I Love TV: The 'Bear' Season 3 premiere was the best episode I've seen in a long time.

By subverting expectations, the first episode of the new season of "The Bear" achieves something remarkable.

Jeremy Allen White in the first episode of Season 3 of The Bear. (FX on Hulu/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

This article contains details about Season 3 of The Bear.

The Bear is, in a word, stressful.

The FX show’s third-season premiere just broke Hulu’s scripted series streaming records with 5.4 million views in only four days. The Bear swept the 2024 awards circuit, winning Outstanding Comedy Series at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and cemented its leads as critical and media darlings. The show is acclaimed for its writing and directing as well. I love it.

My expectations were so high, I was almost too nervous to watch it. Critics I trust panned the new season for stagnating and trying too hard. Still, in the 37 minutes between the time I pressed play on the first episode of the third season and the time the next episode started, I knew I’d seen one of my favorite television episodes ever.

Bracing myself for stress and disappointment didn’t prepare me for that first episode of the season, titled “Tomorrow.” The show typically involves a lot of screaming, poor decision making and the miscellaneous loud sounds of a busy restaurant kitchen. This episode is quiet, peaceful and melancholy. The first line of dialogue isn’t uttered until nearly five minutes in, at which point in a typical episode, my nerves would have been fried.

Through a series of interwoven flashbacks, we follow chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) as he navigates key moments throughout his life. He is shown struggling with the guilt of leaving his family behind to pursue his dreams, the pain of falling short in his pursuit of greatness and the grief of losing his brother to suicide.

Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White, as Sydney and Carmy, in a restaurant kitchen.
Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy Allen White as Sydney and Carmy in Season 3 of "The Bear." (FX on Hulu/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

We don’t glean much new information from these flashbacks; instead, we rely heavily on the emotions the show has established to parse what’s going on. We see a lot of celebrity guest actors, like John Mulaney and Olivia Colman, which I’ve seen criticized as a lazy move to build excitement through star power. To me, these choices function as a celebration of the show’s triumphs. We’ve established an emotional relationship with the characters strong enough to understand how they feel without having it spelled out through dialogue. We’ve seen the show become so popular that big stars will make room in their schedule for it. We’re a part of The Bear now.

Though I have qualms about the way The Bear dumps all 10 episodes of each season on us at once instead of allowing us time every week to digest and discuss as we would with traditional appointment TV, this particular episode forces the audience to do something we rarely do in the streaming era: Slow down and look closely. If you’re looking at your phone while it’s on, you’ll miss something. To be honest, that in itself is a little stressful to my extremely online brain.

By subverting its typically chaotic tone, The Bear shows its range. Through all those loud and stressful episodes, you’ve built expectations for its setting and created bonds with its characters. People criticize the show for clumsily manipulating the audience’s emotions, but that’s a huge reason why I watch television. I want to care about something that isn’t a part of my real life.

A lot of fans are frustrated with the show’s third season because it sees Carmy backsliding. He’s not developing much as a character. Whether it’s lazy or bad writing, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not a critic, I’m just a big TV fan, and I appreciate seeing grief depicted onscreen in a way that’s complicated, repetitive and at times frustrating to watch.

The Bear has encountered a lot of controversy between its second and third seasons. Is it even a comedy? Should people be rooting for co-workers Carmy and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) to be together romantically despite the showrunners’ pleas for fans to give it up? Is it deserving of its many accolades? In my opinion, the answer to all of those questions is yes, because once a series is released to the public, it belongs to the fans. Writers, actors and crew members can do all they want to shape our experience with their art, but ultimately, we glean from it what we want.

Without giving anything away, the episode ends with a big reveal of how two characters were connected that we weren’t previously aware of. It’s a little cheesy, but so is showing tenderness to your co-workers and treating food like art. It’s true to the show’s message about the importance of a chosen family.

Carmy emerges from the first episode with a list of “nonnegotiable” rules that wreak havoc on the restaurant’s practical and emotional stability in the second episode, but we know exactly how we got there because we were a part of it. The Bear belongs to us.

The Bear Season 3 is now streaming on Hulu.