Season one of FX's The Bear is a perfect season of television: It never takes its eye off the ball, it never says more than it needs to say, and, as a show with so much bombast and so much intensity, it needs that restraint. Unfortunately, that restraint is not as present in the show's (still very good) season 2.
It's not like the show has completely lost its magic, but this season -- especially in the early episodes -- features plenty of moments that just wouldn't have made it into season 1. Early scenes with Carmy's sister Sugar (with a now-expanded role) feel particularly out of place, including an awkwardly contrived phone call with a plumber and a possibly even more contrived timing of a falling wall. And those moments, which would be at home in a lesser show, stuck out as a reminder of how good season 1 was at dodging the obvious.
One of the great parts of the first season of The Bear was that it felt like a natural sort of tragedy, where everything that goes wrong seems to be inevitable. That inevitability, that organic aspect, needs to exist, or the show would easily find itself on the wrong side of farce. In contrast, season 2 feels more staged, less confident -- more funny ha-ha, as opposed to funny heart-punch.
Of course, second seasons are notoriously difficult to pull off, and this particular season 2 needed to break the structure of the show that everyone loved so it could set up a life outside of that kitchen and survive as an ongoing show. And yet, it was never the small blunders that came with expanding the show that frustrated me. Instead it was the moments of dialogue that felt overstated and the scenes that felt too pat, as if the writers trusted the audience less than they had their first time around.
This lack of restraint was also reflected in the non-stop parade of often distracting guest stars. There are certain actors who immediately feel part of the world (Will Poulter felt like a particularly astute pick) and others who distract the entire time they're there. Instead of serving up interesting actors in thoughtful roles, many of these cameos seemed to telegraph solely that the first season was a major success and that subsequently, anyone with a pulse wanted to get involved. I can imagine the temptation. I'd also like to work with [redacted for spoilers]... but still, it's an eye off the ball.
Lest I sound like I didn't like the season -- I did, it is still very good -- there's a wonderful moment towards the end of the season that does show that restraint that stood out so much when the show first debuted. The moment features Carmy handing Sydney a gift. Instead of getting bogged down in an awkwardly sentimental scene, Carmy is then called away by someone, and we get to see Sydney's reaction to the gift on her own. No explanation needed. These moments are when The Bear really soars, and I hope the show, as it continues in its success, doesn't lose sight of that.