The Bear season 3 review: "Equal parts delicious and depressing"

The Bear
(Image: © FX)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Equal parts delicious and depressing, The Bear season 3 serves up another stellar slice.

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As The Rolling Stones once said, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just get what you need." That’s solid advice that has steered many a heartbroken or disappointed soul through some tough times, but in Season 3 of The Bear, we see our central trio face an even more challenging conundrum. What happens if you get what you want and it's absolutely not what you need?

To put it mildly, everyone is miserable on Season 3 of The Bear. Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is doing a killer job running the front of the house of their newly titled fine dining establishment ‘The Bear’. However, he is still lonely, reeling from his ex-wife Tess’s (Gillian Jacobs) impending nuptials and no amount of success can make him recover from the loss of his best friend Mikey (Jon Bernthal). Sydney (woman of the moment Ayo Edibiri) is outwardly going from strength to strength, her talents in the kitchen are being recognized, and she’s running the passe with aplomb but it's all proving a bit too much, and imposter syndrome is setting in as she is afforded new opportunities. 

And worst of all, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) is on the brink. He’s surrounded himself with highly skilled and newly competent staff that are in line with his vision but is creating impossible obstacles trapping himself in an unending spiral of misery with a menu that changes every single day, remains haunted by his break-up with Claire (Molly Gordon) and the traumatic baptism of fire he endured when training under the cruel chef played by a terrifying Joel McHale (once believed to be a proxy for the notoriously meticulous Thomas Keller of California’s The French Laundry but in fact, Season 3 deflates those conspiracy theories by having Keller appear as a sweet nurturing soul who teaches Carmy roast chicken techniques).

Tough act to follow

The Bear

(Image credit: Hulu/FX)

As a former chef turned film and TV critic, The Bear does feel specifically designed for me, and it's hard to see what non-restaurant kitchen traumatized people will take from the triggering stress of an ill-placed cartouche, a birthday reservation going unacknowledged or the brutal choice of choosing between a cherry or apricot pairing with a duck breast. But even those who don’t appreciate how beautifully concassed the mirepoix at the base of The Bear’s consommés are there’s a devotion to intricate character study at place that makes The Bear rightly regarded as one of the very best shows on television.

Season 3 doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of season 2 where our group of epicurean rapscallions were tasked with creating their dream restaurant, as now we are stuck in a more existential dread where the greatest obstacles in their way are hubris and self loathing. The first episode essentially recaps the reasons for their feelings of inadequacy while the second is an extended montage of a month of service containing all the Murphy’s law that is so tangible in restaurant work, anything that can go wrong will at some point go wrong, but that is simply the nature of the beast and has to be planned for in any given service. The Bear may be brilliant television but if nothing else, it is also a testimony to people’s ability to roll with the punches in spite of themselves. 

Still delicious

The Bear

(Image credit: FX)

The series finds itself at a bit of an impasse, trapped in a prison of its own success with characters that have hit the markers of success and cannot plausibly be trapped in fridges or accidentally left the pre-orders accumulate. And while the stasis of triumph entraps both the narrative and the characters in a prison of their own making at times, there’s still much to enjoy, in particular the arc of the grieving pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), who proves the tender heart of the show. He’s such an endearing character that at one point, when the validity of his continued employment is called into question, Carmy’s sister and restaurant manager Natalie becomes an audience surrogate with a steely promise that if anything happens to Marcus, "I will murder you".

But even though the third season of The Bear is a wonder, and one that thankfully uses its celebrity cameos more sparingly, it still is far less fun than its predecessors. There are phenomenal high-concept episodes devoted to a single character or playing with the form of the medium that still makes it amongst the very best of the televisual landscape, but it comes across as a crueler and less joyful piece of work. 

There’s undoubtedly a creative competence from the entire team that continues to soar within this premise, but it feels increasingly untethered from their arcs as they are no longer underdogs. In previous seasons, when they were operating a sandwich shop and dreaming of the big leagues, it was a clearer goal to root for, and those darn sandwiches looked utterly delicious, but it's never clear to the audience, or indeed to Carmy, if what the new iteration of The Bear is serving up is any good. The show is still delicious but the choice to elevate the restaurant into fine dining turns out to not have elevated the narrative.

The Bear season 3 is out now. Check out our guide to all of The Bear season 3 episodes and for what else is coming this year, here's a breakdown of all the new TV shows on the way.

Freelance Writer

Leila Latif is a freelance journalist, broadcaster, film critic, and self-described "haver of hot takes". She used that power (and years of experience) to cover TV and film for a wide variety of outlets such as GamesRadar+, Total Film, Little White Lies, The A.V. Club, SFX, BBC Culture, and many more.