LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY Review: She Blinded Me with Science
Brie Larson stars in the limited series as a chemist turned TV star, debuting globally on Apple TV+.
Children, set the table.
Lessons in Chemistry
The first two episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+. Subsequent episodes will debut weekly. I've seen all eight episodes of the limited series.
The opening moments show Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) as the host of a live television cooking show in the 1950s, before rewinding seven years to explain how she became a star.
How that happens is quite clever, in a sneaky and subtle way; logical, inexorable, and surprising, even when the outcome appears to be predetermined. So, even though we know, as the opening moments told us, that Elizabeth will end up hosting a television show, the how and why are set up in a series of episodes that play with expectations.
Lessons in Chemistry is the rare limited series that takes full advantage of its episodic nature by telling stories that are self-contained within individual episodes, yet fitting within the overall narrative. The debut novel by Bonnie Garmus, former ad agency creative director, copywriter and self-taught chemist, first published in April 2022, serves as the inspiration for the series.
Lee Eisenberg (The Office, WeSmashed) is credited as creator and writer for the first episode, and co-writes two other episodes. (Among others, Elissa Karasik wrote or co-wrote four episodes.) The series is not a slave to the novel; it adds entire subplots that stretch through the series.
One subplot in particular appears to have been cooked up exclusively for the series -- admittedly, I haven't read the acclaimed novel -- yet fits perfectly into the series as a commentary on the primary narrative. Each subplot dovetails into one another, forming a cohesive portrait of a certain neighborhood in turn-of-the-century Los Angeles as a background that informs and enriches the independent life led by Elizabeth Zott.
Directed by Sarah Adina Smith (The Drop, Birds of Paradise), the first two episodes are stylish and snappy, invoking the 1950s through rich production values (costuming, set decoration), reflecting Elizabeth's smart, assured and self-confident movements through life. (Directors Bert & Bertie, Millicent Shelton, and Tara Miele helm the subsequent episodes, two apiece, following the pattern created by Sarah Adina Smith, while adding their own distinctive touches.)
The series revolves around Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott, a woman who displays her intelligence through her words, yes, but even more so through her actions, which are dictated by her intellect. Once she (quickly) decides what to do, considering all the variables and weighing the consequences, she acts, and it's a marvel to behold.
This is especially borne out after she starts hosting a television show, in which she talks directly to camera. Her capacity to elucidate complex ideas, to "blind with science," coupled with her unflinching gaze, are mesmerizing. You can't look away as she teaches life lessons that go far beyond chemistry.
Lessons in Chemistry
- Lee Eisenberg
- Brie Larson
- Alice Halsey
- Joy Jacobson