If you marry a show but you are also married to a human, is that considered polygamy? Julia is hitting all my buttons — women’s history! Friendship! Woman support systems! Older ladies doing stuff! I am flummoxed about it because I genuinely have little to no interest in cooking, but I want to hug Julia Child so much. Sarah Lancashire walks a line of being very charming but also very vulnerable, and it makes you completely understand why so many people rally around Julia to help her achieve her dreams.
Julia is going to shoot her pilot of The French Chef, which Paul still does not know she is financing. They decide she will cook coq au vin, and when they go to the store to get ingredients, Paul blanches at her buying dried herbs, but Julia insists on using what is available to most American women. See, this is why she is great, among other reasons.
She marshals the troops and asks Avis (Bebe Neuwirth) to join her on the show. She envisions a confederacy of women, an estrogen safety net. Avis says “okey dokey.” I want a confederacy of women, although I’d probably name it something else, associations being what they are. Also, she and Avis are drinking cocktails on the porch while talking about this, and that sounds ideal. Why aren’t I drinking cocktails on my elegant porch with Bebe Neuwirth? Why aren’t we all?
WGBH offices are in a state of chaos because they are moving. Why? A fire! Historically, there was a fire in 1961, and the station operated out of temporary studio space until 1963, the year The French Chef premiered as a regular series. Hunter Fox, the president of WGBH, turns down Russ Morash’s show idea about the art of negotiation, so Russ is in a mood. Alice meets Julia in the park and tells her Russ is now resentful and wants to nix Julia’s show. Julia decides to win him over, which she does (sort of) with her personality and some pâté. Russ clearly feels like he is meant for some higher purpose than what he’s currently doing; he tells Julia he wants to change the way people think. She says so does she. “But how can food possibly do that?” he asks. Aww, Russ.
While Russ is still not Team Julia, the show is getting a chance. On his way home, he passes a window display highlighting a can opener cookbook, which even I, a lover of canned soup, will admit is depressing. When Russ arrives home and his wife says she made a tuna casserole, he looks displeased. Okay, maybe his wife is bad at cooking, but tuna casserole is a delight. If I came home and my wife said she made tuna casserole, I’d go “YEAH!” and maybe pump my fist in the air. But Russ now wants foie gras or nothing (this is perhaps overstating things). He bought Julia’s cookbook for his wife! Which, y’know, from a gender roles standpoint isn’t great, but from a “coming over to Julia’s side” standpoint is a step forward.
Meanwhile, Julia realizes she has to figure out how to make a four-hour dish in 28 minutes. This is the kind of thing you don’t think about regarding early cooking shows — they had to figure out how to cheat the rules of time. Julia is stressed because this is very important to her, so she calls her editor, Judith, and asks her to come out to Cambridge and help plan. Judith has a meeting with John Updike (more like Ughdike, amirite?), and her boss, Blanche Knopf, does not think much of Judith wanting to jilt Updike for a cookbook author. The inimitable Judith Light plays Blanche, who co-founded Alfred A. Knopf with her husband in 1915. Surely we will see more of her? I mean. It’s Judith Light.
At chez Child, there is a team effort to figure out how to make coq au vin in the aforementioned 28 minutes. Judith has an idea to split it into three acts. Alice throws in some great ideas, Paul tries to teach Julia how to talk to a camera, Judith encourages Julia’s jokes. They are all so supportive! Despite Judith’s meeting with Updike, she decides to stay for the filming of the pilot.
Everything at the TV set is different than at home, which no one took into account, and Julia is thrown. The stovetop is electric. The staging is off. But they have to start filming in two minutes because of the budget, which Paul still does not know is coming out of their finances. I assume Julia is covering it with the royalties from the cookbook but does Paul not wonder where that money goes?? I would have so many questions unless we had a solemn agreement that your royalties are your royalties, and I have no say in how they are spent. So maybe they did that.
Russ sends Alice to sit behind the counter and help Julia while out of sight, and Avis, recognizing that Russ is being a dick, says they’ll both go. So there are two women hiding behind the counter, helping Julia find things while she climbs over them. As the filming progresses, Julia does the charming sorts of things she’s known for, like dropping a piece of chicken, putting it back on the counter, and saying if you’re alone in the kitchen, who’s going to see? I guess they didn’t know about the five-second rule back in the ’60s.
This whole scene was so mesmerizing, I forgot to take notes and just watched, which never, ever happens. Not until Julia sat down at the table to taste her food did I realize I had to backtrack. She ad-libs her “bon appétit,” and the pilot is over. Avis thinks it was a triumph. Russ says nice knowing you. Omg RUSS. Deal with your issues! It is not Julia Child’s fault that you feel unfulfilled in life. Also — should I make T-shirts that say “It Is Julia Child’s Fault That I Feel Unfulfilled in Life” and have them signed “Russ” at the bottom? Maybe that’s too niche. Or maybe it’s … just niche enough to work.
Julia thinks she did very badly. That’s just a crushing feeling. You do something you wanted to go so well and then you think you failed. She asks Judith if she’s ashamed of her, and Judith tells Julia she was delightful and she can’t help being so. Oh nooooo, I can’t handle a sad Julia Child.
Russ celebrates being terrible with the other men, and he says if this is what Hunter wants, they’ll air the show. Alice argues with him, saying it will humiliate Julia. We all know it won’t, but in 1962, I’m sure it very much seemed like it would!
At home, Julia tells Paul there’s something she needs to share with him, and you think this is it, she’ll tell him the station didn’t ask for her show; she offered to pay for it all. But instead, she tells him the “change of life” has begun for her and asks if he’ll still love her. Ahhhh!! What! No! What was life for women at literally any time in the past and also now! Paul, who ranges from an A to a C+ on any given day, tells her she’s his partner in crime, which I would hate from some people, but I love it from David Hyde Pierce. She calls the show her baby. She turns on the TV and — we’re done! I know Julia Child ends up with a tremendously successful cooking show, but I am still so NERVOUS for her.