The Reel Review
Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) stars in this HBO Max series about renowned TV chef Julia Child, tracing the early years of her pioneering television career that followed her iconic 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that she co-wrote with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
Child’s fans may feel that after 2021’s impressive, similarly titled, comprehensive documentary Julia, all has been said about the American television cooking show icon. This eight-episode series, however, begs to differ – adding lots of drama, wit and humor as it explores Child’s personal relationships during her post-menopausal mission to entertain Americans while teaching them the virtues of flavorful French cooking via the PBS program, The French Chef. We see Child as a take charge pioneer – not only in television, but in a marriage that at that time was very unconventional.
Written by creator Daniel Goldfarb (producer of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and a crew of fellow playwrights, Julia is clever and funny, showcasing an array of compelling characters and exceptional 1960s-era set design and costuming. An excellent David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth are great fun portraying Child’s husband Paul and her best friend Avis, with newcomer Brittany Bradford as a black TV producer who discovers Child. (Although it deftly handles sexism of the 60s, the series does take some revisionist liberties regarding race and the couple’s views on homosexuality.)
It is Lancashire, however, who is mesmerizing as the charismatic, effervescent Child. She captures not only Child’s appearance, but her distinctive voice and her mannerisms that, dare we say, even surpass Meryl Streep’s excellent, Oscar-nominated portrait of Child in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Emmy is calling.
• Julia series producers say after British-born Lancashire aced her audition in Los Angeles, they couldn’t imagine anyone else for the part and likely would have scrapped the series had she not been available.
• Alice, the local Boston TV producer in Julia who first discovers Child, is a fictional character loosely based on Ruth Lockwood, a white associate producer who helped shepherd The French Chef in its early days.
• Julia is a reunion for David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth, who both appeared on the hit TV comedy series Frasier (1993-2004), as Frasier’s brother Niles and Frasier’s ex-wife, Lilith.