The female icons who paved the paths for all to follow a smoother, less barricaded one seem to be back in the spotlight again, decades after their rise to fame. Lucille Ball is on the airways and the topic of both fictionalized and documentary films and we see Julia Child’s name rising once again as well. The topic of Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s 2021 documentary brought us into Mrs. Child’s life from infancy to her final days on the WGBH public television set “The French Chef”, cooking up a proverbial storm. And now, HBO Max and Daniel Goldfarb bring us the fictionalized version of the French Master Chef in “Julia” with the first of 3 episodes available to stream now.
If you know nothing about this culinary creator other than an SNL spoof, that’s ok. And if you’re not into cooking, that’s ok, too because this is a story about a woman who had the audacity to become one of the most renowned television stars in her 50’s. Not unlike Lucille Ball who had very little success as a star until she was in her 40’s, Julia Child’s passion for teaching, creating, sharing and entertaining could not be quelled. We find out about the bold, vibrant, and even spicy personality behind the apron as Julia pushes the gender and age boundaries of the 1960’s.
Goldfarb doesn’t attempt to have too many ingredients in his recipe for this series’ success, adding just the right amount of flavor to each of his characters. The first three episodes introduce us to Julia (Sarah Lancashire), her hubby Paul (David Hyde Pierce), sister-in-law Avis (Bebe Neuwirth), and her two producers Russ (Fran Kranz) and Alice (Brittany Bradford), all who in subsequent episodes have their own stories to tell. (And “Lilith” and “Niles” still have that chemistry we loved in “Frasier” so many years ago.) These ancillary stories never overshadow Julia’s tale, but lift it and shed light on the times at hand.
Goldfarb only tackles the portion of Julia’s life as it relates to her public television show, the first of now a myriad number of cooking shows on the air. Logistical issues are tantamount, many of which Julia and her team’s innovative thinking created new ways of filming that are still used today. Again, it’s quite similar to the Lucy and Desi story of broadcasting hurdles and solutions. And “Julia” is at its heart, a love story…a love of her husband, life, friends, family and the treasure of French food.
Lancashire is simply brilliant in the role of Julia as she becomes this legendary television host. Giving life and light to Julia, we feel we get to know her, who she really is and what makes her tick. Her passion for life and love and, of course, food, connect us with her. As she cooks and tastes her way through life, we experience her every culinary adventure almost motivating us to try a coque au vin which I will forever pronounce quite differently in my mind from now on. And she’s funny! Her quips and raucous laughter is infectious making our appetite for more insatiable.
The entire ensemble cast illuminates the story of Julia bringing us back in time to experience life in a different way. The story finds love, laughter, and drama in the perfect amount to deliver a series that satisfies your palate. “Julia” is also full of surprises even if you’ve seen the documentary. It’s like biting into a chocolate dessert only to be surprised by a zip of heat from a chili pepper…it’s simply delightful!
Live, laugh, and love with “Julia,” now streaming on HBO Max.