It’s been three days since The French Chef pilot aired, and Russ is trying to throw it under the bus to the WGBH president, Hunter Fox. Despite Russ’s best efforts, Hunter liked it, and his wife Tilly not only liked it but made the featured coq au vin. Hunter says Tilly’s cooking usually makes him “sad and fearful,” which is one of the best lines of the entire episode.
I like how Russ is a vaudevillian villain in these first few episodes. He might as well be twirling a mustache and tying Julia to some railroad tracks while dramatic organ music plays. Only instead of being fun like that, he tells Alice that Julia’s show is too expensive and the station can’t afford it. I don’t trust you, Russ. Alice immediately gives into this, which is interesting because I would be like, why don’t you walk me through those expenses, Russ. But maybe he influences her employment or something and it is tenuous! I don’t know Alice’s life. Well. Not that Alice.
She tells Russ that if he’s serious about not being able to move forward with the show, he has to be the one to tell Julia, who is currently at home shaping beef patties to arias from Rigoletto and entertaining her farmer father John, played by James Cromwell of Babe fame (do people still know about Babe?). John is a challenging person. He’s rude to Paul, he’s rude to Julia, he asks if cooking on TV is a thing people do now, and then he dumps ice cubes into his red wine, rendering Paul speechless. We find out John helped the Childs pay for their house, which he doesn’t think Paul does enough work on. John doesn’t think Paul does enough work in general, and he later admits he thinks Paul married Julia for her money. I guess I’d be grumpy at my child’s spouse if I thought they married them for family wealth (joke’s on you, spouse!), but John is indeed grumpy to most people, potential financial schemes notwithstanding.
At the station, Russ tells Julia they can’t afford to produce the show. Julia tries drilling into the numbers (yay!), and when Russ hands her a paper, she tells him she can provide the money. Julia! Can you?? This stresses me out so much, but also she believes in herself and that is admirable? So I do not know what I would do as her friend. Hopefully, I’d do what Avis does, and when my friend tearfully confessed her predicament in the ladies’ room (an appropriate venue), I’d help her find the money. When Julia tells Avis she wants it more than anything, Avis says all right, let’s do it. FRIENDSHIP. I still cannot figure out Julia and Paul’s dynamic because she hides so much from him, but overall they seem like they have a good marriage?
Julia decides to hold cooking classes for extra money, which confuses Paul, and he keeps asking questions, so Avis arranges to get him out of the way. Good ol’ Avis. The classes are a lot, but they mean something to the women who take them, and Julia laughs when mistakes happen or things are spilled, which is such a valuable trait.
All this is a bit much for Julia, though, because she has to come up with 26 recipes and an arc to the season and do all the prep and so on and so on. Hunter Fox pulls Russ off “I’ve Been Reading” (remember “I’ve Been Reading”?) to produce The French Chef, and Alice gets assigned to the former. Alice has started trying out recipes from Julia’s cookbook and has made a quiche when her mom visits. Alice’s mom is very focused on getting Alice a husband. She also brought her some new bras because Alice’s were dingy, which would be horrifying for someone to notice, but I would also be grateful because bras aren’t free. Her mom wants Alice to join Dottie’s bowling team with her, and wow. I bet Dottie’s bowling team is super fun. Alice is focused on her work and learning how to cook French recipes, and she says her mom can only help if she knows Philip Roth. Can you imagine producing an American literary show in the 1960s and being forced to focus on Roth, Updike, and Norman Mailer? Good LORD.
Before the first season of her show starts, Julia is still working feverishly late into the night. She has a memorable moment with her father in the kitchen where he says her grandfather built his first bank brick by brick, and she’ll build her show cup by cup. I would definitely be the person to commission an illustration for her on Etsy that says “Cup by Cup.” My apologies to the fictional version of Julia Child.
Russ is reaching the end of his rope and stalks home, telling his wife he needs to quit his job and become a director. His wife responds by telling him she’s pregnant, which he seems genuinely happy about? A purpose in life for Russ! He becomes an actual producer for Julia. He changes up the show’s arc so it’s more varied; he gives her detailed direction; and he knows Julia has a problem distinguishing which camera to look at, so he borrows hand puppets from another set and attaches them to the cameras! Russ is good now!
At home, John is nearing the end of his visit and his constant belittling of Paul, but he’s not quite done yet. When Paul brings up the fact that John thinks he married Julia for her money, and says it’s not true, John asks why else. Paul shows John a framed photograph he took of Julia and tells John how sad it is that he can’t see what Paul sees. My wife was not even watching this — she just heard the dialogue — and she still cried.
When Alice comes by the set, Julia tells her she’s missed her, and she says she’s had the most success in life by figuring out how to make herself indispensable. Do it, Alice! You deserve The French Chef! No one should have to try to reach Norman Mailer’s agent.
As Julia’s father packs to leave, they have one final exchange. She tells him he gave her everything she needs and she loves him, but she needs one more thing. What is it? It seems like money, perhaps? John gives them money in regular installments anyway, but Julia cancels the cooking class and can cover expenses after this talk. Hmmmmmmm indeed.
This episode was written by Eboni Booth, who did an excellent job! I almost never note the writers for shows, but I’ve been watching out for them in Julia. The writing, performances, and direction have all just come together to make this a lovely, lovely show.