Better Late Than Never: I Finally Get to Season 2 of The Bear

David B Morris
11 min readJun 18, 2024

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A Work Of Art That Shows The True Brilliance of a Workplace Comedy

A horribly incomptetent boss.

Among the many other reasons I love The Bear, the Emmy winner for Best Comedy last year and very likely to repeat this year, is that it has crystalized why I could never really appreciate or even enjoy the NBC version of The Office. I think I need to give little more clarification but don’t worry I’ll get to the second season of The Bear.

During 2005–2014 millions of Americans fell in love with The Office, fell in love with it again during lock down and now it seems a reboot is finally going to happen. I was never one of those people, though I made a far more concentrated effort than most other times with certain shows I don’t get initially. I ended up watching the first five seasons of it when it first entered syndication; I’d never watched it when it was in its first airing and though I wasn’t yet a TV critic, I still felt an obligation to try and see what so many other critics and people did. By the time I got through the fifth season, I felt no real obligation to watch the sixth or ever watch it again.

I couldn’t understand why I never truly got into the show: all of the performers, from Steve Carell on down, were ones that I had liked in other series before and have in fact liked in all their work other than The Office going forward. This was also true of all the other guest actors who passed through the show over the years: from Melora Hardin to Rashida Jones to Elle Kemper, I have always loved their work immediately following The Office. It might have been the cringe humor of the show; this has been a deal-breaker for me with so many other series such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I was fine with it during Arrested Development and currently find it wonderful in Resident Alien. So why didn’t I like it here?

Maybe it had to do with the timing. When I was watching The Office the great recession of 2008 was making its mark known across the world. I was relatively lucky in that neither myself nor my family was personally affected by it and I would be unaware of the long term consequences that have effected our political discourse to this day. But it may have lead me to realize the cognitive dissonance that I saw with so much that was going on in Dunder Mifflin when I watched the show before. I could never get past the fact as to how either the Scranton Office stayed opened nor how Michael Scott kept his job year after year. I realize that millions of Americans loved how hysterically incompetent Michael was for seven seasons, but I could never overlook the incompetent part.

Setting aside that every single thing he said was an HR nightmare that somehow never happened, he was terrible at doing the minimum when it came an office that was in the part of a shaky company that, while I was watching, closed two branches and eventually was taken over by another company, productive. Because unless I missed something in the first five seasons, during those five seasons Dunder Mifflin seemed to entirely be focused more on celebrating birthday parties, holiday parties and recreational parties, along with office politics, then doing any work. I’m not just talking about the clowning of Jim Halpert, who clearly hated his job. I mean, I remember maybe five, six episodes total where the Scranton office was actually involved in work.

Maybe that’s why so many people loved The Office so much: I will concede I’d liked and indeed related to many of the regular characters on the show; we’ve all had at least half a dozen of them as our co-workers over the years. And maybe people liked the idea of working at Dunder-Mifflin because it was the kind of workplace setting that they’d be happiest in. But as someone who has watched and loved so many workplace comedies over the years, The Office is the only one that seemed not to mind if work never got done. That may be the ideal setting, but it’s not remotely realistic.

And the realize I’m now more than aware of that is because during the last couple of years television has been blessed that some of the funniest shows on television are workplace comedies where the work is in fact as vital to the comedy as anything else that’s happening. This applies not just The Bear but also the revival of Night Court and Abbott Elementary. All of them are fundamentally darker in tone than The Office was but that’s the main reason I relate to them far more as well as their popularity with audiences and critics. Dunder Mifflin might be a fun place for us to work in, but we all really work in places like the South Side of Chicago and urban Philadelphia.

An incompetent AND horrible boss.

In a sense Carmy, the character that Jeremy Allen White has already won every award in the book for twice and is likely to complete the cycle with the Emmy this fall, is just as unsuited to be a boss as Michael Scott was. But it is a different kind of incompetence. Carmy is, as we all know, one of the greatest chefs who quit his job after he got a Michelin Star and his brother committed suicide. He returned to Chicago to run the sandwich shop that his brother, who had been suffering from drug addiction and alcohol abuse, had essentially run into the ground. We knew the moment he arrived and was determined to turn what was basically a decent sandwich shop into a high class restaurant that this was going to be a doomed enterprise.

Carmy spent the entire first season of The Bear demonstrating how ill-suited he was to his job. He treated all of his employees with something closer to disdain then respect, he spent all this time pushing away anyone who could help him, he isolated his Cousin Richie and all the pain he was going through by favoring Sydney, his first hire who was in awe of his reputation and very quickly realized what a shit human being he was. He did all of this by ignoring the financial realities of his situation as well as the emotional trauma he was dealing with from his brother’s death.

At the end of Season 1, Carmy seemed to realize the depth of his emotional pain at an Al-Anon meeting, finally realized that the cause he’d taken was a futile one, and with the money that his cousin had hidden decided that the best thing to do was close down the sandwich shop for good and build a new restaurant that would be called the Bear. We actually walked away hopeful both for the show and for its protagonist. We should have known better.

I’ve only watched the first three episodes so far (I know, I know) but what is immediately clear is that every single character on the show has experienced some emotional growth and an ability to move forward but Carmy has not learned anything. In the first episode Cousin Richie (the always brilliant Ebon Moss-Bachrach) has been going through such ahorrible breakdown says that Carmy is lucky because at least he enjoys what he does. Carmy doesn’t blink before saying that he doesn’t. In the third episode we see Carmy at an Al-Anon meeting and he acknowledges that this is the case. He admits that his family did everything in his power to ruin anything he might enjoy and while he says he doesn’t entirely blame them, it’s clear he does. After eleven episodes, I realize how much this is the case.

Part of the reason that White has received so many awards for The Bear is in part the reason that so many people feel that the series doesn’t really fit as a comedy. Carmy spends so much of his time miserable, driving everybody, never being pleasant and being such a terrible person to everybody around him that many may see his character closer to the Walter Whites and Marty Byrdes we’ve seen over the years. Carmy is a great chef, that much is clear, but he doesn’t enjoy cooking, is always focused on the next Sisyphean task and always make it harder than it already is. He’s the other side of a horrible boss that Michael Scott is — the unrelenting perfectionist, refusing to take no for an answer, pushing whatever impossible obstacle there is further down the road rather than trying to solve it, never letting anyone in. The closest we’ve seen him to something resembling a friendship is his relationship with Sydney, who he has promised is a partner in this restaurant. But it’s clear that he will never see Sydney as anything but an inferior, someone who’s job is to say ‘Yes, Chef’ and who he can change plans on a whim for but who never gets the same latitude. Carmy is still a toxic personality, and the only reason he is tolerated is because he is such a good chef by so many of his staff and because almost everybody else who works for him is family.

One questions after the revolt that led to the end of Season 1 why so many people on The Bear still follow Carmy. That’s the other reason this is such a brilliant series. Unlike The Office, which took place in a magical world where the financial crisis hit everywhere but Scranton, The Bear makes no bones about how dire the financial situation is for anyone in the post-lockdown era. When Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) celebrates her mother’s birthday with her father (I didn’t recognize Robert Townsend) and tells her about the plan to open the new restaurant, he tries to ground her in reality by telling her as gently as he can how many restaurants in Chicago are closing down. Sydney tries to brush him off, but at the opening of Sundae, she has clearly done a deep dive as to how many beloved Chicago restaurants have closed over the years. During that episode, Carmy says that they need to cleanse their palates and says he’ll meet her for breakfast. When an old friend calls him (they clearly had a romantic history before) he looks at his list and decides to help her with a task. He then completely blows Sydney’s off on a text.

Sydney then goes from restaurant to restaurant and gets a very clear picture not only of how hard it is to keep a restaurant working (many real Chicago chefs are featured) but that sometimes you have to trust your partner. At the end of the episode she gets a call back from Carmy, who calls her to tell that the wall in their restaurant has been torn down. When Sydney says she should have been made party to the decision, Carmy is as dismissive to her as he is basically anybody. At the end of the episode Sydney goes to work in a kitchen on a recipe she’s been starting on and we also saw her sign up for a sous chef job.

At this point Carmy, Sydney and his sister (Abby Elliot) have set up the utterly impossible goal of opening their restaurant in what is now three months’ time. I know enough about Season 2 to know how this will work out, but I also know enough that whether or not the new restaurant is a success is not going to make Carmy happy, even momentarily. I’ve read enough articles about the second season to know that many, if not most of the characters do accomplish some kind of emotional growth that will move them forward. What I think the critical question of The Bear will be is if Carmy can ever find some kind of emotional peace or will he be the same fundamentally broken person he was at the start of the show. Given everything I’ve seen so far, I have to say I’m not optimistic heading into Season 3.

What I do know is that The Bear is a masterpiece on every level. I will grant you that the show doesn’t enter the level of comedy that we see in other great comedies like Abbott Elementary and Hacks, the chief rivals for most of the Emmys The Bear will be up against this year. But I made the argument in one of my articles about awards show that the term comedy has been evolving along with everything else in Peak TV. It’s the rest of the world that still seems to think we should be follow the laugh track model.

There’s an argument that The Bear is the spiritual heir to workplace comedies like Roseanne and The Connors, both of which deal with as much darkness of living on the edge of the world as they are about the fun in it. (Indeed based on what I’ve heard of the landmark episode ‘Fishes’ I’m beginning to think that we will see that Carmy’s family was at its core had the same kind of attitude the Connors had — only on crack.)

And like the recently departed classics Atlanta and Barry, The Bear pushes the limits on what comedy is by showing the level of pain and horrors in the world we live in. Bill Hader made it clear that the title character was a victim of PTSD and mental illness and that filtered down to every character on the series. There clearly isn’t nearly the level of violence involved, but I don’t think I’ll get any argument that the trauma at every level of Carmy’s family has been bearing on every single member of it and they still haven’t fully recovered from it. Similarly as Donald Glover showed how messed up the world of black America was in so many ways through a surreal kind of comedy, The Bear looks at the working poor in the post-Covid economy in a more realistic, but often just as bizarre kind of comedy.

Perhaps that’s the reason I don’t think the reboot of The Office will work. Among all the other obstacles it faces, we’ve been through to much as a society to suspend our disbelief enough to belief any kind of workplace like Dunder-Mifflin can exist these days. That’s one of the reasons I think The Bear resonates with so many Americans, even at a subconscious level. We might have hoped for a boss as fun as Michael Scott, but we’ve all worked under a Carmy at some point. These days the working world probably needs more of them in order to survive, even if there’s no such thing as a party-planning committee. And in a way it’s nice to know that your boss is as messed as up as you are, if not so more. It doesn’t make him a good boss, but it makes him a more realistic human being which every character on The Bear is.

My Score: 5 STARS.

P.S. I know Season 3 drops this month. I’ll try to get to that one much quicker than I did Season 2.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.