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‘The Bear’ remains as delicious as ever in Season 3

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The TV series "The Bear" stars Jeremy Allen White as Carm, a gifted chef who has dreams of building his Chicago restaurant into a Michelin star dining establishment. The show has earned 10 Emmy awards, including outstanding comedy series. Our TV critic David Bianculli says it's just as great as ever even though, he insists, it's competing in the wrong Emmy category. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: If you've seen the first two seasons of the Hulu series "The Bear," you probably agree with me that it deserved every Emmy that it won. Christopher Storer, who created the show and won Emmys for both writing and directing, is back again and serving up just as brilliant and beautiful a concoction as before. Jeremy Allen White as Carm, the chef with as many demons as dreams, is almost impossibly intense in a James Dean sort of way. His restaurant colleagues, Ebon Moss Bachrach as Cousin Richie and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney, are equally deserving of their Emmys, too, just not for the category in which they competed and won.

Let me put it as plainly as I can. "The Bear" is not a comedy. Oh, it's laugh-out-loud funny in spots, and some supporting characters play more like comic relief. But that's like calling "Hamlet" a comedy because of those early jokes by a grave digger. "The Bear" is more dramatic than almost any drama series on television. It dives into the inner emotions and fears of its characters to an ocean-floor depth, and most of the show is about tension and about conflict.

Last season's finale was set during opening night for Carm's fancy new restaurant called the Bear. In the front of the house, where the diners sat, it was a triumph. But in the kitchen, Carm spent the evening accidentally locked in a walk-in cooler. Sydney kept the kitchen running, but by the end of the evening, Carm had lost his girlfriend, Claire, and after a massive shouting match, also alienated cousin Richie, who ran the front of the house. Lots of fun, right?

Season 3 picks up the very next morning. The dominant emotion, as Sydney talks quietly to Carm, is regret. Listen to the tone here, and you tell me whether "The Bear" is a comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

AYO EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) We made it.

JEREMY ALLEN WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) No, you made it.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) With everyone else.

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) I left you alone.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) So don't let it happen again.

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) It's never going to happen again.

BIANCULLI: Almost immediately, Carm continues his apology tour by making a phone call. Only at the end, with his sign-off, do we realize he's talking not to his girlfriend, Claire, but to cousin Richie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) I don't really know what I said, but I know I didn't mean it. And I know you didn't mean it. And, yeah, I think we just - I'm sorry. And I love you. And I'm sorry. And I'll see you tomorrow. OK. Bye.

BIANCULLI: It certainly doesn't sound like a comedy or that Carm will even make it through his restaurant's Day 2. But he bounces back with a vengeance, announcing his bold new initiatives to Sydney and the rest of his troops.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) It's just some adjusting of the plating. The scallop is perfect. We don't need the six other fishes. The rib-eye was too big. This is a cleaner plate. And then instead of the bucatini, we're going to do a large raviolo.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Yolk inside?

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) Yolk inside and pancetta dust. And, oh, I put potato chips on the sea bass.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) (Inaudible).

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) (Inaudible), yes. And we're going to ditch the cavatelli.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Better for service.

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) Right. I'm going to change it every day.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) The cavatelli or the raviolo?

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) Everything.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) We're going to change everything every day.

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) Yes. I made a list. Sugar.

ABBY ELLIOTT: (As Natalie "Sugar" Berzatto) Coming.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Why?

WHITE: (As Carmy Berzatto) So they can see what we're capable of.

EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) Who's they?

BIANCULLI: They are the critics, the ones with the power to bestow upon the Bear a coveted Michelin star. Season 3 is all about the pursuit of that level of perfection. And it's a goal that brings out the best and the worst in every single character. In addition to the actors already mentioned, I absolutely adore Oliver Platt as Uncle Jimmy, the restaurant's chief investor. Now, he's funny, but he's also imposing and, when he wants to be, deadly serious.

I've seen way, way too many TV cooking shows and cooking competition shows, and "The Bear" is more inspirational and instructional than most of them. It's the best food-oriented TV series since Julia Child's "The French Chef." And Christopher Storer and his other writers and directors present montages of food preparation that are beautiful, exotic and mesmerizing all at once. The central message of "The Bear" - and it's no laughing matter - is that all those stunningly plated entrees and desserts come at a measurable emotional cost. So why invest in a show called "The Bear" that features so much high-wire tension? For the same reason Uncle Jimmy is investing in the restaurant called the Bear - the results are delicious.

MOSLEY: David Bianculli is professor of television studies at Rowan University. On tomorrow's show, David Tatel, a former civil rights lawyer and judge on the D.C. Circuit. He says he became tired of having his work reviewed by a Supreme Court, a court that didn't seem to share the value he'd dedicated his life to. We talk with Tatel about his new memoir, chronicling his career and losing his eyesight. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE HORNSBY'S "BACKHAND")

MOSLEY: To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. With Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE HORNSBY'S "BACKHAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.