Throughout much of human history, men have been presumed to be the more capable sex. There are infinite examples to show that this is not the case, yet men have traditionally been the ones in charge of making decisions, and as a result limited the potential for success of women. It’s always refreshing, therefore, to see stories of women showing up their male colleagues in a big way, proving that idiotic assumptions are just that and teaching them far more than that their way of doing things is definitely not always the right way.
Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) works in a lab in the 1950s, where she is regularly subjected to sexist remarks and people mistaking her for a secretary rather than a lab tech. Her eagerness to delve into exploratory research is met with skepticism by all the men around her, save for one: Dr. Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), who initially treats her the same way but soon comes to see her brilliance. After a productive collaboration between the two, Zott takes center stage on an entirely new project, hosting a cooking show where she’s able to educate audiences about not just what food and recipes to try but the science behind them.
Lessons in Chemistry is based on the 2022 book of the same name by Bonnie Garmus, which doesn’t chronicle real events but instead the feeling of a generation of women severely underestimated by their domineering counterparts. Zott is an effective stand-in for those with tremendous potential who were never given opportunities because less intelligent and very arrogant men had doors open to them. The show isn’t overly condescending and has a sense of humor about its setup, with Zott always able to prove her capability with her own wit rather than relying on anyone else to prop her up.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this show bears some similarity to another series set around the same time, Julia, about another trailblazing woman who appealed to the masses through creative cooking. That character is, of course, a real person, and the focus is much more on the production side of the show-within-a-show and on Julia Child’s personal life. Lessons in Chemistry emphasizes the science and the way in which the fictional Zott is able to subversively communicate educational content to her viewers that her producers certainly don’t think they have the brainpower to process.
Though Larson got her start in the entertainment business with starring television roles in series like Raising Dad and United States of Tara, she has since spent the majority of her time headlining films, like her Oscar-winning turn in Room and as the title character in Captain Marvel and other Marvel Cinematic Universe projects. It’s nice to see her return to television and to a role that allows her to fully flesh out the resentment Zott feels towards those who don’t give her any credit as well as a deeper trauma that exists from the more serious things she has experienced over the course of her life and career.
Larson has a solid screen partner in Pullman, who appeared recently in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial and in the films The Starling Girl and The Line, showing range and an ability to become someone who does have the keys to the kingdom, metaphorically, yet doesn’t always use them in the most impressive or clever way. Kevin Sussman is a welcome presence in the ensemble as a frazzled producer not so on board with Zott’s tendency to go off-script. From its initial episodes, it’s hard to tell exactly how Lessons in Chemistry will pan out, but, like its main character and her show, there’s certainly something interesting cooking.
The first two episodes of Lessons in Chemistry are currently streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping weekly on Fridays.