The sign on the kitchen wall reads “Every second counts.” At one point in the Season 3 premiere of The Bear, Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy Berzatto glances at it, then reminds his brigade to keep up the pace. They all yell “CHEF!” in unison.

Later — or technically before, because this episode (“Tomorrow”) is a swirl of memories told out of chronological order — Carmy is working as a cook in a Michelin-starred kitchen lorded over by an abusive chef played by Joel McHale. McHale is a monstrous boss. Unsatisfied with all of Carmy’s work, he routinely berates him for what he perceives as sloppy craftsmanship. He vows to steal the credit for creating a dish Carmy conceived but that he altered slightly. After yet another plate of food fails to meet his standards, McHale’s character looks Carmy dead in the face and asks “Why are you so f—ing slow?”

That is a question I suspect a fair number of audience members will be asking after The Bear’s new premiere episode. “Tomorrow” is not a half-hour of television that suggests it was made with the philosophy that every second counts, or that its creator, Christopher Storer, is too worried about viewer complaints about pacing.

It unfolds in one enormous montage, picking up almost immediately after the events of the Season 2 finale, where Carmy debuted his new high-end restaurant The Bear, which is built atop the bones of his late brother’s old Chicago sandwich shop. The opening was a professional success and a personal calamity. Carmy’s staff completes its first service mostly without him after he accidentally locks himself in the kitchen freezer and unloads all his frustrations on his girlfriend Claire (Molly Gordon).


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“Tomorrow” begins the next day, but mostly finds Carmy spiraling back through his past: Leaving Chicago for New York, working his way up the culinary ladder, his tempestuous history with Claire, the ripple effects of his brother’s suicide. In between all of that is the food; endless preparation and cooking and plating, along with plenty of the mouth-watering closeups that have become one of The Bear’s trademarks.

Tthe whole episode is essentially one giant montage, a prologue to whatever comes next. It’s an unconventional start for a show that’s become increasingly unorthodox as its grown in popularity and critical stature. (At the recent Emmy Awards, The Bear took home a slew of prizes, including Best Comedy Series — an especially funny notion after watching “Tomorrow,” an entire episode of television that barely had any dialogue, much less any jokes.) Last season interrupted its overarching storyline about the opening of The Bear for a 66-minute flashback to a claustrophobic Christmas dinner with Carmy and his screwed-up family. Now the show resumes after a lengthy off-season with an episode-long jumble of flashbacks with no evident story arc and no major character developments.

It’s a bold choice, albeit a slightly less audacious one because The Bear’s full third season is already available on Hulu. As a result, most will view “Tomorrow” as a very moody introduction to a ten-chapter story, rather than as a deliberate (and maybe deliberately alienating) unit of episodic television. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I’ve only seen the first episode so far because I watch The Bear with my wife and she decided one 30-minute montage was enough for her last night and went to sleep after “Tomorrow.”)


Viewed on its own, “Tomorrow” reminds the audience that The Bear is as much a show about a restaurant and its screwed-up staff as it is about artists and their art. Episodes like this one emphasize where creative inspiration comes from, and how a creator’s work is inextricably linked to their life and their experiences. Its show-long flashback was probably a long time coming for Carmy, who has been pushing away all of these thoughts for a long time. Painful as it is for him to do it (and maybe as painful as it is for some in the audience to watch him do it) the process allows him to get to the root of some huge questions: Namely “Why am I doing this?” and maybe even more importantly “What do I want to say by doing it?”

More than once, “Tomorrow” reminded me of the recent documentary Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros about the inner-workings of one of the greatest restaurants in the world, Le Bois Sans Feuilles in rural France. If you thought “Tomorrow” felt long, that’s nothing; Menu-Plaisirs spans four full hours. But the film uses that time purposefully. As I wrote in my review of the film...

A meal at a place like Le Bois Sans Feuilles is supposed to take us away from reality for a little while; to dazzle us with uncommon tastes and smells and sights. We’re not meant to contemplate the time and energy that went into a perfect French cut lamb chop or an aesthetically beautiful stalk of asparagus. Of course, making food that looks effortless requires enormous effort. Menus-Plaisirs - Les Troisgros is a movie about that effort; about the hours and days and months and years of sweat, thought, choices, and practice required to produce something worthwhile — great food, certainly, but really any work of art.

Another thing both Menus-Plaisirs and The Bear emphasize is the amount of trial and error that goes into creating a great dish. Ingredients are considered and combined; cooked and re-cooked until a recipe is perfected. (At one point in “Tomorrow” Olivia Colman, playing a chef who takes the young Carmy under her wing, orders him to grill a piece of meat for exactly five more seconds. Because, of course, every second counts.) If you want to look at “Tomorrow” as one of The Bear’s failures of experimentation on the road to perfection, so be it. I see it more as the show echoing its characters’ expansive ambitions, and their desire to push boundaries in their chosen artistic medium.

A scene from Menu-Plaisirs / Zipporah

The only tangible thing that happens in The Bear’s present in “Tomorrow” is Carmy writing out a list of “Non-Negotiables,” seemingly plotting the course forward for the restaurant in light of the opening night. (It reminded me of Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles” from Citizen Kane. If you know that movie, you know that such an idealistic list does not always yield equally utopian results!) I assume what happens next will be eventful and exciting and probably even a little funny. (The Bear: The best comedy series on TV!) But to understand what Carmy will do and make, you need to really understand what here’s been and done before this. Tomorrow doesn’t happen without yesterday.

Though not the most conventionally satisfying episode of The Bear, I wondered whether “Tomorrow” was meant to suggest Season 3 as a whole will be structured like one long tasting menu. In which case this episode could be seen as the equivalent of a chef preparing for work by gathering their ingredients. With that out of the way, they can now start to turn up the heat.

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