There’s just something about a milky-faced, big-glasses-wearing midwestern uncle that you’ve got to love, even if they’re an asshole loan shark who says you owe them $300,000. Oliver Platt is absolutely killing it as The Bear’s Uncle Cicero, who used to live in Naperville but now lives in Wilmette. I don’t know if it’s because I recognize a sort of tight but round-bodied midwestern-ness in him or what, but there isn’t a bone in my body that doesn’t believe he is that man. He’s got Chicago down, to be sure — perhaps because he’s been there off and on since 2015 doing NBC’s various Chicago programs — and even though he’s actually from Canada, if you told me he was from Berwyn, I’d believe it.
We’re talking Uncle Cicero because The Bear’s fourth episode, “Dogs,” takes place largely at his suburban home, where his presumably entitled, asshole son is celebrating some tween birthday. Carmen and Richie are enlisted to cater in an effort to knock $2,000 off their tab, so they go along, with Carmy even mixing up some homemade Ecto Cooler as a fun treat. (More on that later, of course.)
In the last recap, I suggested that Carmen seems like the type that when surrounded by his family, he’d either be lauded or misunderstood, hanging in there until the second he could slip out the side door. This episode proves that correct, with one of his mystery relatives even asking him, “You work in a restaurant, right? What’s it like to be a fuckin’ loser?” (It actually could be worse, as another mistakes him for Mikey, saying, “I thought you’d killed yourself.”)
It’s odd how family works — or at least how this family works — because while Carmen and Richie appear to be in legitimate hell in the run-up to, and during the opening of, the party, as things go on, it seems to turn into a relatively pleasant experience. They bond with Uncle Cicero about their hatred of Sugar’s husband, Pete, who Richie and Cicero absolutely think is a narc of some sort. Richie somehow manages to dump his bottle of Xanax into the Ecto Cooler, dosing both Pete and the kids into a deep, drug-induced slumber that Cicero actually seems fine with, weirdly, and Pete — who is admittedly a huge try-hard — says very nice things to Carmen. He’s a bit of a foodie, he says, and he followed Carmen’s New York run via blogs like Eater, and he says he just wants him to know that he is admired and respected for what he did, because he knows that it must have been incredibly hard work, and that both he and Sugar are very proud of him.
I don’t know if this is the first time anyone has ever said something like that to Carmen, but it has to feel good. Awkward, sure, but good. He works hard, and he has the weight of many people’s jobs and careers on his shoulders as well as his own expectations. Every day has to be a struggle, and it’s not always clear if anyone cares. Pete may be a fleece-vested jagoff, but his heart’s in the right place.
Back at the Original Beef, they seem to be doing constant prep work and no actual service times. Tina’s in the weeds on a new mashed-potato recipe, while Marcus is spending a lazy day diving into the wide world of doughnuts. The show’s opening finds him gazing into the windows of Chicago mainstay Roeser’s while pure doughnut pornography plays, and, frankly, I think we can all agree that, yes, doughnuts rock. I love that he’s getting a chance to dabble in the pastry arts, and judging by the look of his chocolate cake, so does he. I don’t know if his skills are paying for his bills just yet, considering they’re ordering the bread from a distributor now, but I have no faith they will in the future … or that he’ll get into some amazing pastry program and end up leaving the Beef.
“Dogs” doesn’t deliver a lot of heated kitchen drama, but it does deliver heart and grit, which The Bear is never really lacking. The show’s season is really plugging along at this point, too, and I’m interested to see where it goes as we round the bend.
• This episode’s writer, Sofya Levitsky-Weitz, has an M.F.A. from Northwestern, so she has spent time in the Chicago area. That being said, there were a few moments this episode when I felt like someone must have gone through whatever she wrote and did what I like to call “Chicago punch-up,” which is when you add random Chicago terms to whatever’s already on the page. Why did they have to talk about highways, for instance, other than to point out that Chicagoans call them by their given names rather than by their numbers? (Also, to nitpick, they were on Lake Shore Drive, not the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan, but maybe that stock footage didn’t exist.) The “Rest in Peace, Harold” was sweet when Carmen mentioned the Ecto Cooler, but compounded with everything else, like the “What kind of asshole would eat ketchup on a hot dog?” chatter, it did feel like this episode was laying the Chicago on a little thick.
• What’s up with Marcus’s roommate, Chester? He’s very fun, a designer of all things, and he doesn’t want to smell like spicy giardiniera. He comes in a little hot with those hugs, but I liked that we got to know so much about him in about 45 seconds. Interested to see if he comes back.
• Richie talking about corresponding with his cohorts and associates — I can’t. Circle back and ping me if you want to touch base later.
• I like that Sydney seems to finally be getting through to Tina. All it took was some straight talk, a few compliments, and evenhanded fairness. Let’s hope this sticks.
• Do we think that Carmen and Sugar’s dad is still around? Maybe he’s in the clink, or maybe he’s just off on a bender. I thought maybe he had died, but then Carmen asked Cicero when he had last talked to him, which I suppose you could ask someone if the mutual acquaintance was dead, but it feels more like they’ve both just shut him out of their lives purposefully.
• And, really, do we think Uncle Cicero will ever let the boys pay him off? He tells Carmen, “Just don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t necessarily happen” — which could mean “You could try really hard and it could just be too much,” or it could mean “You’ll never actually be able to pay me off because I’m going to set fire to the building and claim the insurance money as my own.” Hard to say, really.