Thoughts on The Bear, Season Three

Some spoilers, if you haven’t watched it yet. Some profanity, too.

I loved the first two seasons of The Bear. I learned so much from them. So this isn’t a review, it’s a way for me to think about all the stuff that this show made me think about. It’s also what I need to do before I start reading what the critics and the other knights of the keyboard have said about the show.

As a teacher, I think a lot about Carmy’s character. He was motivated. He was going to be excellent. He cared deeply about things. The memories that Season Three brought forth (in way too many Gilligan’s Island flashbacks accompanied by the best of Midwestern alt-rock from the 90s) gives us that window into his early excellence and utter devotion. But we also get to see the kinds of teachers he had — some gentle, some awful — and then we get to see who remains with him.

How many times have you thought about the kind of teacher you want to be? Do you want to be the Olivia Coleman character, or the French chef Thomas Keller who teachers him about the wishbone, or perhaps Daniel Boulod, the chef who asks him to hear the music of the frypan? More likely, you have teachers you want to avoid becoming, i.e., the NYC cook who couldn’t remember Carmy’s name who has clearly traumatized his staff. Carmy has all of these great examples of the kind of leader/teacher/cook he wants to be, yet out of all these inspirational folks, who does he most resemble, at least in season three?

This happens. This happens too much. It’s one of my early lessons from Marsha and Bob — you will slip back to the teachers who taught you if you’re not paying attention. Then mix in your own faulty wiring and situations in and out of your control, and if you’re not careful, your default setting will be far from what you want it to be.

‘Cause Carmy is trying, trying really hard, to be someone different, to change. Never underestimate the cost of going to meetings, how much it takes to drag yourself to that chair. Or his agonizing over Claire. Like most of us, he’s damaged, and trying hard usually isn’t close to enough. And then add in a fucked up family of origin.

Contrast his character with Marcus, the dessert chef, who was so clearly loved, as you see in his homily for his mother. Or for that matter, Sydney, and her doting father (man, it’s good to see Robert Townsend.) I think about this a lot as a teacher — who seems to be inoculated or safe from the terrible things life can throw at you — and what are the protective measures that enables some students to move forward. Can I add to those measures? Or can I at least get out the way?

Indeed, how do you make a classroom that might offer some protection? And how do you take care of kids until they’re ready to take care of themselves? My favorite episode — when Mikey hires Tina, I think episode six — and that line about how some days just feel so good (right before he tells Richie to shut the fuck up) that’s what you’d want. I’ve written about creating these spaces a lot. I’ve worked jobs and at schools where kids want to be there. Some of these have been pretty effective places. Others not so much. Wanting to be there is only part of the battle. If you’re there, what are you contributing? How are you making it a place that other people want to be? I think this is as true of students as it is of teachers.

Which is another thread I think about from this show — how do we care for others? How do we do it in our daily lives, as friends, as partners, as parents? And how do we do it through work? Hospitality/restaurant work is one thing — people are paying to be there, they want to be there — and the employees generally have a sense of what they’ve signed up for. Schools, though: these are compulsory spaces; I’m caring for a kid because they’re in my room and it’s both my job and my mission in this short life. But I can’t expect kids to return the favor. Many will — see my point above — as they understand that great places don’t occur magically. But I can’t expect it.

There’s another piece in here about recognition. I remember an interview with two writers from the Seth Meyers show where one of them talked about how comedy writers don’t laugh at other comedians; they just sort of nod and say, yep, that’s good. I think the restaurant scene is like this too — you eat terrific food and say, I’ve got to get better. When I watch teachers, great teachers, I feel this sometimes as well: they’re doing it, yep, they’re doing it. Let my poach that idea.

Within schools, recognition versus accomplishment plays out as well. Restaurants get “stars” and sometimes teachers get “awards” but everyone who matters in the scene knows what’s what. What counts are the people and the world you make together, which is the thread around legacy that runs through season three. It’s not really going to be about the food but about the relationships created in the pursuit of something awesome. The best schools and teachers create this sort of thing — Marsha and Bob, Susan, that crew around the Philadelphia Writing Project — they’re like the outstanding chefs whose restaurants created the next round of great teachers.

I think that teaching is like restaurant work in that you can’t leave it alone, even when you want to. In one of the late episodes, everyone has the day off and yet everyone is in the restaurant, working on their stuff. How many times have I exchanged texts with my fellow teachers over the weekend, when we shouldn’t be thinking about school or curriculum or the students, but, wait for it, that’s all we’re doing. Part of the manuscript I’m working on right now tries to get at this point — teaching is rich, awesome work that lets you think about so many cool things. And the cool parts — thinking about how to open up a book, figuring out how to frame a project from beginning to end — can be so rewarding.

There was a lot going on in season three and it gave me a lot to think about. Did I feel like it was a half-formed season? Did I want about twenty more episodes? Did I feel like the best things in this show — the actors and the writers — were underutilized so that someone could make unnecessary and nor particularly effective video collages?


Am I better teacher and person after signing up for a free month of Hulu so that we could watch the entire seasons in six nights and then cancel my membership?

Without a doubt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *