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Having the dream is more fun than living it

How fine dining killed FX’s The Bear

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto in FX’s The Bear FX Productions

Having the dream is more fun than living it
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I recently read Will Guidara’s book on hospitality and restaurants and fine dining—the selfsame book that Richie Jerimovich is reading at the end of Season 2 of FX’s The Bear, and the same book that apparently inspired the series itself (Guidara is also a Season 3 producer). I found Unreasonable Hospitality insightful and occasionally applicable, but mostly it reads like a successful behind-the-scenes middle-aged rich guy’s public victory lap, just like lots of leadershippy books before it. Like, in typical tone, “The chef gets all the credit but let me tell you what I had to do with it.”

Similar in tone is Season 3 of The Bear, which dropped its episodes on Hulu last week and featured tons of beautiful shots and sequences, tons of interesting and achingly hipster musical choices, and was 60 percent more boring and less likable than its rougher-hewn earlier seasons. To be clear, it’s still fun to watch if you love any of the following: food, Chicago, or prestige television that is really aware of its own prestige. I am a guy who in the past has loved loving The Bear for all of those reasons, and being a middle-aged white guy think-piecing about it probably makes me some kind of meme.

This is a show (and a story arc) that has realized its dream, in that it now has big stars and big budgets and big buzz. Carmy (the main character, played by Jeremy Allen White) is obsessed with getting his Michelin star, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is now basically a LinkedIn pop-psychology guy (which is an insufferable look on literally everyone who has ever lived), and Season 1 and 2’s deep character studies have been traded for a Trent Reznor score and shot after shot of elegantly boring plated dishes.

Still, there is the evergreen motif of people screaming obscenities at each other, but even that has lost its heart. The episodes start and end in jagged, self-aware, overtly “artistic” ways, and there is, at times, nothing there to remind you that you’re watching a television show, if by “television show” I mean stories told within the strictures of time are intended to entertain. In a way, these episodes are more like watching navel-gazing college film festival shorts executed on a world-class level, with world-class budgets and actors.

Caveat: I’m only four-and-a-half episodes in, at the time of this writing, and things could change.

There’s probably something to be said here about the changing nature of “television” in that we’re about a generation away from the word “television” being on par with “horse-drawn carriage” or “icebox.”

This is a show (and a story arc) that has realized its dream, in that it now has big stars and big budgets and big buzz.

But there’s maybe more to be said about catching people in different stages of their “dream” arc. Carmy was really likable as a talented guy trading denim out of his oven for meat in Season 1 while trying to make a go of his dead brother’s sandwich place. But Carmy as an obsessed, driven ponce tweezering a tiny piece of watercress onto a tiny piece of salmon in the fine-dining restaurant he owns is, pretty obviously, a less likable and more boring Carmy. That’s not to say his character shouldn’t be doing those things, but it is to say that I’ll probably be less interested in watching, just as I’d be less interested in hanging out with this character than his Season 1 counterpart.

I’d rather hang out with Season 1’s Richie, who might throw hands and get himself arrested, but who would for sure have your back and make you laugh. Season 3’s Richie is probably tweeting about his morning ice bath and his CrossFit routine. Sadly, actualized Richie is kind of a bore.

Perhaps the show’s arc is simply indicative of our own. In our early adult years, our dreams are so much fun because we have no idea how hard and complex it will be to actually live them. The Carmy and Syd (his business partner played by Ayo Edebiri) who dreamed of the perfect restaurant were better hangs than the Carmy and Syd who are running the perfect restaurant.

In this, Season 3 is very Ecclesiastes, which reads: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Making sandwiches to honor your brother has heart. Tweezing watercress to honor yourself doesn’t. Maybe it’s that simple.

Ted Kluck

Ted is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is the screenwriter and co-producer of the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife, Kristin, have two children.

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