Everyone likes comfort food and Julia, HBO’s new eight-part drama (showing here on Sky Atlantic) about the American celebrity chef Julia Child, sticks to flavours we all know and love.
In Britain, our knowledge of Julia Child comes mostly from the 2009 film Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep, but in the US Child is a revered figure who taught a nation to cook. Lying somewhere between Elizabeth David and Delia Smith, with a pinch of Nigella Lawson thrown-in, she practically invented American cookery programmes with The French Chef (1963). As such (and thanks to at least 10 autobiographies) her story should be well known.
Julia attempts a modicum of revisionism, focusing on Child’s character and relationships as much as on the genesis of her all-conquering TV shows. But despite this slight reassessment, the manner of the telling is very much by the book.
This is no bad thing; in an age where television is becoming increasingly bombastic and grandiose (scared, basically, of viewers switching over to some other tech behemoth’s wham-bam whizzo new show set in space), Julia’s old-fashioned style is a welcome virtue. It takes its time and relies, appropriately, on the staples of good cooking – that if you use quality ingredients in the right measures and follow a tested recipe, you’ll serve up a satisfying meal.
The series begins with Child, whose 1961 book Mastering the Art of French Cooking has already caused a stir in the US, taking her first steps on to television. Subtly, in so doing Julia maps the story of mass-market television itself. Child’s husband Paul (David Hyde Pierce doing a superannuated Niles from Frasier, but doing it oh-so well) believes that the medium is essentially frivolous and his wife should be above such things.