Sarah Lancashire’s Julia is invited to be a guest on Boston’s public television station WGBH following the success of her french cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which captured the attention of home chefs across the US. She is at once nervous and proud of her accomplishment, and the invitation alone to discuss her book is cause for celebration. But, eager to impress, Julia plucks a carton of eggs from the refrigerator, a mixing bowl, a whisk, and a load of butter before departing to the studio. As the interview starts and the glaringly off-put host tries to initiate an introduction, Julia interrupts, crawls along the carpet with her bottom facing the camera, plugs in a hot plate, and, with the breathlessness of a marathon runner, demonstrates how to make the perfect french omelet. When the perplexed host tastes the dish, his eyebrows perk with surprise; he just tasted the best omelet of his life.
It’s not a stretch to submit that expectations surrounding a series about Julia Child would be high. The renowned chef and author has been parodied on SNL and was the center of the 2009 film Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep as the titular character. HBO Max’s Julia, created by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel alum Daniel Goldfarb, knows that Julia’s years as a televised chef, the first woman to teach audiences how to cook through television, are astonishing and not just for the food itself. Anyone within Julia’s orbit is immediately enraptured by her sing-song vocalization and unwavering determination to teach everyday women (and men) how to cook. In episode 7’s riveting Gala episode, she mentions to an adoring audience that food offers a passport to cultures otherwise unattained, and she’s just glad people are along for the flight.
The series is focused on Julia’s crossroads, both professionally and biologically. Her doctor confirms she is starting to go through menopause as aspiring WGBH producer Alice Naman (Brittany Bradford) invites Julia to be a guest on a book review show. After a staggering 27 letters are delivered to the station following her unconventional performance, Alice tries to convince her superiors to make a television show showcasing Julia as a chef. However, the male-dominated offices laugh at the possibility of a cooking show, so Julia takes it upon herself to finance a pilot with the help of acclaimed Editor Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott), best friend Avis DeVoto (a scene-stealing Bebe Neuwirth), and doting husband, Paul Child (David Hyde Pierce).
The comparisons between Sarah Lancashire’s performance with that of Meryl Streep will be immediate. But anyone who knows Lancashire’s work on Happy Valley, as just one example, will trust this renowned BAFTA award-winning British actress to capture the voice, stature, and hunger of Julia Child. Her performance embodies a chef determined to teach the everyday woman how to make delicious french cuisine with simple ingredients purchased from a typical grocery store. Additionally, Bradford’s tender love story at the tail end of the season will catapult her into the limelight.
Finally, Director Charlie McDougall effortlessly recreates scenes from television, bouncing with anticipation and claustrophobia as each of Julia’s performances is rigorously staged. Julia may be sweating under the harsh lights of a sound stage, but she is surrounded by supportive friends and family who believe in her spirit and talent. It’s a charming television series that balances the sweetness of Julia’s ambition with the acidic cynicism of people who think too small.