Julia season two review – I could watch Sarah Lancashire argue about pastry for hours
I could watch Sarah Lancashire and Isabella Rossellini argue about the propriety of fish-shaped pastry for much longer than an hour, but apparently Julia has other characters and would like us to spend some time with them. Lancashire’s performance as the chef and author Julia Child is one of this arch, twinkly show’s main draws, but by the time we rejoin her in season two, her TV show The French Chef has triumphed over the odds, making her a star, so now the drama must find other sources of tension. Franco-American disagreements about what constitutes a cassoulet seem as good a place to start as any.
The second season of Julia is a visually stunning and elegant production that pays equal attention to both its dialogue and its depictions of food. The show opens with a significant amount of time spent apart for most of the characters, with scenes taking place in both France, where Julia and Paul (played impeccably by David Hyde Pierce) have retreated from the pressures of fame, and in Boston, where the cultural revolution of the 1960s serves as fertile ground for exploring themes such as sexism in the television industry and power dynamics in book publishing. The show also takes detours to delve into the anti-Vietnam war movement.
France provides the most luxurious scenery, and initially, Julia is most at ease when she spends time there. Julia is conducting research for her next book with her teacher and friend Simone “Simca” Beck (played by Rossellini). “It is beneficial to have hardworking wives,” remarks Jean, Simca’s husband, to Paul, as they relax in deckchairs in the garden. However, Julia is feeling the pressure for the first time in her life as she cooks. The network WGBH is interested in a second season of The French Chef, and her editors Blanche and Judith are eager for a second cookbook. Julia is hesitant to return to the US to face these expectations, so Judith and eventually Avis (played by Bebe Neuwirth) are sent to push things along.
We need to move a bit faster. At first, things are slow and we feel like we are Paul and Jean, relaxing in the garden, waiting for the main event. This gives the impression that it is not fully focused, especially in Boston. Russ (played by Fran Kranz) is attempting to break into the world of documentary filmmaking. Network executive Hunter (played by Robert Joy), having had a successful production, is now facing added pressure to both manage his success and create even more hit projects.
The primary focus of the situation is on the women involved. Producer Alice (played by Brittany Bradford) is taking on extra responsibilities due to her French Chef’s absence, while also assisting the men and facing criticism for Hunter’s poor ideas. She is also excluded from important decisions. Russ is replaced by a female director, Elaine (portrayed by Rachel Bloom), who left a successful job at CBS and must deal with unwanted advances from her coworkers. Additionally, Judith must compensate for the absence of Blanche, all while ensuring she doesn’t undermine her boss. Can they successfully balance it all? What would Betty Friedan have to say about it?
Julia sometimes lacks subtlety. The first episode concludes with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin'” to drive home the message even further, and there are moments where the modern world intrudes. Hunter is in dire need of fresh material, while Alice is the only girl in a male-dominated environment. It takes a while to build up momentum, and it seems that the early episodes have too much going on, resulting in less screen time for Julia. Without her, the story feels unfocused. It isn’t until the fourth episode that the original group is reunited.
When it chooses acid instead of sugar, it takes on its true form. Stockard Channing makes a short but memorable appearance as Frannie, an heiress from Ohio who is traveling with the famous chef and author James Beard. Beard is surprised when his own dish is served at the house. During a tense dinner where guests are meant to vote for the best food between Julia and Simca, Frannie gives a powerful speech about dependency and the dynamics of being supported by someone else, setting the stage for marriage troubles. Simca, on the other hand, cannot tolerate Julia’s Americanized versions of French classics. “I love her like a sister,” she proclaims. “But you hate your sister,” Jean reminds her.
Julia is a one-of-a-kind luxurious timepiece that is both intelligent and beautiful. While it does have its imperfections, such as needing more focus on Julia in season two and taking its time to perfect its winning formula, it still provides a delightful experience that is easy to get lost in, with its decadent layers and alluring features.