PASADENA, Calif. — Last summer, the FX series “The Bear” became a surprise hit and cultural phenomenon. According to the network, the small, scrappy show about a high-end chef taking over his late brother’s Italian beef restaurant in Chicago was its most watched comedy series ever. In addition, the series spawned everything from essays appreciating its accuracy in portraying the high-octane stress of working in restaurants and depicting a toxic workplace, to thirsty memes about star Jeremy Allen White.
But as they head into Season 2, the show’s cast and co-showrunners Chris Storer and Joanna Calo are trying not to let all of the attention get to their heads. Instead, they’re leaning into the attention to detail they established in Season 1, they told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.
“The main thing I feel that we picked up on was the different kinds of chemistry that people had together,” Calo told HuffPost, when asked about what details in Season 1 they noticed from the actors during filming and then wanted to incorporate more when writing Season 2. “I think that’s one of the things I love the most about their performances, is how I think they all like each other as humans, but each relationship is different and has its own quality. And I think we picked up on those special moments and tried to write to that.”
Storer added that they also tried to write more for actors who were underutilized in Season 1, like Liza Colón-Zayas as Tina and Edwin Lee Gibson as Ebraheim. “Writing, now that we’ve gotten to know them closely, it’s so fun, because Jo’s right. You see sort of the chemistry in certain pairs,” Storer said. “But you also sort of see, like, ‘Oh, man, we should really let Liza do this or Edwin do this.’ We can really see how we can bring them into the fold more.”
Storer said he and White thought of the show’s first season as “Let’s catch up,” whereas “Season 2 is sort of like where the show properly begins, once we sort of have met everyone and seen the backstory totally.”
“The Bear” will return in “early summer” with 10 episodes, two more than the first season’s eight, FX announced Thursday. Calo and Storer said the episodes have been written, but production has not begun yet. So naturally, they were pretty tight-lipped about revealing any plot points and details about Season 2.
Season 1 ends with White’s character Carmy deciding to revamp “The Beef” into a more upscale restaurant of his own. Storer said to expect the second season to explore the “growing pains” of building a new restaurant, and the disagreements among the characters.
“Part of the reason why I even wanted to make the show in the first place was I probably became unhealthily obsessed with time in a lot of instances, and it can create anxiety, and there’s no better setting than a restaurant for the pressures of that,” Storer said. “Ostensibly, they think they’re starting from a healthy place. But a restaurant, like a lot of other businesses, just creates the same amount of problems and the same amount of headaches every day. So we see them have to step up in different ways — and in some ways, regress — and ultimately hopefully come back together to open this thing by a very specific date.”
Storer and Calo also said they’ve had a lot of discussions about the pandemic’s effects on the restaurant industry, and how the last few years led to a reckoning in terms of working conditions at restaurants: more attention to mental and physical health, better hours and higher wages. Calo said that in Season 2, Sydney, played by Ayo Edebiri, “would be the kind of person who would be trying to bring the new ideas. How are we going to take care of each other? How are we going to do business in 2023?”
And while the show’s breakneck pace will likely continue, Storer said Season 2 will build out the characters more slowly, compared to Season 1.
“We all kind of decided early on that we’re just going to throw people into this. We’re going to trust that you’re going to either be on the ride or not,” he said. “I think by parceling it out, it allowed us to sort of just really put people that are really good at their jobs or messing up their jobs, and letting the sort of pressures of that world create cracks between them. And I think on Season 2, it’s almost like an opportunity to maybe slow down a little bit and learn some things that we sort of skipped over in Season 1.”
As production on Season 2 begins next month, the cast and producers are all hoping not to let the pressure and high expectations from the show’s fans get to them.
“I’m confident we can get back in our bubble, and there will be some muscle memory to it,” White said. “But I do remember I was texting Joanna in the summer, just kind of checking in: ‘How are you feeling with all of this craziness?’ And she asked me the same. And I was like, it’s good, but there’s a lot of opinions and a lot of ideas being thrown at us that aren’t necessarily our own. And, I mean, that’s a beautiful thing, because people take away what they take away from something, and that’s television and film. They get what they get. But it was nerve-wracking. It is a little nerve-wracking, just having other people’s ideas and opinions about the show that aren’t our own. We’re standing here right now and trying to make something as true and pure as we did the first time around.”
“I told him, ‘Stop looking at that,’” Calo added. “That was my kind advice.”
The show’s two resident restaurant experts — chef Matty Matheson, who plays Carmy’s friend Neil Fak and also serves as an executive producer, and Courtney Storer, the show’s culinary producer and sister of Chris Storer — said it’s similar to the pressure of sustaining a critically acclaimed restaurant.
“When you have a restaurant that has success, that starts getting the reviews, the thing is, you don’t want to listen to all the good, you don’t want to listen to all the bad. You want to keep doing what you were doing. You don’t want to lose sight, and you don’t want to believe everything that everyone’s saying,” Matheson said. “You want to be like: What am I doing? What is my vision? It got me here.”
Courtney Storer — who described her job as consulting on everything from the accuracy of the food styling to the way the actors move as chefs in a restaurant — compared making “The Bear” to opening a new restaurant. “You have so much pressure, but you can’t pay attention,” she said. “You just have to execute, right?”
Calo joked she’s trying to lower expectations by “telling everyone it’s going to be bad,” she said. “I’ve been telling a lot of people this, and I’m hoping the message will get out. Because then maybe you’ll be surprised if it’s not so bad.”
“It’s trash,” White quipped.
“It’s trash, baby,” Calo said.
Season 2 of “The Bear” will premiere this summer on Hulu.