I’m at a bit of a loss in trying to review the We Bare Bears: Viral Video DVD, the first home video release of Cartoon Network’s new series that contains a dozen episodes of the show. To a degree, it’s the same difficulty I’ve always had in articulating exactly what it is about the show that I like, especially when (like Regular Show) it seems to be targeted at an audience much younger than I am and with which I would seem to have little natural affinity. While my first impression was that We Bare Bears was cute but mostly harmless, the show has definitely grown on me as new episodes roll out and the show’s world slowly expands.
The three title characters are the gregarious Grizzly (Eric Edelstein), the shy and anxious Panda (Bobby Moynihan), and the inscrutable Ice Bear (Demetri Martin), and the show focuses on the way this trio fumbles their way through the world. I’m not positive that We Bare Bears‘ timeliness will serve it well in the long run, since this is a show very much set in the present day of smartphones and social media, both of which figure prominently in several episodes. On the one hand, it can feel very up-to-the-minute, especially in “Viral Video,” the episode that kicks off the disc, where Grizz tries to make the gang Internet Famous. On the other hand, it also feels like a show that will end up dating itself very quickly once it has run its natural course. The initial impression of the earliest episodes of We Bare Bears makes the show feel a bit too precious and focused on middle-class millenial/hipster anxieties, which it depicts and lampoons pretty accurately but which also feels a little limiting at first.
However, the show really started growing on me once you absorb enough of it. On this disc, this point usually hits with episodes like “Chloe” (where the bears meet a young girl going to college who tries doing research on the bears) or “Panda’s Date” (where a bad allergic reaction to nuts leads to Panda falling hard for his rescuer). It’s episodes like this where the show reveals depths of sincerity and feels like it’s using current-day references to talk about perpetual realities of life: fear of public humiliation and first crushes and making friends.
It’s the seventh episode on this disc, “Burrito,” that’s the real surprise, starting off as a “strange Grizz” story where he gets weirdly obsessed with a gigantic burrito but slowly revealing the exact reason why the burrito burrowed so deeply into his subconscious. It’s an episode whose ending has unexpected poignancy that suggests a fear of abandonment underscoring the entire series. The subsequent episode “The Road” hits many of the same notes, demonstrating that “Burrito” wasn’t a fluke. That poignancy ends up coloring a lot of the bears’ actions and somehow makes them more palatable (or at least Grizz and Panda’s — Ice Bear’s entire appeal is that he’s a completely cool and unflappable customer who refers to himself in the third person and hints at a mysterious past). Like Regular Show, We Bare Bears will often start with a simple premise and then make a sharp left-turn into Weirdsville halfway through an episode (as with “Food Truck” and “Shush Ninjas,” the latter being a personal favorite on this disc), but the character comedy and the pacing seem entirely different from the slacker-driven Regular Show. For all the antipathy directed towards them, the millenial generation is facing tremendous depths of anxiety for a whole lot of reasons, and I think We Bare Bears ends up speaking to and soothing those fears. The ultimate moral of most of these tales is that it’ll all be OK as long as you stick with your buddies, and it’s wonderful to see how characters like Chloe move closer into that inner social circle even in her two appearances on this disc.
We Bare Bears is also kind of a big deal for not making a big deal in making so many of the background characters non-white. One recurring background character is even wearing hijab. Chloe herself is very clearly Korean-American, and quietly navigating the rocky shoals of race among all her other problems in “My Clique” in ways I recognize, even if it’s not obvious or overt to people who haven’t dealt with similar issues. The show doesn’t make a big deal of any of these things, presenting its multi-colored cast without comment, which may be the most revolutionary thing about it.
We Bare Bears: Viral Video is a pretty bare-bones DVD, with nothing on it other than the 12 episodes of the show (excepting the trailers for other Cartoon Network DVDs that play on disc insertion). Total running time is just over 2 hours, which is a healthy dose of the Bears but not so much as to wear out their welcome. As much as I like the show, I’m not sure I would be able to marathon a season set the way I could with Regular Show. At least there are a selection of chapter stops within each episode that let you skip the title sequence, though the theme song is catchy enough that I tended not to.
We Bare Bears is a show that creeps up on you until it’s wormed its way into your heart. The DVD is a fine way to experience the show, especially if you haven’t been following it during its broadcast run. It’s a keeper, even if it does turn out to be largely for the moment.