway on his own. As long as she is there to steer him, he will fail to see the error of his ways.

I’d like to get another side to the restaurant biz, too, and I believe Sydney would be so different as a leader in the kitchen that it would greatly benefit the show.

Related: Scene-stealing Secondary Characters Who Changed a Show’s Direction

The Bear needs to determine who Carmy is and what he loves about being a chef. In the flashbacks to his training, he very often worked to please others. What did he ever do to please himself?

I’d have The Bear restaurant fail, with Carmy finding his way back to his roots and his love of the craft. I can’t take another season where he is so miserable.

He should take his cues from the 2014 movie with Jon Favreau titled Chef, where a chef retreats from the high-stress world of haute cuisine and starts a food truck with much success and happiness.

Add any other thoughts about the show you’d like to discuss!

Jasmine: I didn’t mind Josh Hartnett or Jamie Lee Curtis reappearing, but I draw the line at John Cena. It was one of the most jarring and absurd cameos of the series to date.

I also feel the season spent way too much time on the Faks, and it wasn’t even a funny or effective palate cleanser from all the heavy material or drama; it was just annoying.

The series doubling down on Claire’s importance by back-drafting more meaningful moments between her and Carmy and still using literally every character around him to tell us why she’s the bee’s knees still didn’t make me care about her any more than I do; which is minimal at best.

Stop trying to make Claire happen!

They had so many great shots this season. I absolutely loved the one of Carmy and Richie with their backs to one another, the front of the house cast in dark blue, and the kitchen in all of that cold, sterile light.

Another standout was the zoom-in parallel of Sydney in the alley by the dumpsters to Carmy last season. The food shots were wonderful. The season premiere, in particular, was so immersive when it came to that.

Stephen: The music remains first-rate and often feels like it was scored using my CD collection from college. There is no Wilco this time, but there is a fine use of everything from R.E.M. to Eddie Vedder to Weezer. 

Tyler: I’ll echo Stephen’s comments about the music selection, which is always top-notch. Although even there, I feel the need to nitpick, as the constant needle drops got to be almost as distracting as the guest stars.

Related: 23 Seemingly Unlikable Characters Who Won Our Hearts

No one’s denying that this show has style and flair for days — but these days, it’s lacking heart. And I’m not sure if such a character-driven show can survive with such a superficial approach to the material.

The Bear Season 3 was all sizzle and no steak. But I’m hopeful that the fourth (and possibly final season) can deliver a satisfying dessert.

Carissa: I want The Bear to admit it’s not a comedy. Stacking the comedy awards deck with a drama is bizarre. There is comic relief in The Bear, but it’s drama — heavy drama, at that.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.


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