Word to the wise: Readers who’ve worked in restaurants might experience flashbacks streaming The Bear. A busy kitchen where the food on sizzle is always on call and cooks on the line under constant stress is tension enough for casual viewers. For current and former floor managers, bussers, cooks, servers, and the like, The Bear may induce restaurant nightmares — staff stuck at work even in their sleep.
Despite possible PTSD, raw reality is always compelling. High temp cooking drama has propelled The Bear to number one among all streamed shows. The show set in The Original Beef of Chicagoland kitchen exceeds even today’s interest in supernatural thrillers, shady lawyers, and CIA officers on the run. As expected, on July 14, FX announced The Bear TV show will return for a second season.
“The Bear has exceeded our wildest creative, critical and commercial expectations,” FX Entertainment president Eric Schrier said during the announcement. “We deeply appreciate the brilliant work led by creator and co-showrunner Christopher Storer and co-showrunner Joanna Calo.”
With all eight episodes released on June 23, streaming fans will likely have to wait until June 2023 to catch unfolding events and Giardiniera-topped action. How should viewers fill screen time in the interim? Excellent question.
Using the ingredients that meld to create the craveable Bear show — kitchen dramatics, family complications, a Midwest sensibility, male relationships, rave reviews — The Manual offers up some shows and films that can sufficiently supplement the craving viewers have for The Bear on FX for more tense interactions leavened by the incomparable post-rush high.
Just the sight of a chef-whites-clad Steven Graham astride a lunging flame is enough to sell Boiling Point. Anyone willing to take a one-night ride with Graham better strap in.
The action unfolds over one evening, one of those nights — a storm cloud that’s thundered down on anyone who’s ever donned an apron. Head chef Andy Jones (Graham) is losing his hold on everything. No matter how much intense command he throws at things, events refuse to respool. Newbie chefs get reamed, veteran peers rise up in mutiny, and the vodka bottle in back isn’t helping. Jones tentatively holds things together through sheer charisma and cojones, but it’s a knife’s edge and by the time the blue and red lights in the window flash, nerves are as taut as beef casings.
Uncorked finds a father accusing a son of cutting pork ribs too soon — not a light crime.
Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) finds himself stuck between his family’s Memphis barbecue joint and a budding dream to become a sommelier in Paris. Elijah’s father Louis (Courtney B. Vance) sees only his legacy and doesn’t want to acknowledge his son is pulling away.
Uncorked’s context unfolds in front of a collection of iconic Memphis locations including the C.C. Entertainment Center, the East End Skating Center, and the I (Heart) Soulsville wall. Here and at the dinner table, family, friends, and love interest Tanya (Sasha Compère) carry Elijiah along to the edge of his world.
Itaewon Class was The Bear of 2020 — an ensemble drama carried by street smart characters all trying to make good in an urban setting. Instead of Chicago, though, the audience arrives in a colorful Seoul neighborhood, finding an ex-con and his friends who must stand against a mighty foe to realize their street bar dreams.
After serving three years behind bars for assaulting Jang Geun Won, the man who killed his father in a car accident, Park Se Ro Yi seeks a different route for revenge. Won’s father owns the largest food company in Korea, Jangga Co. After being released, Yi vows vengeance by building Korea’s largest food company. This is only the tip of the pickled roots that sprout Itaewon Class’ incredible and irresistible narrative arc.
Full disclosure, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an Oprah pick. Following the plot of its eponymous novel by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey is one of those well-worn plot structures that critics lampoon for lack of originality, but viewers celebrate for heart-on-sleeve character stories.
Helen Mirren and Om Puri play battling restaurant owners operating across the street from each other — neighbors from different worlds. Mirren owns the revered, conservative establishment, and Puri, the Hindi eatery that’s just moved in. The veteran actors go several ridiculous lengths to sabotage each other, providing laughs in the hijinks and the contrasts in culture and character. People in the mood for a soft landing on a gooey dish will find plenty of warmth in The Hundred-Foot Journey.
It’s incredible that Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations began 17 years ago. Bourdain’s impact on the country’s culinary culture can still be felt. From basement barbecues in Detroit to the Chiang Mai Bazaar in Thailand, the former New York chef brought a world of food into living rooms.
Bourdain’s magic came from a true connection to culture through cuisine. The man knew what it was like to wear the captain’s cook pants. Underneath is a gentle, genuine appreciation for life’s myriad forms. This multiplicity got to be too much for Bourdain, as his own mental health struggles were similar to the storyline that opens The Bear. Carmy’s brother’s suicide is the incident that sparks his return home to take over the Italian beef joint — a food Bourdain celebrated in the Chicago edition of No Reservations.
If it’s the planet’s best celebrations of food people are looking for, Bourdain’s got your back.
If there’s any better evidence of Pixar’s ability to plug into life’s sweet side, Ratatouille is it. This is an anthropomorphic tale that follows a French rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) whose life ambition is to be a chef, but well, he’s a rat. Undeterred by his rodent status and driven by just-passed chef Emile (Peter Sohn), Remy’s adventure takes him to Paris, where fate finds him in the hat of clumsy goofball Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano).
A typical story of dreams, love, mystery, and kitchen drama gets elevated into a tale about following artistic dreams no matter the obstacle. Though it’s a family film, Ratatouille has that extra bit of fairy dust, sending story watchers off into a contented cloud.
Another restaurant story with two brothers, Big Night revels in its sibling rivalry with comedy and hijinks layered over a deeper film about family and trust.
In the 1950s, brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) are on the verge of losing their restaurant Paradise. Their big last gamble is going all in hosting a once-in-a-lifetime dinner for The (true life) King of Swing, Louis Prima.
Over 25 years after its debut, Big Night still features a 96% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score (and 84% audience approval). The film won multiple awards for its screenplay written by Tucci and cousin Joseph Tropiano, and for co-direction by Tucci and Campbell Scott.
More important than that, Big Night helped kick off an authentic food renaissance in American food culture. The film helped Italian food’s incredible diversity expand from its stereotype of simply spaghetti and meatballs.
Careful. These films might induce late nights and early mornings in the kitchen. Or maybe just allow a deeper appreciation of a quality out-to-dinner evening.
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