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Why the unconventional star of 'The Bear' whets the appetites of TV audiences

An empty Valley restaurant kitchen
Christina Estes/KJZZ
file | staff | I saw this in our library and changed the caption. It was the best I could do to find an empty restaurant to fit the story. - TMAX 4/24/20
An empty Valley restaurant kitchen.

If you’ve noticed an increased number of people in your life saying “yes chef” or calling each other “cousin,” it’s probably because they’re fans of the FX series “The Bear,” which recently returned for its third season.

The sometime comedy, sometime drama tells the story of chef Carmy Berzatto, who takes over his brother’s troubled restaurant in Chicago after the brother’s death, forcing Berzatto to reckon with an unruly staff and some equally unruly memories that he’s been avoiding for a long time.

“The Bear’s” blend of comedy and intense family drama has delighted some critics and confounded others. And that mix of emotions extends into conversations about the series beyond its characters and story.

The show’s lead actor, Jeremy Allen White, has drawn rave reviews and won an Emmy for his performance in “The Bear.” He’s also been anointed as a “ratman,” a viral term on social media used to describe unconventionally attractive male actors.

The combination of all these factors is fascinating to our next guest and resident expert on film, media and digital culture Amanda Kehrberg.

Amanda Kehrberg
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Amanda Kehrberg in the KJZZ studio in January 2024.

Full conversation

AMANDA KEHRBERG: When is a time where we defined who everyone was sort of thirsting over at that time in the celebrity world by such an unattractive, horrible kind of mean moniker?

SAM DINGMAN: So I was thinking about this and like we have had other moments like this in the past, like the whole dad bod phenomenon comes to mind. And you know, when Seth Rogen became a big deal, this sort of like slacker, stoner thing was very popular.

KEHRBERG: The sort of Judd Apatow guy, like I can fix him. Yeah.

DINGMAN: Well, you may have just answered my question. What do you think accounts for these pops of celebrity interest when somebody who is not conventionally attractive becomes like a new standard bearer?

KEHRBERG: I think in a way it's, it's the industry being surprised and confused and trying to, you know, there's them, there's this argument that one of the things that we all do every day in digital culture is just try to find patterns, like we've been trained so much to work, kind of like computers in the sense that we were desperate to make sense of life and certainly that crosses all time, not just digital, but I think it's a little bit part of that.

It's just the industry going, OK. This is really weird what is going on here and can we understand how to make sense of this as a pattern that we can capitalize on and maybe know, you know, how, how do we recognize the next guy we're looking for?

DINGMAN: Well, as an example of how far towards the upper echelons of American thought this debate has gone. There is a big conversation in the New York Times about this and there were a couple of arguments in there that I wanted to put to you to see what you made of.

One was, Stella Bugbee said this, and this is a quote, “lusting after so called rodent men is about a rejection of AI.” What do you make of that?

KEHRBERG: Oh my gosh. I love that because you could argue like celebrating this sort of raw, unconventional authenticity that goes so against the grain where we all have these filters and these tools that can turn us into the most conventional stock footage looking human. Yeah, I think there is something kind of beautiful in that.

DINGMAN: Yeah, I mean, I, I, I really reacted to this when I saw it, too, because it did seem like it was suggesting something about this idea that there's perhaps some, some appetite in us to reject these assumed standards that AI is seeming to accelerate.

KEHRBERG: Yeah, I wish we had a trend like that for women. But yeah, I would like, I would like a dad bod some days, you know, to be, to be sexy, but.

DINGMAN: Absolutely, absolutely. Somewhere in here as well though I think is, is the idea that by as you were pointing out, giving a hashtag to this phenomenon, we are sort of avoiding talking about the actual creative craft. I wanted to ask you what you make of the consternation that you see in some critical circles around “The Bear” where it seems like some critics are so frustrated because they can't figure out what genre this show is. And they're like, is it a comedy? Is it a drama? What is it? I'm so annoyed about this.

KEHRBERG: I love that so much. And I know every time I'm on here, I'm like, well that goes back to digital culture. But I really do, I really do feel that I think that, you know, when we're on social media, there's a context collapse. And so it makes sense that we're creating programming where there is a context collapse beyond traditional genres.

Everything online is decontextualized. It's slippery. So there aren't these kinds of classic boundaries that would separate drama and comedy and, and I think it allows for a lot of really, really rich programming, but that also can make it difficult to label and tag and sort into a box.

And when we're looking for patterns, yeah, that's not always helpful because again, of course, if you're thinking from an industry perspective, well, how do we recognize the next “The Bear” when it comes as a spec script across our desk? Yeah.

DINGMAN: What do you make of the fact that we're sitting here talking about shows like “The Bear” when at the same time, you know, Jake Gyllenhaal is in this new adaptation of “Presumed Innocent” that's just come out on Apple TV. Plus earlier this summer, Colin Farrell was in a limited series. These are massive, massive movie stars, but we're not sitting here talking about those shows. What do you make of that?

KEHRBERG: I think one, one mega star doesn't do it anymore. We have so many options and our time is not expanding to meet the amount of choices we have. And so I think, yeah, you can't just put one big name on a poster anymore and put something out and expect that everyone's going to show up and that has a lot to do, too, we're also seeing that in terms of the big concert industry, too.

And I think both film and, and concerts sort of looked at last year and thought, OK, OK, Eras tour. OK. Beyonce. OK. Barbenheimer, I think we get it, everybody's back, right. They all want to go to stadiums, they all want to see big artists. They all want to, you know, go back to the movies for blockbusters.

And then all of a sudden, oh, “Fall Guy” with Ryan Gosling flops, even though it's got Ryan Gosling from it. And then all of a sudden, Jennifer Lopez has to cancel her tour schedule. There's definitely a pushback on kind of just accepting who we're told are the mega stars and not just showing up, you know, for everyone.

DINGMAN: Well, no conversation about big name celebrities and our TV screens this summer would be complete without one of the biggest names preparing to appear on those screens. And that is Sir Anthony Hopkins. What do you think is this going to be?

KEHRBERG: I'm so excited. I don't, I don't know, I don't know how it's going to go. I know that I will be there, glued to my screen because when I saw the film “Gladiator,” that was it for me. That was just the rest of my life. I do think about the Roman Empire every day and I'm excited to have more of it on my screen.

DINGMAN: So we should tell people what is the, what is this show that he's going to be in?

KEHRBERG: So, “Those About to Die.” And it's another “Gladiator” romp, you know, just, just a goofball wacky, mix them up of “Gladiator” antics with Anthony Hopkins joining as Emperor Vespasian and we will see how much time he's actually on the screen. I'm hoping, I'm hoping they didn't use it all in the teaser trailers because I absolutely adore him. Yeah, losing Donald Sutherland was rough lately, but Anthony Hopkins is one of them, just …

DINGMAN: Talk about a man, Donald Sutherland. I hope, I hope that doesn't come across as speaking ill of the dead.

KEHRBERG: He always, interesting, interesting looking person.

DINGMAN: Well, we will see how it plays out.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

Sam Dingman is a reporter and host for KJZZ’s The Show. Prior to KJZZ, Dingman was the creator and host of the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts.
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