Squawk Box: Ms. Marvel/The Bear

I remain convinced that both Marvel and Star Wars are going to start to reach something of a saturation point in content in the next few years-- there's so much stuff in each universe now that it's almost becoming a chore to keep up with it all and while Star Wars has a slightly different twist on that problem than Marvel does, it was with deep trepidation that I sat down to dig into Ms. Marvel.

Moon Knight was just okay. The second Dr. Strange was decent. Wandavision and Loki were kind of interesting, so I didn't know what to expect with Ms. Marvel and happily, I was pleasantly surprised. The old magic isn't completely faded out and Ms. Marvel seemed like a welcome return to form for the quality and general entertainment factor I've come to expect from Marvel shows.

(Slight Tangent Here: the character has had four incarnations in the comics and Kamala Khan is the fourth to take the name, Ms. Marvel- in the comics anyway. Of the previous incarnations, Carol Danvers is probably the most well-known and has a long and sometimes controversial history in the comics. I loved Kelly Sue DeConnick's take on the Danvers- I still have a copy of some of the issues lurking in a box somewhere in the basement and that, in turn, lead to G. Willow Wilson's creation of Kamala Khan. Again, all this is purely in the comics.)

The streaming series opens with Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a 16-year-old high schooler living in Jersey City who is a major fan of the Avengers- her favorite is Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. After failing a driving test, she and her best from Bruno (Matt Lintz) finish her Captain Marvel cosplay and head to AvengerCon-- but not before Kamala adds a golden bangle to her cosplay that turns out to have powers and she projects constructs of cosmic energy all over the Con, which causes havoc and gets Kamala all kinds of attention- including from places she didn't expect.

Together, she and Bruno figure out that the bangle didn't give her powers- rather it activated innate powers she already had. Soon enough, after saving a young boy at the Eid celebrations, Kamala finds herself pursued by government agents who are trying to track her down and saved by the new boy at school, Kamran (Rish Shah), and his mysterious mother Najma (Nimra Bucha)-- they turn out to be Clandestines, interdimensional beings that have been trapped on Earth and believe that the bangle is their best way home. 

Soon enough, Kamala finds out the real agenda of the Clandestines, evades the government agents trying to capture her, and finds out a family secret before assuming her place in the community as a superhero with the name Ms. Marvel...

Obviously, there's more to it than that, but I wanted to be as spoiler-free as possible because this is a show that's worth your time. It's six episodes long, so it's not a big time commitment-- the number of episodes might seem like a detriment at first blush, but in the end, it proves to be just about right. While the show has been stalked by the usual internet commentary of "blurrrrrrr, it's woke" I would offer two counterpoints: one, is that superheroes are for everyone, so it doesn't bother me to see a different cultural experience represented on screen. Ms. Marvel doesn't feel forced, it doesn't feel like the viewer is being slapped in the face with "look at this representation" it feels like a genuine story that takes time to get the important details right. Two: it also does an amazing job at showing a different cultural experience for South Asian communities-- the episode in Karachi presents a very different image of Pakistan then you normally see in media and the historical connections to Partition are deftly handled.

My Grade: **** out of ****  Good stuff from Marvel... perhaps not as mind-bending as Loki or Wandavision, but certainly a refreshing return to form here. 

In contrast to the world of superheroes and derring-do and other shenanigans stands Hulu's The Bear. I fell into this because I am a sucker for workplace dramedies, especially those set in restaurants and kitchens. I have no idea why- maybe it's because watching many seasons of Chef's Table on Netflix has just increased my fascination with the world of professional chefs-- they seem, to a fault, to be obsessed in a way that I just can't imagine being. Maybe it's because I wonder if I would have taken a left turn at some point in my life (Sliding Doors style) that I might have flourished in that kind of environment. I don't know... I had weird notions now and again about going to bartending school back in the day, but it's the time and effort of the business became a definite turnoff. (There's nothing like dreaming about opening a restaurant and then watching things like Bar Rescue or Restaurant Impossible or even Kitchen Nightmares to dissuade you of that dream.)

But, The Bear:

In the summer of 2022, James Beard Award-winning chef Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) returns home to Chicago to manage The Original Beef of Chicagoland, which was a restaurant owned by his now deceased brother Michael (Jon Berenthal) which has seen better days. His brother's best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) helps him run it and the rest of the staff resist his attempts to modernize the restaurant, but Carmy brings in a Culinary Insititute of America trained chef, Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) who wants to help him fix up the restaurant.

The show chronicles the ups and downs and the chaos of the restaurant including Carmy's attempts to figure out why it's in such a financial mess and dealing with his family who is still deeply affected by the death of his brother and the financial situation of the restaurant. There are bumps and disasters on multiple levels along the way but by season's end, The Beef is closing and there's a sign on the door advising people that a new restaurant is coming soon: The Bear.

You can absolutely get lost in this show. There's a weird contradiction about it in that the episodes aren't all that long, but feel long, and yet there are only eight episodes and it feels like it all goes by way too quickly. I like the intimacy of this show- the shots in the restaurant really give the viewer a sense of claustrophobia in the kitchen and it really heightens the sense of chaos in the place. The cast is excellent, the writing good, and the food looks delicious-- I'd eat there. 

My Grade: **** out of ****. Don't know if they've announced a second season yet, but if there's another course of this show, I'll happily tuck in and chow down. 

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