She’s not as giddily funny as Streep was; that has to do with Streep’s knack, when she chooses to exercise it, for warm, effortless humor. But it also has to do with the nature of “Julia,” which tries to be many things but doesn’t make much of an effort to be the charming romantic comedy that Streep’s sections of “Julie & Julia” were. (The Julie sections, about a blogger cooking her way through Child’s recipes, are best forgotten.)
Daniel Goldfarb, who created “Julia,” is a producer on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and one of the primary threads of the new series — which also happens to be its most entertaining aspect — is “Maisel”-like: a loving, knowing depiction of the early days of the public-television business, allied with a meticulous reproduction of early-1960s Boston and Cambridge, Mass.
We get to see Child and a small crew of family, friends and colleagues convince the Boston station WGBH to produce her landmark show, “The French Chef,” and it’s such a shoestring operation that everyone has to pitch in: Child’s adoring husband, Paul (David Hyde Pierce), wields cue cards while her devoted friend Avis DeVoto (Bebe Neuwirth) crouches behind the mock kitchen counter and covertly hands Child knives and whisks.
These scenes of production, endless argument and negotiation can be a lot of fun, especially when they include Robert Joy as the station’s general manager, a happy mix of preoccupied dreamer and slyly manipulative boss. Jefferson Mays also has some good moments as the archly pretentious host of a book-chat series who feels threatened — with good reason — by the unexpected success of Child’s cooking show.
Snobbery is a primary theme of “Julia,” as Child runs a gantlet of TV producers who sniff at the idea of devoting time and money to filming a woman in a kitchen. (There’s also a book editor, played by Judith Light, who abhors the idea of devoting time to TV.) It serves as a kind of binding agent for the multiple prejudices of the time. The producers are nearly all men, so their pretentiousness is entwined with their sexism; meanwhile, the one junior producer who sees Child’s potential is a Black woman who has to battle her colleagues’ genteel racism to get the show off the ground.