Much like the one directed at its lead character, the major question for Season 2 of The Bear was: how would it maintain—or top—the quality of its first run? With Jeremy Allen White’s Carmine now letting it rip to reclaim his place as one of the world’s top chefs—while not destroying himself in the process—the series would be tasked with ascending with him. That’s a tall order, for both.
Led by showrunner Christopher Storer, The Bear‘s second year tends to keep up with this aim, managing to preserve the energy established in the first season while adding new dimensions to its characters and world. Structured around the deadline to open their restaurant, the show dives right back in with Carmine, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri, a delight), and the rest of the cast of characters (in every sense of the word) from the first season—while adding some big-name guest stars too. It also complicates matters via a love interest for Carmine (the welcome Molly Gordon) and a sense of purpose that goes beyond just opening the doors on time. To do this, Storer and his crew have drilled down with what worked before—loud noises! familial anguish!—while also expanding the focus and speed of their show. We already know what drives Carmine, but now we see more of Sydney, Marcus (the magnificent Lionel Boyce), and so on. And rather than just going to 11 every time, we’re allowed more space to breathe with the characters too. This may sound counterintuitive, given how the first season ran, yet the various narrative flavours come together in more satisfying ways as a result.
Through the cacophony, The Bear works because it just keeps pushing past any notion of normal, or even of realism. I have no idea if what’s portrayed on the show is “accurate.” What I do know, however, is that it feels true to the reality of the show. That earnest gusto could curdle into cheesiness, with each character getting their moralistic pat on the head, and yet it doesn’t do that. It owns the cheese—buys more, in fact—and figures out a way to incorporate it into the dish.