To say that at this point in my life I am resistant to another Julia Child-related anything would be to criminally undersell the word “resistant.”
There are the cookbooks. The TV shows. The TV shows about the cookbooks. The blog. The book about the blogs. The movie about the book about the blog. Meryl Streep doing Julia Child. The drag queens. The drag queens doing Meryl Streep doing Julia Child. There’s even a cooking competition on The Food Network right now that is vaguely sort of almost but not quite in the ballparkish area about thinking about being related to Julia (it’s not, really, but it’s gentle and sweet and I like that they all eat together during the judging).
It’s a lot to take in and all of it on top of one another really does spoil my appetite for anything else Child-related.
And now here comes HBO Max, dragging their limited series Julia into the kitchen. If I knew French, je jurerais à haute voix en ce moment!
But … it’s a complete charmer. So now I have to eat all those unpronounceable French words and tell you to watch it. It’s mainly about the creation of Child’s WGBH public television show The French Chef, and I always like things that are about people making things. That she’s making a television show hits me in the same feels that watching her make a croquembouche does. (SIDEBAR: here she is on Facebook doing just that with Martha, who manages to throw some shade at Julia in that way Martha never quite knows she’s doing, “Well, yours is … the country style”).
It’s fun to watch the creation of what was essentially the very first cooking show; things we take for granted—like having the finished product cooked in advance and in a second oven—struck the creators of The French Chef like thunderbolts. The show is scaled in such a way that little things like that become hugely thrilling for the characters and for us.
If the stakes for us as viewers feel a little low (we know the show becomes a massive hit and it’s not like there’s a murder to solve, though I’ve only seen the first three episodes, so who knows? I mean, I would totally watch a Julia-Child-solves-murders show), that’s okay. The strength (and thrill) of the show is in the casting: along the way, we get (in variously sized parts) Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, James Cromwell, David Hyde Pierce, and Bebe Neuwirth (who gets perilously close to stealing the whole thing) and, above all, Sarah Lancashire, who is so good in it that it almost brings tears to my eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, the only thing that moves me more than people making things is people making things who are really good at it. Sarah Lancashire is really good at it.
It’s a rich stew—there are outfits and suitcases and lamps and copper pots to look at. Vintage televisions. Shiny red cars. Bon appétit!