Chic, Shallow, and Delicious: Our Review of ‘Lessons In Chemistry’

Posted in Apple TV +, TV, What's Streaming? by - October 06, 2023
Chic, Shallow, and Delicious: Our Review of ‘Lessons In Chemistry’

Apple TV+’s Lessons In Chemistry is basically a high-end Hallmark Movie, and that’s okay! The story of Elizabeth Zott, a former chemist turned popular TV Cooking Show host, it’s as comforting as your favourite recipe for lasagna. High Art this isn’t, but high quality? From the talented cast to the fun vintage soundtrack, everything about Lessons In Chemistry looks sleek and delicious (sometimes literally, because there are a lot of scenes that involve cooking). 

Based on Bonnie Garmus’ smash hit novel of the same title, Lessons In Chemistry is a glossy, winsome series full of fabulous 50s and 60s fashions. Adapted for TV by showrunner Lee Eisenberg and starring Oscar Winner Brie Larson as Chemist/Cooking genius Elizabeth Zott, You can practically feel the copious amounts of money Apple TV+ threw at this project through your screen! The series starts with the famed Elizabeth arriving at the studio to film her cooking show before going back in time to tell her origin story as a reserved but brilliant scientist. 

Young Elizabeth is a whip-smart lab assistant forced to serve less innovative male scientists, until she meets Calvin (Lewis Pullman), a handsome chemistry Golden Boy who becomes Elizabeth’s partner both in – and outside – of the lab. But when an unfortunate series of events leave Elizabeth pregnant and unwed, her dreams of conducting groundbreaking scientific research are dashed. Elizabeth must find a way to rebuild both her personal and professional life, and because this is a feel-good story, it’s obvious she’s up for the challenge!

While Lessons In Chemistry is charming and heartwarming, it’s not exactly deft. Sexism is a major theme in this series, where the protagonist experiences a host of traumas, from sexual assault to employment discrimination. However, don’t expect a fresh take on the forces that historically held back women in STEM. Misogyny in science was – and is – very real, but the show’s analysis of how and why this misogyny was deployed never goes beyond the superficial. When Calvin asks the brilliant Elizabeth why she hasn’t succeeded as a scientist, she responds simply, “Sex discrimination.” That’s true, but it’s also too on-the-nose to make compelling or nuanced dialogue. 

The series also makes superficial attempts to address systemic racism. Calvin resides in a predominately Black community. When the land upon which the community is built is at risk of being expropriated to build a new highway, his neighbour Harriet (Aja Naomi King) leaps into action to save it. Harriet’s quest to save her home is interesting, to be sure, but it receives little screentime in comparison with the attention the show pays to its core romance or Elizabeth’s love for both cooking and lab work.

For all its flaws, the cozy set design, gorgeous costumes, and competent performances create enough of a sheen to make this series fun and watchable. If you’re looking for a Mad Men-style period piece that makes you rethink the way the society perceives mid-century America, Lessons In Chemistry isn’t it. But if you’re in the market for a serviceable, sleekly made limited series, it hits the spot like a bowl of your favourite soup….

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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