‘The Bear’ Season 3 Proves One Thing: Hollywood Loves a John Cena Cameo

A playful take on the dishy celebrity cameo, John Cena’s part in “The Bear” is an acquired taste. 

The legendary WWE champion — whose acting credits now include a top-line superhero in the DC Extended Universe — appears as Carmy’s beefy cousin Sammy Fak in Season 3, Episode 5, “Children.” The 6’ 1” supporting player arrives in the elite fine-dining epic created by Christopher Storer seemingly out of nowhere, but it’s really just the latest course in a string of smart casting choices that make up Cena’s quietly brilliant career.

“Anybody seen a ghost?” asks Sammy, his hulking frame filling the restaurant side-door.

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It’s a jarring scene that has drawn cheers as well as criticism online. Some audiences are delighted to see Cena in their favorite TV show. By box office and general reputation, he’s a crowd favorite if there ever was one, even among non-wrestling fans. Others, however, have compared the moment to the awkward meme-ability sometimes characteristic of television written by A.I. When Sammy pokes his head into The Bear for the first time, you could almost mistake it for that TikTok filter. You know, the one that put Cena’s floating head on a green screen and has him asking the timeless question: “Are you sure about that?

Still, as a matter of theme, it’s a fitting entrance for Sammy, a character who’s main — and maybe only — job is to introduce the idea of “haunting” to Jeremy Allen White’s workaholic chef.

“What’s haunting?” asks Carmy, flanked by Sammy’s genetically impossible brothers, Neil (Matty Matheson) and Theodore (Ricky Staffieri). The brothers are fighting with their towering sibling about some offscreen thing that’s unclear but appropriately stupid.

“It means I know that he took the SD cards without permission,” says Sammy. “And when he least expects it, I’ll do something weird.

Within the context of the show, Sammy’s brief appearance helps with two things. First, it gives Neil and Theodore a narrative concept to call back to when they attempt to insert themselves into Carmy’s will-they-won’t-they with Claire (Molly Gordon) later in the show, which considering that’s the closest thing to plot that Season 3 has, we need. (“She’s haunting you, bro,” Neil insists.)

Second, it gives Matheson and Staffieri one of Hollywood’s shiniest comedic scene partners to work their magic against. Ripping through hilarious asides (“And then they told me ALL of the peanut butter sandwiches had mushrooms in them!”), the trio is entertaining even if they feel mismatched. Unfortunate but true, Cena dwarfs his character’s younger brothers in every sense.

And yet, far from a prisoner to his heavyweight reputation, Cena manages the all-too-brief moment well. The actor has spent the last three decades perfecting the art of playing against type, and he rarely overstays his welcome. Yes, the world-famous athlete and walking symbol of Americana established his mainstream success with leading roles in action films like “The Marine” (2006) and he continues to bolster the appeal of genre franchises like Universal’s “Fast and Furious.” But it’s Cena’s smaller and more comedic parts that best prove out his talent for picking the right projects.

In “Trainwreck” (2015), Cena appears opposite Amy Schumer as a sensitive big guy named Steven. Theirs is the first relationship we see in a movie all about odd couplings, and the pairing of Schumer and Cena doesn’t work unless the script acknowledges Steven’s size.

“He’s hot, but it is like fucking an ice sculpture,” Amy narrates the first time we see Cena on screen. Later, when Steven breaks down crying after he’s forced to fight a guy in a movie theater thanks to the messiness that Schumer’s title implies, the comparison is especially mean and extra funny.

That same year, flirting with Tina Fey in “Sisters,” Cena leaned into the unavoidable first impression he makes as the drug dealer Pazuzu. Decked out in terrifying tattoos and rocking a supply that would make even the hardest homies shake, that caricature saw Cena clipping through a fast-paced monologue like he was in a black-market Amy Sherman-Palladino joint.

What’chu want? I got ketamine, MDMA, Adderall, Bromo-Dragonfly, heroin, coke, crack, codeine,” he starts. Then more, “I got Molly. I got her sister Sandra. I got big Frank. I got birth control, I got Plan B. I got that morphine from China they took off the market…” and on and on, until, “I got Flintstone Gummies if you want.

Whether Cena is playing sweeter or smarter than you’d expect, a sense of surprise is integral to his lasting appeal as a quintessential talent outside the ring, and forgives almost anything he’d do in something as already star-studded as “The Bear.” Last summer, Cena couldn’t help but join the legion of A-listers popping up for brief stints in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” And yet, he’d skip the tight cropped hair cut and macho man looks of a regular ol’ Ken to instead become Mermaid Ken — glittering tail, flowing blonde wig, and all.

Again, at this year’s Oscars, Cena subverted expectations when he presented Best Production Design and Best Costume Design in the buff. It should come as no surprise that the stunt which Cena championed was not just outrageously funny but it also held a clever hidden meaning as a symbol of protest. Speaking with IndieWire, the ceremony’s costume designer Katja Cahill revealed the nude illusion was a reference to #NakedWithoutUs, a campaign championed by the Costumer Designers Guild to fight against craft-specific wage gaps in Hollywood.

“What the fuck is Sammy fucking Fak doing here?” asks Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) mere moments after Cena enters The Bear. The answer is more than you’d think.

“The Bear” Season 3 is now on Hulu.

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