A mini-series set in the 1960s, Lessons in Chemistry explores themes of social change against a patriarchal status quo. Based on the best-selling book by Bonnie Garmus, the show follows scientist Elizabeth Zott (portrayed by Brie Larson) through several years of her life. Originally a lab technician, Elizabeth eventually accepts a job as a host of a cooking show titled Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s deep respect for women’s labor, especially as it pertains to the domestic sphere, challenges the patriarchy throughout both shows.
Through Elizabeth’s character, Lessons in Chemistry frames care work as important work performed by people who deserve respect and appreciation. One of the central messages of Fair Play is the rippling benefits of genuinely treating care work with this same importance. Unfortunately, society has and continues to undervalue both this labor and its workers (the majority of whom have historically been women).
Elizabeth approaches domestic labor with a scientific appreciation, asking revealing questions about the cultural attitude toward care. For instance, when told that husbands want their wives to make them a drink after a long day of work, she pokes at that idea asking: why do we assume a wife’s day isn’t equally as long? As Elizabeth signs off Supper At Six, she further affirms this with a simple but clear message: “Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.”
The series shows social change on screen, while also enacting it behind the scenes. In an interview with Screen Rant, Aja Naomi King, who portrays Harriet Sloane, discussed the experience of acting on a woman-directed, woman-led show. She shared, “It was just so wonderful to feel the experience of just being around other like-minded artists and just being so on the same page…Talk about just feeling seen and understood at such a deep level of what the experience of being a woman is.”
For context, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women comprised just 18% of directors working on streaming programs in 2022-23. Encountering a content creation team that prioritizes women’s creative voices behind-the-scenes is still a rarity, even in 2023, and it speaks to the series’ larger themes/messages.
Take Action! All eight episodes of Lessons in Chemistry are on Apple TV+.