10 Great Chicago Sitcoms and Dramedies That Aren’t ‘The Bear’
You devoured Season One of The Bear last year. Maybe you even watched it again to prepare for Season Two. Then FX dropped all 10 episodes of the new season on June 22nd, and you’ve already watched them all. If you’re not ready to say goodbye to Chicago just yet, we’ve got some suggestions for what your next Midwestern TV obsession could be, ranked by how well it will fill the Bear-shaped hole in your schedule.
Honorable Mentions: ‘Jack & Mike’ (1986-1987) and ‘Anything But Love’ (1989-1992)
I was a tween when Jack & Mike premiered, so I can’t explain why I have ANY memory of it; it wasn’t inappropriate for me to have watched it, just weird to realize that I was always such a TV-obsessed little freak that, as a literal child, I would make time in my life for a show aimed at Tab-drinking Glamour readers. Anyway: Following the success of Moonlighting, ABC greenlit another hour-long dramedy about a blonde lady and brown-haired man, with a twist: What if they liked each other? (This was pre-Mad About You, so the idea of building a show around a happy couple was still revolutionary.) Shelley Hack plays the titular Jack — newspaper reporter Jackie Shear — and Tom Mason plays her husband, Mike Brennan, who is a restaurateur, though his spot, 1935, is definitely on a middle path between The Original Beef of Chicagoland and The Bear. While two episodes of Jack & Mike are up on YouTube, “Cry Uncle” — in which a tiny Chris O’Donnell makes his screen acting début opposite future Beverly Hills, 90210 star Carol Potter — is, tragically, not one of them.
Anything But Love is one you may remember, thanks to better-known leads. Hannah Miller (Jamie Lee Curtis) impetuously decides to move back in with Leo (Bruce Kirby), her retired-cop dad; give up her career as a teacher; and fulfill her dream of being a professional writer. (Season Two of The Bear also has a woman doing a career pivot, as Abby Elliott’s Natalie signs on to help run the new restaurant.) After a chance meeting with magazine writer Marty Gold (Richard Lewis), he gives her tips on breaking out from the pack of applicants and land a job as a researcher with him at Chicago Monthly. The pilot and one other episode are on YouTube — enough to give you the flavor of Curtis trying to pitch her performance for a live studio audience and apparently getting very little direction as to how she should do that, yet maybe still wish you could see more of Lewis as a romcom lead, because… it weirdly works?
After departing his sidekick job at Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter returned to comic acting in this under-appreciated sitcom. Created by Victor Fresco (who would go on to create another cult-hit workplace sitcom, Better Off Ted), the show stars Andy Richter as “Andy Richter.” Though he dreams of a creative writing career, he’s stuck writing technical manuals at a huge corporation. Shy and a little awkward, Andy frequently indulges in elaborate fantasies touched off by events in his life — but cute, funny flights of fancy, nothing like the dark visions The Bear’s Carmy experiences. Co-stars include future Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster, and future Better Off Ted co-star Jonathan Slavin. (You may not know his name, but you’ve definitely seen his face.)
Yet another of Chicago’s many fictional scribes is PJ (Jordana Spiro), a sportswriter whose attempts to find love are frequently complicated by her social circle: Some of the men who come through her life are thrown by the fact that her closest friends are all single dudes. There’s Bobby (Kyle Howard), a sportswriter for a competing newspaper; Mike (Jamie Kaler), who works on and off in pro sports when he’s not meeting women; Kenny (Michael), a sports memorabilia dealer and the least confident of PJ’s friends; and Brendan, aka Brando, a radio DJ and PJ’s on-and-off roommate. Rounding out the cast are PJ’s married brother Andy, played by Jim Gaffigan; and PJ’s one good female friend, Stephanie (Kellee Stewart), a self-help author and relationship expert. Unlike Carmy, PJ has a successful career and a sunny attitude, values her friends and family and virtually never screams abuse in their faces no matter how stressed out she gets.
Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) is a relatively new arrival in Chicago from his native Wisconsin, and may feel like a fish out of water, but his lack of experience in his new environs is forgotten upon the surprise of meeting his distant cousin Balki (Bronson Pinchot). Formerly a shepherd on the island of Mypos, Balki moves in with Larry and starts trying to figure out how America works. Generally much more a slapstick offering than the taut psychological dramedy of The Bear, Perfect Strangers does also feature “cousin” as a common appellation.
A few years into its run, Perfect Strangers spun off Family Matters. Harriette (Jo Marie Payton) is an elevator operator at the newspaper where Larry and Balki start working in Season Three — because, yes, this show also ends up being about a writer after Larry suddenly becomes a reporter. Family Matters revolves around Harriette, her cop husband Carl (Reginald VelJohnson), their children, and eventually (mostly) their nerdy and accident-prone neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), who screws things up nearly as much as Fak (Matty Matheson) does on The Bear.
No writers appear in this sitcom, in which the titular Newhart plays psychologist Bob Hartley. Comedic situations derive from Bob’s interactions with his patients, including fan favorite Eliot Carlin (Jack Riley); but also from Howard (Bill Daily), intrusive neighbor to Bob and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette); and from Bob’s work neighbor Jerry (Peter Bonerz). Other than the city of Chicago, The Bob Newhart Show is low on Bear-osity, apart from the fact that most characters on The Bear would benefit from therapy.
No one necessarily banks on the spin-off of a spin-off being a hit in its own right, but Good Times (parent show: Maude; grandparent show: All In The Family) ran for six seasons in the 1970s and is reportedly being revived as an animated series (this year, if you believe sketchy, unsourced reports). After her introduction as Maude’s housekeeper, a slightly modified version of Florida (Esther Rolle) anchors Good Times along with her husband James (John Amos), and the show follows their stories as residents of a Chicago housing project. They have three children including J.J. (breakout star Jimmie Walker), and episodes tend to revolve around social issues of the day, as is the style with shows developed by executive producer Norman Lear. A fractious family dealing with financial struggles in Chicago is something The Bear and Good Times have in common.
Fantasy football is a seasonal obsession that can send players’ emotions into the stratosphere and make them basically impossible to live with — or so I have been led to believe through my viewing of The League. While some social groups dissolve when members get married or (especially) have kids, the six friends at the center of The League have stayed close-knit through their pathological competitiveness. Nick Kroll (Ruxin) and Mark Duplass (Pete) starred on the show seemingly as a lark between other projects in their wildly successful comedy production careers (Kroll’s Big Mouth; Duplass’s The Skeleton Twins); Jason Mantzoukas recurred before his current era of ubiquity and influence. As with The Bear, The League’s central friendships are toxic but unshakeable; and as on The Bear, people say “bear” a lot. (Well, “Bears.” As in the football team. But still.)
I am simply never going to stop plugging South Side, a show that never got its proper due. Yes, three seasons is two more than a lot of very worthy shows ever get, but the world of the show was so carefully constructed and its many characters so well cast that it feels like it could have kept going on for years if it had just had the proper support from the two platforms (Comedy Central for its first season; HBO Max for the second and third) that aired it. Storylines are driven by two pairs of characters who occasionally intersect: Simon (Sultan Salahuddin) and Kareme (Kareme Young) work for a rent-to-own store, and go out to reclaim items for which clients have stopped paying; Turner (Chandra Russell) and Goodnight (series co-creator Bashir Salahuddin) are beat cops called to mediate generally low-stakes crimes. Virtually everyone that any of the four leads interacts with for work purposes is barely able to function in society in hilarious and unpredictable ways. The Bear’s Fak and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) would fit in perfectly.
Another hangout show — arguably one of the best ever? The pilot’s inciting event is Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) running out on her wedding to Dave (Zachary Knighton), whom she’d known since childhood. But everyone just continues spending all their time together and (spoiler) the two end up getting back together anyway, so it’s fine! The cast is rounded out by Alex’s sister Jane (Eliza Coupe); Jane’s husband Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.); Penny (Casey Wilson), who also grew up with Jane, Alex and Dave; and Max (Adam Pally), who met Brad when they were both on the (fictional) Sacramento season of The Real World. Love interests for the single characters cycle through as guest stars, though unlike The Bear, no one season of Happy Endings can boast two Oscar winners. Like The Bear, a beef sandwich business does feature after Dave starts his food truck, Steak Me Home Tonight.
Denis Leary dramatized the tense and tragic lives of firefighters in the post-9/11 era in Rescue Me, which he co-created and starred in. Perhaps he felt there were more first responder stories to tell, minus the emotional devastation, because Sirens — which he and Bob Fisher adapted from a British format — takes a lighter look at a similar milieu. Johnny (Michael Mosley) and Hank (Kevin Daniels) are Chicago EMTs who are assigned a trainee: the brand-new, very keen Brian (Kevin Bigley). Johnny’s on-and-off cop girlfriend Theresa (Jessica McNamee) is, unfortunately for her, often outshone by her partner: Billy is played by Josh Segarra, giving most of America who hadn’t already seen him on Broadway its first look at him, years before he started playing Lance on The Other Two. Johnny and Hank spend their days responding to life-and-death emergencies on the streets of Chicago, and manage to keep their cool a lot better than anyone who works in The Bear’s kitchens — and that most definitely includes the Berzatto home kitchen where we’re forced to spend so much very loud time in this season’s Christmas episode.
Another American take on a British show, Showtime’s Shameless chronicles the Gallagher family. Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is the de facto single parent to her younger siblings: Liam (Christian Isaiah), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), Debbie (Emma Kenney), Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Lip, played by The Bear’s own Jeremy Allen White. The six kids have functionally been orphaned by their father Frank (William H. Macy), whose negligence can only partly be blamed on his various substance use issues. Naturally, White’s casting is what shot Shameless to the top of this particular list, but financial insecurity, addiction and general screaming tie them together thematically, too.