Recommended: Julia on HBO Max
What's Julia About?
Inspired by events in the life of iconic TV chef Julia Child, this smartly done comedy set in the early 1960s follows the life of Child, her devoted husband Paul, their friends, and her colleagues at Boston’s WGBH-TV, where The French Chef was created.
Julia revolves around an ambitious woman at the dawn of the feminist movement, and it comes to us from Daniel Goldfarb, who was a writer and director on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. HBO’s publicity informs us that Julia is a show about the “shifting power dynamic” in a traditional marriage.
In the opening episode, Paul Child, a career foreign diplomat (played by David Hyde Pierce), is forced into retirement, so he and Julia (played by Sarah Lancashire) settle in Cambridge, Mass., whereupon her career takes off. The book she’s been toiling over for years, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is published to wide acclaim, and she parlays an author appearance on local station WGBH into a show of her own. The rest is history.
Or is it? Actually, no, Julia takes quite a few liberties with the truth and its characters are drawn just to sitcom depth. But what characters! Even a cartoon version of Julia Child is better than almost anything else on TV. And when you take a veteran British actress and flank her with two stars of Frasier, the rapport can be, and often is, witty, incisive and, at its best moments, emotionally satisfying.
The other Frasier star, Bebe Neuwirth, plays Julia’s next-door neighbor and best friend Avis DeVoto. She is as devoted to Julia as Paul is, and their mutual affection gives this show much of its appeal. Other storylines center on Julia’s book editor Judith Jordan (played by Fiona Glascott) and the staff at WGBH, none of whom are prepared for this 6-foot-tall woman with the funny voice to become a major star.
Julia’s real-life producer Russ Morash (played by Fran Kranz) receives less attention on Julia than an associate producer named Alice Maran (played by Brittany Bradford), a young Black woman who sees Julia’s potential long before Russ does.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Viewers who remember Julia Child and have cleansed their palate of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her in Julie and Julia will thoroughly enjoy this series. Just don’t mistake it for history. Alice Maran, the go-go GBH staffer on this show, never existed in real life; she’s a composite character. Scenes like the episode where Julia is both denounced by Betty Freidan and encouraged by Mister Rogers never happened. The Julia Child Foundation has a “consulting producer” credit on the show, so this is an authorized portrait of a celebrity — albeit an unlikely and, by all accounts, wonderfully down-to-earth celebrity, which Julia certainly captures.
Pairs well with
The very first episode of The French Chef, “Boeuf Bourguignon,” is on YouTube and shows Child’s vision for French cooking and explanatory TV fully formed.