It seems that with each passing day more and more people are discovering FX’s The Bear on Hulu and singing its praises. The series effortlessly places its audience in the hectic kitchen of a longstanding Chicago beef establishment and the trials and tribulations that come with it.
To little surprise, In Chicago there’s tremendous crossover between sports fans and Chicago style beef enthusiasts. It was clever of the show’s production team to work in legendary Blackhawks center Stan Mikita’s sweater hanging in the shop in the first episode.
The show, which was originally intended to be a feature film, never loses it’s Windy City feel and appeal through working in other Chicago details like White Sox ball caps on chefs and a Chicago flair throughout from filming in so many recognizable locations around the city.
As much as The Bear succeeds in giving a national audience a realistic bite of a traditional Chicago beef place, it further triumphs in depicting what it takes to run such an establishment while battling through unique family dynamics and circumstances.
“I think we really wanted to focus on these original characters and the story about small business, but the small details, that came from Chris (Storer’s) upbringing, and obviously, that’s just one part of Chicago, right?” The Bear executive producer and showrunner Joanna Calo said of the show and Storer, the creator, via Zoom.
“That’s just one Chicago experience, and I know there’s a lot of different parts, but yes, that jersey, those sports teams, those specifics about mustard versus ketchup, those were true to him. And yeah, just sewn into the fabric of the show.”
Some praise is also due for The Bear’s creator, writers, and FX in not choosing to make the setting a pizza place, which would have played off a Chicago food stereotype and not provided as much of an authentic… um… slice… of life.
“I think people were delighted with the beef from the very beginning,” Calo said. “Chris knew the family or knows the family behind Mr. Beef. And so this was a very true story for him. He spent a lot of time in that beef place.
“And I will say also while we were shooting, that some days we actually did shoot in the Mr. Beef on Orleans, and people would show up and bang on the windows trying to get their beef, and we ruined it for them because we were shooting, and it wasn’t operational that day. I think the passion for the beef and the truth of this place and what it meant to people really came through and FX always got that, which I love.”
The Bear also magnificently captures the frantic pace a successful restaurant demands in the series.
“Yeah, I mean, the pacing was incredibly important. It felt like the insane pace of an actual kitchen had never really been shown on TV or film,” Calo, a former BoJack Horseman co-executive producer, said. “We really wanted to use the truth there to kind of escalate stories and add tension for our characters, so we built that into the scripts from the beginning.
“We often had a clock going of knowing exactly what time it was and sort of when they’d have to serve the next meal. So you kind of were very aware of how much pressure was on each of our characters.
“And then from a production standpoint, we shot things very quickly. We really wanted to help our actors feel that pressure and make things feel fresh and feel alive. And so we often didn’t do many takes, so that we could keep going and keep them feeling the actual pressure of that pace as well.”
Because of the overwhelming amount of available content for audiences, television writers today know they have to hook viewers immediately, which was no different for The Bear. In the show’s opening scene, the main character ‘Carmen”, played brilliantly by actor Jeremy Allen White, is having a nightmare that finds him opposite an actual bear on a Chicago bridge at night.
“I do think all writers have been conditioned that if you don’t grab them within the first 30 seconds … but also from people at the network reading your scripts or actors wanting to bring them in so that they’ll want to be a part of it,” Joanna said.
“I think we’ve all been forced to have a cold open that will grab you, but it wasn’t necessarily on purpose in order to force people to keep watching. But certainly, I think we’ve all been hit over the head with the need for a surprising and hopefully electric cold open.”
Calo has also served as a co-executive producer on HBO Max’s Hacks, so I had a final pressing question for her, ‘That’s Joan (Rivers), right?’
“I love that. … I think Joan is such an icon for exactly who— Deborah (Jean Smart) is in the Joan world, but it’s not exactly Joan. I think she’s inspired by her, as well as so many other female comedians, but also just female businesswomen who are kind of navigating this world, our world, and trying to find a place for themselves.
“I think that Deborah is her own woman in a lot of different ways, and the ways in which she’s actually different from Joan, I think, is some of the most exciting places to think about her character.”