The Bear Season 3 has divided viewers and critics – but why?

The Bear Season 3 debuted with a divisive experimental storytelling style. Here's why it has people's napkins in a knot.
Jeremy Allen White as Carmen Berzatto in The Bear Season 3. Image: Disney+

The Bear has returned for another season, and it’s the show’s most controversial yet (potential spoilers ahead in those links, folks).

After dropping all of its episodes on Disney+ in Australia last week, it’s had the internet frenetically debating whether or not it’s ‘as good’ as previous seasons. The change in pacing, the deliberately slow character development, or the abundance of flashbacks might be why it’s confused its fans, who are more used to the bull-charge narrative drive behind their favourite Chicagoan restaurant drama.

Review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes has calculated an average score for The Bear‘s third season as 94% fresh among critics, while audience consensus sits much lower at only 58%. So why is there such a divide in opinion?

A common complaint among viewers is that the new season is ‘boring’, ‘stilted’, and that it spends too much time getting to a point where the story can progress from where we left it in Season 2. I think it’s an excellent example of risk-taking in TV that will pay off down the line. In other words, I think Season 3 marks a new beginning for The Bear, and the amuse-bouche of story threads being teased here will culminate in a surprising and delightful Season 4.

Is the direction too boring?

In some ways, I agree with the naysayers. Episode one, Tomorrow, will have you wondering whether the show’s taken a turn into self-indulgent, experimental fugue-state storytelling, which is probably what’s turning so many viewers off in the first place. Stick with it though, and you realise this cross-fade loving montage is merely a taste of what’s to come.

Presented as a series of vignettes that flash forward and back through time, framed mostly as Chef Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) memories and dreams, Tomorrow plays out like a visual menu for a restaurant the specialises in fine storytelling. For entree, we have the broth of past trauma poured over a mirepoix of fading idealism. For main, we have a fine cut of financial struggle, paired with pureed introspection. Dessert, of course, is a humorous mélange of cameos, with an unexpected twist of confrontation.

If this kind of ‘gourmet television’ is too highfalutin for you, then I get it. But, jeez, how often do we actually get to watch TV like this??

Read: The Bear, Disney+ review: one of 2022’s standout shows

Is the lead too off-putting?

This is also the first time the show has firmly turned me off Chef Carmy. For two seasons we have watched this perfectionist stress-head justify every questionable directive he gives his kitchen mates with great culinary success (and incredible looking food/arms). Yes, chef! In Season 3, the food is as divine as ever, but Carmy increasingly pushes his plates from gastronomical to gastro-maniacal, getting lost in increasingly minute details until the art is forsaken for anal retention.

Source: @justashottt_ on X. Images from The Bear, Disney+/FX

Both Carmy’s creative motives and their outcomes are intentionally unlikeable here, forcing him into corner that will ensure he has to confront the darker, nastier side of himself if he wishes to succeed in Season 4. Though watching him fail big time could be the more interesting choice here, we’ll have to wait and see where showrunner Christopher Storer takes it next.

But hey, there’s a big plus side to our protagonist being in a rut. While Carmy runs himself into the ground with his own stubbornness, the show has ample room to let other characters shine – and shine they do.

Ayo Edeberi (who plays Sydney) has her directorial debut with Napkins (episode 6, written by Joanna Calo), which focuses entirely around the no-nonsense line cook-turned-gourmet-chef Tina Marrero. It’s a triumph of character study, and a real testament to Edeberi’s expanding talents behind the camera. Far from an actor’s personal vanity project, Edeberi approaches the episode with such a deep understanding and love for this character that often gets shoved to the sidelines, and it’s powerful to behold.

Liza Colón-Zayas as Tina Marrero in The Bear. Image: FX/DIsney+

If episode 6 doesn’t get you sobbing, episode 8, Ice Chips, will gut punch you again and again until you’re a tear-soaked mess. At least, that’s what it did for me. In the spirit of keeping this analysis as spoiler free as possible, I won’t say anymore.

Final words

I loved The Bear season 3. It’s challenging for sure, but that doesn’t equal ‘bad’ storytelling. It simply means the story has a taste you will acquire to over time.

The best indicator of The Bear season 3’s pitch-perfect execution is the way that the mixed critical reception and audience reviews were anticipated in the storyline itself. Carmy desperately awaits the first major review of his restaurant for much of the season’s runtime. In his mind, all possibilities play out: The Bear is sloppy. The Bear is innovative. The Bear is tired. The Bear is dazzling. The Bear is the worst. The Bear is the best. And so on and so on.

Are all the real-life chef cameos a little gimmicky? Sure. Does a certain wrestler-turned-actor fall short of fitting organically into the show? Yeah. But if a show, much like a high-end restaurant, doesn’t branch out and try new ideas once in a while, it will get stale. The Bear is anything but stale.

The Bear – Season 3 is streaming now on Disney+.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports