Poster for Lessons in Chemistry, with the face of a pretty blonde woman (Brie Larson) looking at the viewer with a pencil tucked behind her ear


Title: Lessons in Chemistry
Released: 2023

Fix: Strong 1950s women, cooking, scientist romance, best dog ever
Platform: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ Summary

In the 1950s, Elizabeth Zott’s dream of being a scientist is challenged by a society that says women belong in the domestic sphere. She accepts a job on a TV cooking show and sets out to teach a nation of overlooked housewives way more than recipes.

FYA Summary

When I read Lessons in Chemistry earlier this year, I devoured it like a slice of Elizabeth Zott’s lasagna. In hindsight, though, the book is more like a slice of pie—sweet, comforting, but not particularly meaty.

This adaptation is that rare thing that, IMO, actually improves on the book, mainly with the introduction of a central Black character whose storyline explores the racism of the 1950s. But more on that in a minute!

If you haven’t read the book, I’ll just say that Lessons in Chemistry is about a supremely smart, socially awkward (yet stunningly gorgeous) scientist named Elizabeth Zott who has battled her way into work in a chemistry lab, only to constantly encounter the misogyny of the men she works with. She finds comfort in cooking at home (because it’s a form of chemistry, get it?) and lives a solitary life until she meets Calvin Evans, a fellow scientist who is also brilliant and also socially awkward. Naturally, they click like [insert chemical bonds joke here].

I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but over the course of several years, Elizabeth ends up hosting a cooking show, Supper at Six, that becomes a national sensation. Oh yeah, and she adopts Six Thirty, who easily made my top five list of best fictional dogs of all time.

Familiar Faces

A handsome young white man (Lewis Pullman) in a lab coat looking at a pretty white blonde woman (Brie Larson) in a lab coat, sitting in a chemistry lab

Lewis Pullman as Calvin Evans; Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott

Brie Larson is perfectly cast as Elizabeth; she’s beautiful but what you really see, when you look at her, is her fierce intelligence. It’s nice to see Larson back in a role that shows her range, and in the rare moments when Elizabeth sheds her armor, it truly feels like a gift.

And then there’s Lewis Pullman, who is charming as all get-out as Calvin Evans. He does a great job of initially seeming like kind of a jerk before you spot that twinkle in his eye and that crooked smile (I mean that literally, he really has that kind of a grin).

The chemistry (hey-o!) between these two is hot hot hot, but it’s also tender and sweet.

Aja Naomi King as Harriet, a pretty Black woman with a bob haircut and a fierce expression

Aja Naomi King as Harriet Sloane

So, in the book, Harriet is an older white woman who lives next door to Elizabeth. In this adaptation, Harriet is a Black woman who works in a law office and becomes a passionate community activist. I looooved this change, because as much as Elizabeth goes through, she’s still a pretty white lady, and Harriet’s story offered a portrait of the constant struggles and discrimination faced by Black people during this time. As Harriet, Aja Naomi King is brimming with strength and outrage, and yet it’s tempered by her love for her family and her compassion for Elizabeth.

Alice Halsey, a little blonde white girl with blue eyes and a bemused expression

Alice Halsey as Mad Zott

Okay, here’s a bit of a spoiler. Calvin and Elizabeth have a daughter! And she is the smartest little bug ever! She’s also wise beyond her years, and Alice Halsey captures that old soul quality as well as Mad’s solemn, inquisitive nature. I mean, just look at her! So precious.

The rest of the cast is studded with great actors, from Marc Evan Jackson as Elizabeth’s doctor and fellow rowing partner to Rainn Wilson as the TV station director (i.e. the asshole you love to hate).

Couch-Sharing Capability: Lessons in Solitude

While I don’t think a friend or two would inhibit your enjoyment, there’s something nicely intimate about watching this show alone. If you want to cry, you can do so freely. If you want to shake your fist at the jerks in Elizabeth’s lab, you can do so without the danger of accidentally hitting someone.

Recommended Level of Inebriation: Lessons in Moderation

Harriet and Elizabeth love to share a six pack of beer, and I would say that’s about right for watching this show. And honestly, you should probably prep some snacks to go with your beverages, because you’re about to get HUNGRY.

Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Lessons in Heartwarming

When I was talking with Leila about this book/show, she called it “basic feminism,” as in, feminism light, or your mom’s feminism. I don’t disagree, but I also think Lessons in Chemistry never claimed to be a radical or sweeping treatise on women’s rights. Instead, it’s about two people falling in love; it’s about a relationship between a mother and a daughter; it’s about the power of female friendship. I adore all of these types of stories, and I think this series does them well, with heart and humor and of course, a dash of spice.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.