Julia. Binge and Foxtel, M, Eight 24-minute episodes
We all deserve a second act, an unexpected later-in-life career or love or triumph. One of the many things that has fascinated pop culture over recent years about American television icon Julia Child is that her success came late in life and after many years of being a devoted and supportive professional spouse.
Audiences who saw Meryl Streep's brilliant performance as Julia Child in the 2009 film Julie & Julia might remember scenes of the bored diplomatic spouse booking herself into Paris's Cordon Bleu cooking school to kill her boredom while husband Paul (played boy Stanley Tucci in that film) is working at his posting at the American Embassy.
The new HBO series Julia - Australian audiences can see it on Foxtel and Binge - picks up where the Streep film left us.
It is the early 1960s and Julia Child (Sarah Lancashire) and her husband, Paul (David Hyde Pierce), are recently returned to the United States after Paul's diplomatic career has come to an end. Julia's pal Avis (Bebe Neuwirth) has found them a beautiful home near her in the suburbs of Boston, and while Paul has taken up painting, Julia is doing some promotion for her French cook book that has been an unexpected success.
Her editor, Judith (Fiona Glascott), has booked her on a snobby interview program on Boston's local public television literary chat show. Instead of allowing the host to do his job, Julia, with her infectious joie de vivre, brings a hot plate to the program and cooks him an omelette, French-style.
American public television is in its infancy, its producers yet to find way to engage audiences while also fulfilling its mandate to educate, but when the station's assistant, Alice (Brittany Bradford), tells station manager Hunter Fox (Robert Joy) that a whopping 24 letters have been received from an audience which wants to see more of the kooky cookbook author, an idea forms.
Under producer Russ (Fran Kranz), a pilot episode for an educational show in the art of French cookery is filmed. Whereas today it's almost impossible to imagine a world without cooking shows and celebrity chefs, The French Chef was the first of its kind. Premiering in 1963, it created an industry and became one of public television's first syndicated successes.
Julia showrunner Daniel Goldfarb made the superb The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and here has created an equally infectious bit of fun.
Hers is a great story, Mrs Child's, but it is the story of so many things.
The show is about evolving dynamics in a marriage, with a wife once content to support her husband's career suddenly being the bread-winner, and dealing with celebrity. In this, the series is anchored by two solid performances from British actress Lancaster and Hyde Pierce of Frasier fame.
The series also reunites Hyde Pierce with his Frasier castmate, Neuwirth, who played Lillith. Here, Neuwirth is Julia's widowed best pal Avis, who does the shopping and food prep for Julia's fledgling show.
In episode seven, one of the best pieces of television produced in the past year, Neuwirth and Hyde Pierce enjoy a scorching riposte as Julia's best friend and husband slightly defrost their chilly relationship.
The writing across the series is clever, with many peripheral characters enjoying a depth to their development, including Brittany Bradford's African- American producer fighting to have her ideas recognised.
The show is a ton of fun, and while we know her show-within-a-show becomes a huge success, there are still plenty of stakes to hold us, with Julia fighting male institutions the whole way.
Julia Child is more of an American institution than an Australian one, but she is referenced so often in popular culture audiences should be familiar enough to give this show a nibble, and quickly find it a tasty morsel worth bingeing.
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