It’s not its aptitude for compassion that first draws you in with The Bear. Far from it. It’s the clock. It doesn’t tick—it clangs against your skull like the clapper from a ten-tonne bell. The first thing our protagonist sees, waking from a prologuing dream sequence, is the clock on his wall—a precise, ever-impending discus of Damocles above his head. When our lead, Carmy, realises the time, the opening riffs of 'New Noise' by Refused kick into gear and we’re off, hurtling through Chicago at full tilt and harangued by dirt, noise and impeccable skyscrapers until we make it to the kitchen, where we’re brought to feel every chop, slice and tenderising blow in The Beef, the sandwich shop that Carmy inherited from his brother.
Carmy is short on a lot of things: cash; dates; even the semblance of a social life; but right from the off, the thing he’s short on more than anything else is time. A key ingredient for the day’s signature order is elusive, payments are overdue, and the plumbing or the gas line or the shameful state of the walk-in freezer each threaten to fail an inspection and shut The Beef down just long enough for it to be a death knell. It’s the constant chase, the incessant spinning of too many yet-to-be-plated plates, that cultivates the sense of stress that underpins The Bear’s narrative. Carmy’s employees, sometimes, only worsen things, making life through his lens prickingly tortuous to endure. Syndey, the most affable of the Beef’s crew, is Carmy’s reality check. She tells it like it is and, affability aside, the truth is often brutal. X will end us, and even if we fix X, there’s Y, and Y, by the way, is fucked if we don’t have Z. We’re also out of Z. Richie is the crew member whose anger flares more than Carmy’s, and though a great chef and more experienced with the history of The Beef than anyone, he’s a loose cannon who oft makes life behind the counter a rage-drenched purgatory.