“Julia” HBOMax takes on a new side of Julia Child: NPR


Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child.

Seacia Pavao / WarnerMedia


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Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child.

Seacia Pavao / WarnerMedia

I don’t know if Julia Child was embarrassed to be famous or not. I don’t know if she struggled with what we would now call parasocial relationships with her viewers or not. But the new HBO MAX series Julia more than anything else about it. It states that for a middle-aged woman, when she became a person with a capital letter, this transition was inconvenient and difficult – and it did not always work out elegantly.

Julia Child, played by Sarah Lancashire in this series, worked in the world of intelligence before publishing Mastering the art of French cuisine in 1961, when she was almost 50. A couple of years later, an appearance at the WGBH in Boston led to the creation French chef, her public TV show that ran for ten years. So far Julie and Juliaa book that has become a film that is perhaps the most famous depiction of a child’s life, dedicated to the time before publication Mastery, Julia tells of the beginning of her television career and thus of another period of her life: she was already very successful thanks to the book; it was a time when she became not only successful but also famous. Like the television celebrity, not the book – and they were very different even in the 1960s.

This is complicated by the fact that in this story Childe Paul’s husband (David Hyde Pierce) is not very approving of television; when the story begins, he’s an old-fashioned snob. Just because he’s so committed to it – and because they’re both convinced that television can do to educate people – he accepts that perhaps public television would be okay. The irony is that at the same time Paul Child believes that his wife is above being on television, most WGBH employees think that public television is high-ranking and should be above to show on the air, what they see as a culinary show for housewives.

Thus, this series is largely devoted to cultural changes that may require to work with the audience: the child gets used to being a television personality, and public television adapts to a different view of what his viewers really want. (Jefferson Mace plays Albert Duhamel, presenter I read who first puts the Child on television to demonstrate how to make an omelet; his show about books and authors is more of what the station considers its bread and butter BJC – Before Julia Child.)


David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Lancashire and Fiona Glascott Julia.

Seacia Paul / HBO Max


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Seacia Paul / HBO Max


David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Lancashire and Fiona Glascott Julia.

Seacia Paul / HBO Max

As a show about Julia Child’s man, I don’t know how much Julia adds to what we already know about her – her passionate partnership with her husband, her life in France before she published books, her history in the intelligence community. Definitely look differently at the most successful segment of someone’s life rather than the segment of outsiders who Julie and Julia focuses on the fact that the latter is easier to sympathize with and interest in, which people often prefer in their stories (especially in stories about women).

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But what this series explores, which I may not have seen, is that Child feels some ambivalence about how instantly viewers in this story feel entitled to a part of her – her attention, her time, her personal life. (You recognize this right as an element of what people now often call parasocial relationships.) She begins her television career by being honest with herself, offering to pay for her own show. But she is frustrated with the punitive production schedule – especially after the show starts selling to other local public TV channels – and is exhausted by the inability to back down in her marriage, in a relationship in which she is most comfortable when everyone knows who she is. She loves recognition and attention, she wants success, she wants people to think she is doing great. But she wants to be able to take breaks from being a Julia Child star to becoming a Julia Child person, and she realizes that’s not one of her choices.

Also, here Julia is not always polite in dealing with other people. Even with Paul, whom she loves, she can be impatient. Her producers may feel invaluable, and her friends may feel ignored. The editor of her book, the famous Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott), appreciates their personal and professional relationships, and she is a little saddened as television becomes more and more the focus of Child’s career.

There is a strong argument that has been made elsewhere that there was no need for another work about Julia Child, and that there are countless other interesting chefs who could have been the focus of such a series, and it is true. But it’s also true that Baby takes up quite a bit of space when what you’re trying to get is a story celebrity food personality, especially on television, and especially in such a demonstration setting focused on the home cook. So, I think there are more excuses to do this show than there would be a direct biopic.

Are there many brilliant chefs who have led exciting lives and changed the world of food? Absolutely. But are there many TV presenters standing in the same place as Julia Child, at the crossroads of changing media that have adapted to fame when they were much older than most people who have become famous now? There are, of course, fewer of them, and that made the show less repetitive for me.

You won’t necessarily learn a lot of new facts about Julia Child from this show, but you can see dramatic moments that ask you to focus on different things about her than other treatments, and some may reappear and surprise you in contexts far outside the kitchen.

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