The critics have spoken: The Bear is good. I watched it despite all the slobbering and handwringing over what, exactly, is The Bear (it seems the critical hive mind has settled on the unfortunate portmanteau ‘dramedy’), and you know what? It is. I’m just now writing about it because, like Sydney, I’m taking my pills and mitigating my spirals.
So, The Bear. It’s eight half-hour episodes about people in various states of distress trapped in a kitchen/service job and trying to find some pleasure. The pacing and the story, and the characters are intense — Christopher Storer, creator and writer, and Joanna Calo, co-showrunner, toss everything into a pressure cooker, lock the cover, and turn up the heat, so by the time episode seven comes along (the episode that will be mentioned on end-of-the-year television assessments), that pot is exploding through the ceiling.
The Bear isn’t a perfect show. A perfect show is manufactured and signals prestige, with articles and essays about it providing commentary on [insert topical issue here] with nary a Don Draper-field hair out of place. A perfect show is surrealism, presented as hyperreality. It is never messy. It is good, bad, or amoral.
Whatever it is, The Bear isn’t pretentious. It’s not a dark comedy or a light drama. It’s an American version of a Korean drama. While Korean drama does have its genres (melo, sageuk, slice-of-life), the unifying concept of Korean drama is lived experience. It is sometimes surreal. It is sometimes boring. Sometimes funny, most times sad and boring. Living is finding happiness. The drama is finding it again when life hides your good knives, kills your best friend, brother, and cousin, shreds your dreams, and has your kid asking if your last name is “Bad News.”
Genre is suitable for grouping story elements but not for the story itself. Not everything must be this or that. It can be a story streaked through with many different things. Think Parasite. Or Squid Game.
Some of the best Korean dramas are situated in the inglorious mundanity of work. The Bear is about labor and the people we do it with. We may want to do it better. We may want more from the work. We may want the whipped potatoes to taste like something other than aerated glue. We may wish to serve risotto…