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  • Donny Levit


The restaurant crew of the Original Beef of Chicagoland in “The Bear.” This article contains casting spoilers as well as light plot spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2 of “The Bear.”

South Orange resident Josh Senior is executive producer of “The Bear.”

On a chilly February day in Chicago, Josh Senior is on the set of one of television’s most acclaimed TV series. As executive producer of The Bear (FX on Hulu) since its inception, he plays a crucial role in the oversight of Season 3, slated to be released in June 2024. Just a day ago, Senior and the creative and production teams were in Los Angeles accepting awards courtesy of both the Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild of America. Just weeks before that, The Bear took home multiple wins at the Emmys and Golden Globe awards.

As prestigious as the accolades may be, the South Orange resident wants to keep the focus on the work at hand. “Between Season 1 and Season 2, I think we did a really good job of keeping that noise out – keeping our heads down and doing good work,” Senior says. “It’s hard not to acknowledge the recognition for the show, but we are striving very hard to make sure that we can keep making the show the same way that we made it the first few times.”

Jeremy Allen White plays Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, an award-winning chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago to run the restaurant of his deceased brother.

With its first season released in June 2022, The Bear centers around Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (played by Jeremy Allen White), an award-winning chef of New York’s fine dining world who returns to his hometown of Chicago. Carmy takes over the Original Beef of Chicagoland, a struggling sandwich shop run by his brother, Mikey, who has recently died by suicide. The show chronicles the immense complexities of running a small restaurant business, digging deeply into the personalities of the sandwich shop employees and the complicated Berzatto family.

Christopher Storer, creator of The Bear, has partnered with Senior on multiple projects, including Ramy (2020), a Hulu TV series featuring comedian Ramy Youssef, and Bo Burnham: Inside (2021). They met through the production company A24. “We’ve done a lot of comedy specials. We’ve worked on some movies. We had always been the back office facilitating for other people,” says Senior. “Once Chris had the opportunity to step out in front of something, it just made sense for us to do it together.” He joined the production company American Light & Fixture to work alongside Storer and producer Cooper Wehde.

After graduating from Lehigh University as an international relations major, Senior started Senior Post, a Brooklyn-based TV and film post-production facility. “That’s where I built a foundational skill set,” he says. His experience allows him to work in multiple areas of the process, performing traditional producer tasks as well as using his particular talents to drive his company.

“I spend a lot of my time interfacing with the network as well as the other producers, the creators and the director,” he says. “If I was describing what I did to somebody that works in a business environment, I would say that I’m like the chief operating officer of The Bear. But at the end of the day, we work in such a collaborative way that we’ll pitch ideas – dialogue, story, and filming locations. Our job is to just protect [Storer’s] vision and make it work.”

Although The Bear is known for its superb writing, acting and directing, the series has also garnered enthusiastic reviews for its soundtrack. Senior collaborates closely with Storer on making the song choices and editing the music for the show.

In Episode 7 of Season 1 (titled “Review”), the restaurant’s behind-the-scenes preparation for a food critic takes place at breakneck speed, illustrating the chaos, stress, and sweat of the Beef. That powerful section of the episode is underscored by the song “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” by the Chicago band Wilco.

Ayo Edebiri plays Sydney while Jeremy Allen White plays Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto.

“That episode has two incredible needle drops. It starts with Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Chicago’ and then we used the live version of ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke).’ We feel really strongly about the energy that you get from a live recording, and so whenever possible, we always try and bring it in,” says Senior. “That’s actually a song that Chris had written into the script. We knew we wanted a one-take episode, and we wanted a piece of material that could sustain 17 or 18 minutes of continuous action. Obviously, Wilco being from Chicago is a great connection, but we liked the energy and the pace of that song and the ability to really hear the crowd. It just helped bring that whole episode to life.”

Storer and Senior continue to find new ways to integrate music. “We started a playlist that we share between the two of us,” he says. “We’ll use that as another way to have a conversation about what the show is going to feel and sound like. Much like the way I describe my producing, I just try and round out the edges and fill in the blanks. In some ways I’m the first audience to [experience] what he’s writing to help illustrate the themes, the message, and the motif.”

When asked about the unique requirements of creating The Bear, Senior highlights the rapid pace of producing the series. “One thing about The Bear that’s really different than any other show is how fast we make it. I would venture to say there isn’t another scripted show on TV that works at this cadence. We are filming now [February 2024] to be on TV in June, and we’ve done this every year. That presents a whole host of challenges that really necessitate a lot of modulation to the way that one would normally do this job,” he says.

In Season 2, The Bear introduced many new members of Carmy Berzatto’s family. Titled “Fishes,” Episode 6 focuses on a deeply emotional family dinner and includes cameos from Jon Bernthal, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Mulaney, Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson. Senior describes the ensemble casting as “a combination of people that we’ve met and admire and people that we dream up and see if they’re interested and people we think are going to work well together. With guest casting, I think it’s always important to make sure that those people feel like they could be in the world, and so we challenged ourselves last year.”

“The Bear” took home multiple wins at the Emmys and Golden Globe awards. Actor Matty Matheson, creator Christopher Storer and executive producer Josh Senior at the Emmy Awards ceremony.

The second season featured several episodes with guest chefs and restaurateurs who interacted with the culinary and management staff of the Beef. “It was arguably more of a challenge for us to figure out who is going to be [Copenhagen-based pastry] Chef Luca, which is played by Will Poulter, or who was going to play Chef Terry,” says Senior.

Actress Olivia Colman was cast as Chef Terry at Ever, a fine-dining restaurant in Chicago. Colman performs opposite actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richard “Richie” Jerimovich. The chef plays a crucial role in the managerial evolution of Richie (titled “Forks”, Season 2, Episode 7) and the character’s personal growth throughout the remaining episodes.

Although his work takes him out of town, Senior is happy to return to South Orange where he lives with his wife, Emma, and their three sons. After meeting Emma in college, the couple lived in Brooklyn for 10 years. “Emma is a partner. She started the company with me. She’s also an educator and an artist,” Senior says. “I’m continuously inspired by her. She was the reason that I was able to even start a business to begin with, and she’s definitely a foundational partner in all the creative work that I do,” says Senior.

The couple started out in Maplewood in 2016, just a few miles down the road from Senior’s hometown of Short Hills. “When we found out we were expecting our second child, we moved to Maplewood, where we lived for five years,” he says. “Just before the pandemic, we fell in love with a house in South Orange – an old house that we bought right before COVID. We spent all of COVID living in that house and fixing it up.”

Two of his children go to Marshall Elementary School. His youngest goes to the Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel preschool. Senior is happy that his sons have begun to take an interest in lacrosse, one of the sports he grew up playing in Short Hills. “We got some sticks and we throw around in the back yard,” he says. “It’s been really fun.”

“We try and be part of the community as much as we can,” says Senior. “I think one of the things that’s really nice is living in a community that reflects a diversity of occupation and background. For me, that’s really refreshing. I do enjoy being able to slip in and out of talking about what I do for work and just being a regular person.”

With the success of The Bear, Senior and his colleagues have a busy future. “Through American Light & Fixture, we have a number of projects in development at FX. We have some movies that we’re setting up. But I have to be honest – the only thing I’m focused on now is The Bear.”

Donny Levit is a writer, theater director, and radio DJ. He’s directed more than 50 plays, including works by Gao Xingjian, Samuel Beckett and William Shakespeare. Check out his music shows on Instagram at @newishradio, @undertheinfluenceradio, and @kindofpoolradio.


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