The Bear: television so good it might actually kill you

I am always thinking of fun and interesting new ways to kill people and get away with it. My current favourite method is this: I invite someone with a weak heart to my house with the promise of a quality TV show. I put on the first two episodes of The Bear. If they do not die of that, I’ll put Uncut Gems on for a bit, which has roughly the same tempo. At this point even I am thinking I might die. If they are still alive (flushed, puce, asking for water), I will show them the penultimate episode of The Bear), which nobody who has ever had to switch to a plant-based spread because of their cholesterol can survive unaided. I flop the body out of the window to the flat downstairs. That is a downstairs problem now.

This might sound like I do not think The Bear – a show about a very intense sandwich shop, essentially – is one of the finest TV shows of the last five years, which it is, but we cannot tiptoe around the fact that it starts out stressful. Even Jeremy Allen White’s head chef Carmy is stressed by the whole affair: here he is, look, waking at 6am; here he is frantically chopping an onion then shouting for “hands!”; here is he reliving a personal trauma; here he is reliving a family one; the doorbell buzzes, a pan is on fire. The best food in the world is made by people with tattoos and scars they refuse to explain, who are all operating on three feverish hours of sleep and are yelling, and The Bear sinks you into the hot oil of that, skin-side down. Watch the first two episodes and know what it is like to be hissed at because you boiled a stock on too high a heat. Watch The Bear to know what working back-to-back shifts in hospitality feels like. Watch with a snack, because somehow it will still make you hungry.

Again, this might sound like I do not think The Bear is one of the … etc, etc, etc. Let’s look at the cast, who are impeccable: the aforementioned White, a Gene Wilder regen who looks like the only thing he eats is cigarettes, plays the perma-frazzled Carmy, always a hand pulled through his hair, always spinning nine plates and eyeing up a 10th. His foil is Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Richie, one of TV’s great assholes, who delights in walking in late in sweatpants and making everyone else’s day louder. Matty Matheson has the electric charisma to carry the whole show on his own but is played with perfect scarcity. Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney is a revelation, a sweet ask-the-teacher-for-homework sous chef with secretly sharp teeth. Lionel Boyce’s storyline, “What if a man could fall in love with a cake?”, is told almost without dialogue, and acts as a sweet side dish to the richness of the main. Even Liza Colón-Zayas’s Tina, who’s only there to say she doesn’t want to be there, is played with perfect aplomb.

Related: ‘Their T-shirts are too white!’: what real chefs think about The Bear and other onscreen restaurants

By episode three the hot kitchen yelling has calmed down, and what unfolds is a tightly plotted, nose-to-tail, no-scraps story that brings in unexpected themes from every direction. Every character on TV has to have a tragedy behind them, and The Bear is no different (Carmy, a world-class chef on the edge of burnout, was left the failing sandwich shop following his brother’s suicide). But there’s other stuff going on, too: the bizarre class system in the world of food; snobbishness pitched against the basic human desire of hunger; hierarchy and respect; mob debt and toxic masculine rage; caulk. It remembers to be funny, too – a cold open where Richie tries to fit a T-shirt over an inflatable hotdog is a particular highlight – and plays the heartfelt beats with just the right balance of fat and acid: none of that American corn-syrup saccharinity. It has a great soundtrack and does that thing good TV shows do where they make you feel the murky underside of a city you don’t really know (in this case, Chicago). It’ll also make you buy a double-pack of tea towels and start to say “Heard!” whenever someone says anything to you.

It’s great, then. Sorry, but this column has been on a good run of TV shows lately. I know this is not what you want. You want me to have to watch whatever Gino D’Acampo is doing so you don’t have to. This is how you get your kicks, isn’t it. Hey, crazy idea: do … do you want to come to my house? Do you want to come and watch a couple of episodes of The Bear with me?

• The Bear is on Disney+ from Wednesday.