If you thought the bear was only going to fill you with juicy Italian beef subs, wait until your mind is overloaded with the absurd number of cameos. In its sixth hour-long episode, season 2 of the FX series on Hulu looks back on Christmas a few years before the show took place – and we learn that the Berzattos have an incredible number of A-List stars in their tree family.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for episode 6 of the bear“Fishes.”)
Before talking about who they are in the family or the quality of all their performances, let me list the big names the bear brings us: Sarah Paulson, John Mulaney, Bob Odenkirk, Gillian Jacobs and, to top it off, Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis. How’s that for a list of cameos? We’ve already heard that Odenkirk will be playing a guest role on the show, but the rest are huge surprises.
Now the trickiest part is figuring out which is which. It would be pretty hard to meet all of these people at once on a normal show, but we’re dealing with the bear, which is a whole different kind of fast beast. Moving at a million miles a minute, the whole family slams the door on Christmas, greeted by yelps, shouts, welcomes and grunts, all in a competing cacophony of Chicago accents. Chicagoans are famous for saying things like “DAAA Bears,” which makes even more sense here, where the Berzatto family calls themselves “bears.” There is the “DAAA Bears” football team, and then there is also the Italian-American “DAAA Bears” family.
Let’s start with what we already know. Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) is back and everyone is trying to do business with him at the family reunion. He’s the family’s wealthy uncle, the guy who later steps in to help Carmy fund The Bear (the restaurant replacing The Original Beef) in Season 2.
We also know the three siblings: Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), Natalie alias Sugar (Abby Elliott) and the eldest, Mike (Jon Bernthal). In the present timeline of the show, Mike is not there. He died by suicide, which led Carmy to take over the restaurant. But in this flashback episode, Mike is there, running The Original Beef while Carmy works in a fancy kitchen in New York. Sugar is dating Pete (Chris Witaske), the boyfriend everyone hates because he makes missteps like bringing a casserole of tuna to Christmas dinner, where Mama Berzatto makes All.
Mama Berzatto, who goes by both “Donna” and “The Bear”, is played by Curtis in the Catherine O’Hara way, which is to say that her blonde hair is perfectly curled and her energy is extraordinary. We only see Donna outside the kitchen for two moments throughout the episode. Things start to make sense, when it comes to Carmy and his frenetic organization (or rather, sayorganization) of the restaurant.
Then there is a family friend (the fake “cousin”) Richie, who is married to Tiff (Jacobs). This is the first time we see Tiff in the bear, as Richie is divorced from her in Season 1. In this episode, Richie and Tiff are just starting to fight. Tiff is currently pregnant with their daughter, Eva, and the couple reconcile as they bond over what she will look like.
We already knew that Richie was a fake “cousin” of Carmy, but the presence of Tiff confused me a little here: is she a biological cousin of the Berzatto family? It seems not, as Richie tries to clear things up with Neil Fak (Matty Matheson), another family friend.
“How are you still related to them?” Neil asks.
“Out of friendship,” Richie replies.
“Like us!” Neil says, referring to him and his brother, Theodore (Ricky Staffieri).
“No, not like you,” Richie replies.
The Faks are also at dinner. Although we have met Neil, an employee of The Bear, we have yet to meet his brother. Although we’ll never learn if they’re actually twins, Neil and Theodore sport matching outfits — green flannels with red hoodies — so I’d like to think they are.
The oddest couple, however, is cousin Michelle (Paulson) and her partner Stevie (Mulaney). Their relationship with the family – is Michelle the daughter of Jimmy or Lee (Odenkirk)? – is not clear. Michelle and Oddball Stevie live together in New York, where she runs a few restaurants. She invites Carmy to stay with her while he pursues his dream of working in New York. It seems the couple are not visiting each other, even though they apparently live in the same town.
The real question I ask myself is: who thought that Mulaney and Paulson would make a good couple? It makes absolutely no sense. And yet, somehow, they have impeccable chemistry. Consider me impressed, but also, still a bit confused.
That leaves Odenkirk, who appears to be the man of the house, but is just an uncle. Uncle Lee. The one everyone hates. The one who was only invited out of family obligation. Lee complains about everything, makes fun of Mikey, and is rude to his sister Donna (assuming he’s related to her and isn’t Carmy, Mike, and Sugar’s father) – even after she made him the course of the seven fishes. Don’t ask what it is. It’s literally just one big meal with seven different types of fish, a Berzatto family tradition.
So! These are the Berzattos, and now you don’t have to pause and rewind to understand how everyone is connected. Although there are a million new faces at once, the bear does a great job of making sure these folks aren’t a distraction – they just add to the energy of the big family.
Midwesterners have a reputation for being nice and friendly, but that’s not always the case. By bringing in these larger-than-life personalities, the bear does a wonderful job depicting the noisy, frenetic nature everyone talks about vacations at home, especially in the Midwest, but also, especially in the Chicagoland area. If the dinner isn’t perfect, it will be thrown onto the gray sleet outside. And if the family members don’t behave well, all hell will break loose. It may stink for the Berzattos, but it’s a win for us viewers, who become a fly on the wall in this exciting Christmas bargain.
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