My husband is from Chicago, so I did not exactly have to twist his arms into watching The Bear, Hulu’s show about an Italian beef shop, but the show was even better than we expected.
In The Bear, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) inherits his family’s sandwich shop, The Beef, after his brother’s death. Yanked out of his life as an elite chef in New York, he struggles to get his brother’s crew—Marcus (Lionel Boyce), Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson)—to respect him and to save the restaurant from a pile of debt. Carmy’s cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is more of a pain than a help, but a new chef, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), could help him turn the restaurant around.
I would not be surprised if The Bear started as a film screenplay. It has the look, tone, and 90s alt-rock soundtrack of an Indie film, but the extra time a series provides allows the characters to expand more. There were some story threads that I would have liked to spend more time on, but the writers use time judiciously. The ending of season one is so satisfying that I would be content if it was a series finale.
In addition to strong, compelling writing, the actors in The Bear wonderfully highlight the personal dramas of each character. Although Carmy is the main character and Jeremy Allen White delivers some intense, angsty scenes, each character in the ensemble feels like they could be the lead in a different version of the show. It is hard to pick a favorite, really, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of Lionel Boyce as Marcus, especially in his character’s quest to make a great doughnut. As Sydney, Ayo Edebiri gives a breakthrough performance, but Liza Colón-Zayas’s Tina has several moments emotionally critical to the story, and her subtlety grounds the kitchen in wilder scenes. This show is outstanding, and I cannot recommend it enough.
On FX and Hulu, The Bear was created by Christopher Storer. It runs for eight episodes and is rated TV-MA.
Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the classic film A League of Their Own into a television series updates the story with more inclusive impulses while providing much of the fun and retro style of the movie. In this version, Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson) leaves her Idaho home to join the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League while her husband is off in World War II. In the league, she forms a complicated relationship with her teammate, Greta (D’Arcy Carden). Meanwhile, Max Chapman (Chanté Adams) struggles to make a place for herself in the world and to play ball when the AAGPBL would not include Black women.
The TV series riffs a lot on the movie, with nods to specific scenes and characters inspired by iconic roles in the original, but it also succeeds in being its own creation. The series expands beyond the story of the Rockford Peaches clawing their way out of last place despite a lackluster coach (Nick Offerman) to include a parallel story about an African American woman working in a Rosie the Riveter-type job, and how her community copes with both a nation at war and racism. In the role of Max, Chanté Adams gives a charming and complex performance, and as her best friend, Gbemisola Ikumelo is adorable.
Back on the Peaches, the quirky characters and their dialogue are the best part of the series. Roberta Colindrez as pitcher Lupe Garcia plays serious opposite a lot of silliness. Kelly McCormack and Shirley Cohen play memorably neurotic women, and Rae Gray plays a hilarious girlie girl. The ensemble features so many deep, odd characters that every scene provides layers of comedy and character development, celebrating how much fun a close-knit group of women can be. In the lead roles, Abby Jacobson and D’Arcy Carden have great chemistry, and their story dramatizes some LGBTQ issues of the time. And can I just say, Carden was born to play the heroine in an old-school screwball comedy.
A League of Their Own sometimes uses music or language that comes across as too modern for the period, but the writing, costumes, and makeup have too much style not to be a lot of fun.
A League of Their Own was created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson. It runs for 8 episodes in the first season and is rated 16+.
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