Since its debut in 2022 you are likely to have seen this novel’s checkered cover doted across many book stores and top ten lists, as its equally comedic, genuine and inspiring story won the book world over. A favourite of book clubs and ‘Booktok alike; “Lessons In Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus offers a powerful lesson in the discrimination and ongoing march towards equality experienced by women as it reflects on the lives of women in the 1950s.
Or one particular woman that is. Elizabeth Zott is a genius chemist, reluctant celebrity chef and a memorable, if blunt, protagonist – searching for success in a life dominated by molecules and male fools.
As she battles discrimination from a society and science community that just doesn’t want women to succeed, she also (literally) bumps into the love of her life, in what is a gorgeously sincere love story hidden within a larger complaint about inequality.
In fact, author Bonnie Garmus actually wrote this tale in a fit of annoyance when her male coworker repurposed Bonnie’s ideas as his own in marketing meeting. This afternoon of anger sparked a 9 year march towards publication admist an progressive ‘Me Too’ movement and the concerningly backwards Trumpian presidency, with “Lessons in Chemistry” finally beginning class in 2022.
And now it reaches its next stage of education – a 8 part Apple TV mini-series. Starring Bri Larson as the infamous and intelligent Elizabeth Zott, the show hit the streaming service on October 13th with a powerful premiere episode (spoilers for episode 1 ahead).
Boasting on a slightly different formulaic structure than the book (chemist Elizabeth would probably let this slide) the show begins with a picture perfect production of Zott’s popular cooking show “Supper at Six”; complete with a full adoring studio audience and the anxious, yet charming ramblings of The Big Bang Theory’s Kevin Sussman as producer Walter Pine.
Flashing back 7 years, we then spend the rest of this exciting opener becoming accustomed with Zott, her patronising colleagues at the Hasting’s Scientific Institute and her budding hatred/friendship/partnership with star chemist Calvin Evans (played exceptionally by Lewis Pullman, who’s nerdy charm you may recognise from his appearance as Bob in Top Gun: Maverick).
In particular, it’s this pairing of Larson and Pullman that most drives the episode (and the story as a whole), with their equally forthcoming portrayals and subtleties of movement and facial expressions bringing the brainiac couple of the book to life. In fact, the moment Pullman appeared on screen I gasped, “Oh that IS Calvin.”
A montage of their bond growing over leftovers at lunchtime was particular atmospheric, as various era specific foods danced savourily across the screen. With immersive production design (including a delightful credits sequence), a thoughtful narrative adaption and a clearly well-read and well-picked cast, ‘Lessons In Chemistry’ is ready teach more than just science.
Transporting viewers into this accurate depiction of a 1950s world of direct discrimination and indirectly unaware male ignorance, you leave not only feeling sorry for Zott’s ongoing push for equal access to her scientific craft, but absolutely outraged for her. And if the book is anything to go off, the emotional fight doesn’t stop with episode one.
As ‘chemistry’ (and a touch of foreshadowing) fills the air, book alumni and first time students alike will fall head over heels for this lovingly well orchestrated adaption, and the unrelently protagonist who leads it.