Lessons in Chemistry Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
Life is a funny phenomenon, as evidenced in the upcoming Apple TV+ series Lessons in Chemistry (adapted from Bonnie Garmus’ bestselling book). No matter how careful and meticulous a planner you are, no matter how painstaking your efforts to ensure that you’re following a set formula, there are always forces that can never be truly accounted for — catalysts for permanent change, for better or worse. The path you were so intent on holding fast to from the beginning can make unpredictable turns until you’re glancing back with the realization that you’ve ended up in the least likely place you thought you would. Then again, haven’t all the best discoveries, scientific or otherwise, resulted from unplanned moments? It’s a lesson that the show’s heroine, intelligent and underappreciated chemist Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), has to learn for herself in the years-spanning timeframe the show adopts, but it doesn’t come without hardship, loss, personal and professional frustrations, unexpected success, and surprises along the way.
The show kicks off in the 1950s, when women were expected to be secretaries and assistants, not don a white coat and big neoprene gloves — but that’s exactly what we find Elizabeth doing. Even if she’s one of the keener minds within Hastings Research Institute, she’s been mostly relegated to coffee duties on behalf of her male colleagues, forced to conduct her own experiments under cover of night after everyone has clocked out for the day. When she decides to gently borrow some chemicals from another lab belonging to socially awkward and award-winning chemist Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), his eventual discovery of the missing bottle puts them on an inevitable collision course — one that magnificently changes both of their lives and, later, turns into one of the best television romances of the year.
But Elizabeth’s dreams of having her work recognized academically are not to be, and years later, when she’s resigned herself to the prospect of selling Tupperware and being a mother, a different opportunity comes knocking. Enter Supper at Six, a new cooking show for a local TV station — and it just so happens the station is in desperate need of a host. Elizabeth’s strengths in chemistry have always intertwined with her love of cooking, as she constantly works and reworks her own recipes in an effort to achieve the perfect reaction in the oven. But this is officially taking things up a notch in terms of her visibility now that she’s being projected into other people’s homes every night, and it’s what she does with her platform that proves to be even more subversive and impactful than her painstaking lab experiments.
As a character, Elizabeth Zott could run the risk of being labeled an “unlikeable heroine.” She’s too blunt, too direct, too deadpan. She doesn’t have any qualms about speaking her mind first and foremost, even if it means consequences will soon follow — and in the society she’s forced to be a part of, that means sexism and misogyny are flung in her direction at nearly every turn. Regardless of the discrimination she faces, Elizabeth outwardly rejects all the traditional archetypes that she’s supposed to inhabit solely as a result of her gender. At one point, she definitively tells Calvin that she’s not interested in getting married or having children, but his response — simply thanking her for telling him what she needs from their relationship — only proves they’re two halves making up a perfectly imperfect whole.
Calvin is also one of the few people who can see what we see about Elizabeth, those glimmers of vulnerability that occasionally surface beneath her more hardened exterior. It’s not that Elizabeth necessarily wants to keep others at a distance, but certain traumatic experiences in her past have undeniably sharpened her, forged her into the kind of woman who can’t afford to be too effusive or friendly lest the men she works with start to get the wrong idea about her intentions. In many ways, this character feels like the natural next step in Larson’s acting career to date, an unspoken response to criticisms that may have been levied toward her demeanor. In one particularly acute scene later in the season, when a male-dominated focus group is offering feedback about Supper at Six’s first episode, the language of their comments could have been lifted directly from underneath a trailer on YouTube.
With Lessons in Chemistry, Larson dynamically inhabits the part of a goal-oriented, career-driven woman who isn’t all that concerned about being liked. That said, time and trial only continue to forge Elizabeth further until both she and we realize how many facets she truly has. She can be a scientist, a romantic partner, a mother, a friend, and none of those things negate the others’ existence. While the show could have framed her as a judgmental opposite of the types of women who have made much more conventional decisions, that aspect gets reassuringly rejected when Elizabeth runs into a former Hastings secretary, Fran Frask (Stephanie Koenig), and, recognizing her talents and organizational acumen, makes her part of the Supper at Six team. Lessons in Chemistry isn’t about tearing women down for their individual life choices, but helping them realize the potential that’s existed inside them all along.
One of the aspects of Lessons in Chemistry’s ultimately rewarding story appears to have been built on from the original book, but the expansion of this added narrative has both its hits and misses. A neighbor living across the street first to Calvin himself, and then later to Elizabeth as well, Harriet Slone (Aja Naomi King) is a local figurehead of the predominantly Black community in Sugar Hill, taking up a hard-fought mission to protest the construction of a freeway through the neighborhood.
At first, it’s difficult to sense Harriet’s identity as her own character, separate from Calvin and Elizabeth’s narratives, and her side-plot in the series often hinges on whether her white neighbors are lending their more privileged voices to her efforts. It can be frustrating to see that lack of support juxtaposed against the kinds of moments where Elizabeth turns up on Harriet’s doorstep without warning and in desperate need of mothering advice. That said, when we see Harriet’s life through her own eyes, rather than anyone else’s, it’s a chance to see the phenomenal depths of emotion that King brings to the role — and eventually, subsequent episodes do a better job of leaving the impression that these two women have become dear friends on equal and reciprocal footing. It’s Harriet who finally issues the reminder that Elizabeth should be using the very public stage she commands to put out the message about what’s really important to everyone — not just to all the white women sitting in the studio audience.
Even though Elizabeth is the type of person who finds solace and comfort in consistency and guaranteed scientific results, life, it seems, has other plans in store for her. The aforementioned romance she embarks on with Calvin is both gradual in its intensity and inevitable in its impact, as the two bond over a mutual passion for science as well as an appreciation for good food. Pullman might very well be in the running to win the award for the actor who knows how to gaze at their character’s love interest like they’re the beginning and the end of everything (or, as Calvin so eloquently puts it in a tearjerker of a letter read by voiceover, both the how and the why).
The chemistry in the show’s title could be satisfied by Pullman and Larson alone, especially in the first two episodes directed by Sarah Adina Smith that will accompany the premiere, but theirs isn’t the only dynamic that’s important to the series as Elizabeth navigates the ups and downs of various life stages. What’s just as rewarding to bear witness to is Elizabeth’s journey through motherhood — the initial shock and instinct to reject the discovery that she’s become pregnant, not to mention the fact that she chooses her daughter’s name after the nurse tells her to pick what she’s feeling: “Mad.” But Larson’s ability to balance logical perspective and illogical emotion means that Elizabeth eventually comes to terms with her reluctance surrounding motherhood, finding love for her daughter because Madeline (Alice Halsey) is made up of so many of the things she loves most about Calvin, too. As the brilliant mother-daughter pair ventures on a mission to dig up more about Calvin’s past, they uncover surprising connections along the way, but they also unearth some of the show’s most heartwarming moments, ones that ask whether life can be predestined to an extent, even if we might be unaware of it ourselves.
Apple TV+’s adaptation of Lessons in Chemistry is one that doesn’t feel too confined to its source material but also leans into the best aspects of the book in order to let its powerhouse cast truly shine. It’d be more surprising if we weren’t hearing a particular kind of awards buzz swirling around Larson when the time comes, because this role isn’t just the culmination of so many other types of heroines she’s played before; it also lets her tap into every single one of her strengths as an actor. To paraphrase Elizabeth Zott herself, take some time to yourself to embark on the journey Lessons in Chemistry lays out. You’ll probably be surprised by the turns it takes, but that doesn’t make the end result any less satisfying.