REVIEW: A delicious recipe of familiar tropes

Some shows you just know you shouldn’t go into hungry, but other ones can catch you off guard. Lessons in Chemistry, a novel that a banner in Barnes & Noble ensured me was the book of the year, does not sound like the kind of story hungry people should avoid. But after watching the first half of the Apple TV+ miniseries adaptation, I would be lying if I said I haven’t been craving lasagna ever since. 

An empowering story of love, science and food, Lessons in Chemistry is a satisfying dramatical treat that hits the spot despite its somewhat formulaic nature. 

I am a big fan of the identification and discussion of popular tropes in our media and if one were to make a list of all the ones that apply to Lessons in Chemistry they might never finish. 

Brie Larson plays a brilliant yet socially awkward chemist in an era where misogyny was much more visible than it is today and falls in love with an equally geeky scientist played by Lewis Pullman. 

Along the way she encounters sexism, racism, trauma, loss and empowerment, all while using her scientific knowledge to not only stick it to the patriarchy but also create some wonderful looking dishes. 

If there was a recipe for creating engaging drama, Lessons in Chemistry follows it pretty closely. But there is a saying in the troper world that not all tropes are bad because tropes are, ultimately, just storytelling tools.  

Say what you will about its originality, Lessons in Chemistry utilizes these tools perfectly. Larson is perfect in her roll (wait, no… I mean “role.” I told you I was hungry) and her chemistry (no pun intended) with Pullman elicits all the warmth and awes that you would expect in a story that is partially about two dorks finding love with each other. 

And while the sexism and fights against it can be a bit on the nose sometimes it still feels empowering thanks to the writing, performances and timeless messages that the miniseries enjoys. 

The drama is intensely felt, the good times make you smile and there is a very cute dog. Recipes are followed for a reason, you know?  

I still don’t know if the book (which I have not read) warrants an entire miniseries and not just a feature-length film adaptation—I imagine that cutting down some of the portions of the miniseries might have made the whole thing seem a little truncated and rushed yet eight episodes still seems a bit excessive—and there is one side plot with the neighbor of Pullman’s character that only occasionally feels relevant to the overall narrative, but these complaints are all pretty minor when viewed next to the miniseries’ successes. 

Lessons in Chemistry is heartwarming, heartbreaking and makes me want to eat something that isn’t Taco Bell or hastily boiled hot dogs for dinner tonight. I guess there are still some surprises left for me in my life after all.

The first five episodes of Lessons in Chemistry are now available on Apple TV+. The remaining three episodes will release over the next three Fridays.