Apple TV+’s newest series, Lessons in Chemistry, starts off on the right foot with a fantastic premiere that leaves the audience wanting more.
Much like its protagonist seems to always be in search of perfection, it feels like that is the exact thing AppleTV+ set out to do with the series premiere of its newest miniseries, Lessons in Chemistry. Admittedly, television miniseries can be a hit or miss. The format has recently become more and more popular but in an array of shows put on various platforms, it has become increasingly hard to find something that stands out and keeps its audience hooked to the screen. And yet, Lessons in Chemistry manages to do just that, succeeding in the tough test that making this type of product often entails.
Lessons in Chemistry is based on a novel by the same name by Bonnie Garmus published in 2022. Set in the early 1950s, the show follows Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), a scientist turned cooking TV show host. The series premiere focuses on Elizabeth’s years as a chemist for the Hastings Research Institute. Elizabeth is often undermined because of her gender and the lack of a PhD, and her research is hardly ever taken seriously until she meets Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman). Calvin sees the value in her work and the two start working together as they are both interested in studying biogenesis and the origin-of-life conundrum. Despite some initial struggles in learning how to work with each other, the couple soon starts dating and eventually moves in together.
The show manages to keep things interesting thanks to its structure. From its season premiere, Lessons in Chemistry jumps across three different timelines: the present one, in 1951, when Elizabeth is a chemist at Hastings, seven years later into the future when we see her as a TV show host, and the past timeline where the undergoes her PhD qualifying exam at UCLA in 1950. While this may seem confusing at first, it never is in the show: the AppleTV+ series does a great job at making it clear when something is situated both visually and plot-wise. The period setting of the series in the 1950s is clear from the very first shot in the costume design choices, use of music, and production design.
Similarly, Lessons in Chemistry stays true to its setting in the actual plot itself which is largely concerned with feminism and the role of women in a patriarchal society. While much of this is still sadly true in today’s society, the issues that Elizabeth has to face during the series premiere are very specific to the time, when a woman’s dream of being a scientist was frowned upon. The discrimination towards Elizabeth is very clear throughout the whole show, from the way male colleagues treat her and talk to her, to the decisions she has to make in her personal life, particularly those regarding marriage and having a family.
In the second episode of Lessons in Chemistry, Elizabeth herself sets the record straight by admitting that “a woman has to make a choice: does she want to have children or does she want to do anything else?” While it may feel like she is spelling out the concept too much, especially as it is something that women still have to deal with nowadays to some extent, it is also necessary for her to explain this in these exact words as it adds to the complexity of her character. Elizabeth is a well-written protagonist that makes Lessons in Chemistry such a good show. She is a character who we cannot help but root for with all her quirks that make her unique.
However, I do wish she was not constructed as such a polar opposite to all the other women in the show. As all the other women in Lessons in Chemistry seem relegated to being secretaries at Hastings and whose only interests are beauty pageants and perfumes, Elizabeth thus stands out as the protagonist for being the exact opposite of this, with her passion for research and lab coat almost always on. While this highlights Elizabeth’s uniqueness in her workspace as the only woman chemist, it creates a dichotomy that I am not particularly fond of, seemingly portraying women as only having two options, each incompatible with the other.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that it had been a while since I had been this excited to tune in to a new episode the following week, waiting in anticipation to find out more about that cliffhanger at the end of the episode. I already can’t wait to re-discover the magnificent world and characters explored through this show. The series premiere of Lessons in Chemistry qualifies as a pass with flying colours for Apple TV+’s latest series: it is a very valid product, one that I cannot wait to see further develop during its weekly releases. With this show, Apple TV+ was able to create a product that could interest fans of the books as well as appeal to people who have never heard of the story before, which was no easy task.
The series premiere (episodes 1 and 2) of Lessons in Chemistry is now available to watch on Apple TV+.