FX’s The Bear is back for Season 2 on Hulu, and food nerds (including yours truly) are rejoicing. Season one’s fast and furious pace has relaxed a bit in the show’s second season; there’s less yelling and fewer outbursts. Instead, that intensity is replaced by the latent, looming chaos of trying to build and open a brand-new restaurant on a shoestring budget. Everything’s going wrong, but it’s fine—mostly. There’s even, dare I say, a note of joyful optimism, at least in the first four episodes that I watched.
While season one centered around Carmy and his struggle to return home and process his own grief and trauma, Season two zooms out to highlight storylines and backgrounds from the rest of the cast. We’ve learned the complex and contradictory reasons Carmy got into the industry while wrestling his demons. Now, we’re seeing the wider cast try to answer that same question for themselves: Why work in food? Why do what they do?
If you need a refresher before diving into the new season, allow me to jog your memory. Carmy Berzato (Jeremy Allen White), who has cheffed in prestigious restaurants around the world, must take over his late brother Mikey’s restaurant in Chicago, The Original Beef of Chicagoland. He and his ambitious but untested sous-chef Syd (Ayo Edebiri) whip the kitchen crew into fighting shape, serving dishes like Carmy’s spin on an Italian beef sandwich and Syd’s cola-braised short rib. As the season ends, Carmy finds a stash of money from Mikey to help transform the place into a new spot, called The Bear, which will be his first original restaurant.
As we rejoin the crew for season two, we’re smack-dab in the middle of the restaurant renovation. Walls are coming down! Budgets are tight! “Every second counts,” reads a sticky note on the wall. Opening a restaurant is hard and chaotic and incredibly expensive, if you didn’t know. There are permits, and inspectors, and somehow everything costs at least $2,000. The timeline to open within months is not just tight, not just ambitious, but “crazy,” as Nat (Abby Elliott), who’s project managing, puts it.
We see a lot more of Syd this season—a good thing since Edebiri is completely and charmingly magnetic onscreen. Her ambition shines brightly as she presses Carmy for details surrounding his Michelin wins. She grapples with family questions. She’s in charge of hiring, which is a tall order considering the staffing shortages across the industry; it’s a nice nod to real-life issues in the food world. In one of the best episodes of the early season, she also simply eats a lot, trying hefty sundaes and ripe soup dumplings and hoping to be blessed with inspiration—only to once again put together a dish that makes her gag.
Meanwhile, Marcus (Lionel Boyce) goes to stage in Copenhagen with a chef friend of Carmy’s (Will Poulter) in order to develop his pastry skills. It’s a joy to watch him learn and experience new things (like living on a sweet houseboat and eating endless Danish pastry), though his friendly, calm, one-on-one staging experience strikes me as a bit more idyllic than would be realistic in a fine dining setting. Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) head to culinary school, to mixed results, while Fak (Matty Matheson), Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and Nat are tasked with the seemingly impossible restaurant refresh. Fak and Richie go head-to-head again, while Nat nurses a secret of her own.