JULIA is inspired by Julia Child’s extraordinary life and her long-running television series, “The French Chef,” which pioneered the modern cooking show. Through Julia’s life and her singular joie de vivre, the series explores a pivotal time in American history – the emergence of public television as a new social institution, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity and America’s cultural evolution. At its heart, the series is a portrait of a loving marriage with a shifting power dynamic.
Before finishing the screeners, I told friends they had to start the new HBO series “Julia.” The most common response I received was, “Didn’t they do a movie on this?” To be honest, the answer is “kind of!” Have we seen this story before? Yes. Do I care? NO!
Witty and full of complex cultural commentary, HBO’s “Julia” is an absolute joy. Exploring Julia Child‘s iconic rise with a sharp eye on how it fits into the rapid societal change of the midcentury period, “Julia” succeeds in presenting complex ideas while keeping the show fun. The series is a visual feast of charming period settings, costumes, and sumptuous footage of Julia’s home cooking, recipe creation, and inspirational fine dining. An example is a luxe scene where Julia and her editor Judith strategize in a crowded Boston bar — the only women in sight– dirty martinis in one hand and casually finishing a dozen icy oysters each with the other. Ultimately the chef brings out two whole Maine lobsters served on a large plate accompanied only by ramekins of melted golden butter just at the resolution of their brainstorming– perfection.
While the series naturally focuses on Julia’s story and the unique power dynamics shifting within her marriage, I found the character studies on the tribe of women that made up her inner circle most fascinating. Fiona Glascott, Brittany Bradford, and Bebe Neuwirth shine in showcasing their own stories as they build the iconic culinary brand together.
While “Julia” doesn’t shy away from issues you expect for a series set in this period (i.e. egregious workplace sexism), I was intrigued when they also made room to explore more complex ideas about what Julia Child’s success means within the feminist agenda. Despite her own accomplishments, what does it mean to build an empire by motivating homemakers to prepare more elaborate home-cooked meals than ever and raising the bar for what it means to be an ideal wife? Late-breaking cameos from iconic figures of the time play a unique role in bringing many of these factors to light in a way that is bold to incorporate into essentially a tribute piece.
My recommendation: Mix yourself a proper cocktail, add a flourish whether the drink deserves one or not, and watch this series.
The eight-episode Max Original comedy series, JULIA is now available to stream in full.
Cast: The eight-episode series stars Sarah Lancashire as Julia, David Hyde Pierce, Bebe Neuwirth, Brittany Bradford, Fran Kranz, and Fiona Glascott. Guest stars include Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, Robert Joy, Erin Neufer, Jefferson Mays, James Cromwell, and Adriane Lenox.
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