As a 45-year-old suddenly adrift on the job market, the “Forks” episode of The Bear hit different. Sure, “Fishes” was an absolute tour-de-force, capital “P” performance, and “Honeydew” was a powerful meditation on growth, but “Forks” spoke to me so directly and hopefully. Watching Richie transform from a lovable, but deeply flawed dirtbag living in an eternal present into perhaps the most self-actualized character on the show was completely unexpected and absolutely welcome. The moment Syd says “Drive,” he’s a man possessed and fully in his element, confident and self-assured, willing the team forward.
What I think I especially love about this on a personal level is how Richie and others are given opportunities to grow into themselves. Carmy sees their potential and puts them in spots to realize it. If you’ve ever been stuck or lost in your career, it resonates deeply, especially when you know what you’re capable of doing, but wonder if you’ll ever get the chance. That’s why Richie’s story has meant so much to me. The purpose he seeks is the antidote to “quiet quitting,” or if you’ve taken an entry level sociology class, alienated labor.
Is there a show I’m more concerned about falling apart as collateral damage of the writers’ strike? No, not likely. Maybe it’s just me adopting the Indiecast mindset, but I lost a taste for most prestige TV when Mad Men ended. Most of it just feels too self-important to be genuinely engaging. Like, I know I’m supposed to like it, but what even is prestige TV in 2023? Is Mythic Quest prestige TV? I liked that. Are FX shows still prestige TV? Is prestige just swearing and sex on basic cable? Or is it just TV from premium services?
The Bear was engineered in a lab for young Gen X. “Strange Currencies” was my national anthem in 1995. Monster, as I’ve written elsewhere, is a cultural touchstone without equal from my teenage years. The yearning expressed in that song connects so perfectly with the mood of season two. But nowhere is it more realized than in Richie’s trajectory from “Forks” forward, culminating in his Jesus-take-the-wheel moment in episode ten and his lacerating tough love for Carmy, trapped helplessly in the walk-in.
Something I thought about, especially during “Fishes,” was Bunuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the diners await a meal that’s never served. In that sense there’s a real poetry to The Bear ending before opening night and I can be happy if it does. Meanwhile I will be absolutely flooring it down back alleys to “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” from here on out.