Sarah Lancashire shines in HBO Max’s Julia Child Show – The Hollywood Reporter

The conventions of the Hollywood biography are so entrenched that Adam McKay has carved a lucrative niche primarily in recognizing the artifice (not correcting or updating it, mind you). Of course HBOs Winning time has received some criticism for a possible excess of the fourth groundbreaking, dramatic irony and genre-tweaking that is McKay’s hallmark.

Audiences plagued by the meta-touches (and perhaps the sour tone) in Winning time can feel more at home with HBO Max’s Juliaa resolutely old-fashioned, mid-range bio-drama about Julia Child, public television, and the healing power of a good marriage. Julia for the most part neither flashes nor cuddles (and the moments it does are easily the worst of the series), and it indulges in clichés without self-awareness or self-awareness. It’s a seriousness that will not be for everyone, but being conventional does not preclude occasional hilarious pieces of media-savvy insight, an abundance of well-photographed food, and a towering – in every sense – central performance by Sarah Lancashire.


The bottom line

Lancashire’s towering turn promises an overly conventional biography.

Release Date: Thursday, March 31 (HBO Max)

Cast: Sarah Lancashire, 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

Creator: Daniel Goldfarb

Created by Daniel Goldfarb (The wonderful Mrs. Maisel), in which Charles McDougall directed the first two sections, Julia begins in 1961 with Julia (Lancashire) and her husband Paul (David Hyde Pierce) enjoying a festive dinner after hearing that her book, To master the art of French cooking, will be published. The landmark book release comes as Julia begins menopause, and the series – in a way that feels a bit crooked and reductive given its male-dominated creative origins – treats her new ventures like the child she never had. Julia promotes the book on Boston’s public television station and takes over the talk show host by preparing an omelet in the air.

To the surprise of the program’s originally twisted director Russ (Fran Kranz, very funny and not as addicted to stereotypes as one initially fears) and the other dehydrated white men who prefer to mock both cooking and the non-traditionally-photogenic Julia, the segment is a hit. This opens the door for Julia to propose an independent pilot, against opposition from the station’s brass and even from Paul, who sees television as a low-culture fashion. With the help of WGBH-associated producer Alice (Brittany Bradford), Julia’s best friend Avis (Bebe Neuwirth) and the reluctant Paul, Julia records an entertaining amateurish episode that prepares coq au vin and a legend is born.

There is a stop and start to Julia’s progress, but – spoiler alert for the historically ignorant – most viewers know that she will become without a doubt the most important figure in 20th century food culture. This means that while Julia have at least one steak – with fries! – it’s a series with almost no stakes, and it’s amazing how many of the obstacles Julia faces can be overcome by writing a check. As presented in Juliashe dealt with some insidious and gross sexism and condescension, but nothing of the sort that gives drama in a series that, after eight episodes, is already spread thin.

Even the dramatic liberties taken by Goldfarb and showrunner Chris Keyser can make no difference – whether it’s a painfully constructed encounter with a very famous person (and recently a prestige TV punching bag) in a late-season episode or the decision about replacing Ruth Lockwood. , Childs Real-Life Producer, with Alice, a black woman whose experiences of racism (in Boston in the early 1960s no less) are so utterly insignificant that it feels as if the producers are making an untenable point.

Just because there is no risk of something going seriously wrong Julia – even one of the season’s deaths is off screen and a bit insignificant – does not mean there are no interesting things here, but you have to be a certain type of viewer, or maybe a dedicated fan of sweet bread, to be fully engaged by them. These are small innovations, such as how Russ and the crew developed the visual grammar for cooking TV, or the role Alice played (somewhat fictionally) in helping get a small local public TV show syndicated at stations across the country. In perhaps my favorite subplot of the season – Julia is so central to everything here that the show mostly loses energy when it comes to B or C stories – Paul and Julia’s book editor Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) finds out through trial and error how to make properly crusty baguettes and it is captivating and a lot of fun.

Judith, by the way, deserves a whole series for herself. Famous for picking Anne Frank’s Diary Out of the pile of rejections and a collaboration with Updike, Camus and Sartre, Judith has conflicts with mentor Blanche Knopf (Judith Light) – who is dedicated to protecting the boundary between high literature and cookbooks – that are interesting in themselves, and Glascott is utterly charming.

This series belongs to Lancashire, of course. Audiences who do not know Happy Valley or Last tango in Halifax may not know this British titan at all, and even if you come in with the right degree of respect, Lancashire quickly disappears completely. As a character, Julia Child has the advantage of being one of the historical figures who can not be played too big (just ask Meryl Streep); The key is to accept that her sing-song cadences and characteristic posture are inherently cartoon-like, and then find the right person from there. Lancashire embraces all that is familiar with Child, and shows the discomfort and overcompensation that comes from living your whole life to stand out that way.

The marriage between Julia and Paul lasted almost 50 years and it is the heart of the series, a bond that is supportive, nurturing and, yes, sexual. It’s an asset that Pierce is going to play some of the same picky moves that did Frasier‘s Niles Crane iconic, but in a more sympathetic and vulnerable form. And letting Neuwirth and Pierce share scenes in a series in Boston feels like a nice joke.

Bradford stands out in an ensemble that also features fine work from James Cromwell as Julia’s strict father, Isabella Rossellini as Julia’s flighty cookbook collaborator Simone Beck and a wonderfully insidious Jefferson Mays as the host, giving Julia her first TV break.

While its sense of time and TV-producing schedules is strange, Julia holds its first season contained exclusively for the first season of The French chef. That means there could potentially be many episodes and recipes coming, though I prefer the Judith Jones series with Sarah Lancashire cameos. And let’s just not be Emeril Next.

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