Lessons in Chemistry Review: A Charming Tale of 1950s Gender Battles

Lessons in Chemistry Review

Table of Contents

Lessons in Chemistry, an adaptation of Bonnie Garmus’ bestselling novel, brings to life a delightful story with Brie Larson at the helm, portraying a brilliant chemist fighting against the 1950s’ deeply ingrained sexism. This series is not only highly engaging but also offers a fresh perspective by omitting the book’s canine narrator. Apple TV+‘s take on the Bonnie Garmus classic.

In this eight-part drama, Brie Larson steps into the shoes of Elizabeth Zott, a chemistry genius whose potential is constantly hindered by the rampant sexism of her era, the late 1950s. After being forced to leave college before completing her Ph.D., we find her working as a lab assistant and coffee-maker for a team of male scientists who, despite their Y chromosomes, lag behind in intellect.

There’s one exception – Dr. Calvin Evans (played by Lewis Pullman), the institution’s star and money-maker. Pullman’s performance, reminiscent of his father Bill, is spot-on, making him an ideal choice as Zott’s chief supporter and eventual love interest. Their tender courtship is a joy to watch, despite a few clumsy lines and the occasional use of modern references to emphasize that it’s a healthy relationship, respecting Elizabeth’s feminism. Lessons in Chemistry is as careful in its steps as Zott is in her experiments.

The removal of much of the book’s humor gives the TV version a more serious tone, although it doesn’t add much to what was essentially a wish-fulfillment fantasy and romantic comedy. The only comic relief comes from Zott’s inability to pick up social cues, which, if overdone, can become tiresome. Brie Larson skillfully carries this quirk throughout the series.

The show closely follows the book’s plot, as Zott, who secretly applies her scientific knowledge to cooking, becomes a popular TV chef after a chance meeting with a TV executive. This is her way of supporting herself and her daughter in a world that continually fails to recognize her true strengths. She uses her platform to inspire female viewers and challenge traditional gender roles, ending each show with a humorous “Your mother needs a moment to herself.”

Two significant differences between the book and the adaptation are the reduction of the talking dog device, which many found a bit excessive, and the expansion of the character of the nosy neighbor, Harriet Sloane. The latter is a welcome change, portrayed captivatingly by Aja Naomi King. Harriet is not just a wife and mother but also a community activist who has faced discrimination based on her race and gender, much like Elizabeth.

Lessons in Chemistry is a thoroughly enjoyable watch, just as the book was a delightful read (minus the dog). However, it carries a sense of missed potential. We’ve seen similar portrayals of the 1950s, its sexism, and racism in other series, from the nuanced brilliance of Mad Men to simpler takes like Masters of Sex and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While we may not have fully absorbed their lessons, we’ve heard them many times. To stand out, a new series on this theme needs that extra special ingredient.

You can catch Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV+



Don’t just scratch the surface. Get the best of the beasts!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *