As much as bookworms want to hold onto their beloved original stories, bringing books to life visually on-screen is bound to bring about some changes. Bonnie Garmus's debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry, is no exception. The book tells the story of Elizabeth Zott who goes from chemist to a 1960s TV icon, hosting her own cooking show — despite all the difficulties life has thrown her way. It's a story about a woman's journey as she finds love, fights the odds, and breaks the glass ceiling.
Now, the wildly popular New York Times bestseller is also a hit Apple TV+ miniseries starring (and co-produced by) the Brie Larson. And, yes, the show absolutely, 100%, without-a-doubt, does the book justice...and more! Even with all the changes in the storyline, it still exudes the same heart and great storytelling that Garmus was able to pull off with her written words. The TV adaptation also adds even more layers and nuance to the story by tweaking certain details, both big and small.
Warning! Spoilers ahead.
The differences between the Lessons in Chemistry book and TV show
1. In the book: Elizabeth Zott is a chemist at the Hastings Research Institute, with her own lab technicians and a whole team working under her supervision. However, she is underestimated, mocked, and disrespected by her colleagues. This is because they see her as an overly-ambitious scientist, especially since she only has a Master's in Chemistry and not a PhD.
On the show: Though Elizabeth is clearly qualified to be a chemist, she is underemployed as a lab tech. Many of her male colleagues perceived her just as a pretty face and as a glorified secretary.
2. In the book: Calvin and Elizabeth have a fateful encounter, outside of work while outside a theatre. He got food poisoning after a date and accidentally throws up on her, and she winds up taking him home and caring for him.
On the show: This whole scene takes place at a Little Miss Hastings pageant held by their employer. Elizabeth is forced to participate in the pageant, which highlights the sexist demands of her job. But it also allows Calvin to take notice of her as the only unhappy contestant. As Elizabeth grabs her coat to make an early exit, she encounters Calvin, who then vomits on her due to an allergic reaction to Mrs. Donatti's perfume.
3. In the book: Readers meet Harriet Sloane much later in the book, as Elizabeth and Calvin's neighbour. She is an older white woman whose four grown children have already flown the coop, and is left at home with her sexist, abusive, alcoholic husband whom she doesn't love.
On the show: Harriet, played by none other than Aja Naomi King, is introduced early on in the series as a young Black woman whose husband is serving overseas in the Korean War. Aside from being a mother to two young kids, she also works as a legal aide, an environmentalist, and a civil rights activist. Her role in the series is much larger, and an important addition to the plot as it brings more diversity and injects a much-needed social commentary on race during that time.
4. In the book: In her university days, Elizabeth was sexually assaulted by an old, sleazy professor named Dr. Meyers. He brutally attacks her one night when he finds her still working and running tests for his latest research project. She's able to stop her assailant by stabbing him with a pencil, but this leads to her losing her place in her programme after she refuses to offer a statement of regret.
On the show: Young Elizabeth was able to stop her assailant in the exact same way, with the same consequences. The difference is that in the series, it's someone she considers a friend and mentor who sexually assaults her. Dr. Bates — a character invented for the show's purposes — pushes himself on her despite her telling him that she doesn't see him that way.
5. In the book: Calvin proposes to Elizabeth at the Hastings cafeteria — in front of all their colleagues. He does this, despite the fact that Elizabeth has expressed that she doesn't see herself getting married. She says no, and this leads to a big fight, which they eventually settle when they agree to move in together.
On the show: As their relationship progresses, Elizabeth makes it very clear to Calvin that she has no intention to get married or have kids. She explains that she wants to put her career first, and achieve all her ambitions. He accepts all of this without question.
6. In the book: Though Elizabeth doesn't want to have children, that doesn't mean she doesn't want to be a dog mum! After moving in together, she and Calvin agree that they want a dog in their lives. As it so happens, a dog follows Elizabeth home from a nearby deli. They wind up keeping him, and he gets a funny name after Elizabeth mishears Calvin. When he asks her what the pup's name is, she mishears him and reads the time: Six-Thirty.
On the show: Six-Thirty appears much earlier in the series. In the second episode, Elizabeth finds him sniffing around in her backyard by the trash cans. She takes pity on the poor pup and feeds him. It becomes clear that she's adopted her new furry friend when she brings him to Calvin's house. When he asks her what the dog's name is, she says it's Six-Thirty because of the time he wakes her up in the morning — just like clockwork.
7. In the book: Elizabeth blames herself for Calvin's untimely death. She was the one who insisted that he be vigilant about keeping Six-Thirty on a leash whenever they went on runs together. Calvin took this seriously. But one night, during their walk, Six-Thirty gets frightened by a loud noise in front of a parking lot. He tries to run away from Calvin. Calvin then trips and hits his head. He then gets run over by a police car.
On the show: Six-Thirty hates his new leash, and is stubborn about running with it. It's the dog's behaviour that leads Calvin to be run over by a bus.
8. In the book: Another character who is majorly different in the books is Fran Frask, the head of personnel at Hastings. Fran is much more jealous and cruel in the novel, as she seems almost happy because of Elizabeth's misery. She delights in seeing her torn apart by grief. And when Fran finds out that Elizabeth is pregnant (before Elizabeth even realises it herself), she uses this to get her fired from Hastings.
But Fran gets a great character development arc, and eventually works for Calvin's friend, Reverend Wakely, as his secretary.
On the show: After Calvin's death, Fran is shown as someone who is much more sympathetic. From the very beginning, she is portrayed as much more caring than the character in the book. She doesn't get fired because Fran tells on her, but rather once it became apparent to her boss that she was unmarried and pregnant.
9. In the book: Elizabeth names her daughter Mad in a similar way as Six-Thirty. It was an accident! Elizabeth was exhausted, frustrated, and still grieving. With all the emotions running through her, she thought the nurse had asked her how she was feeling after labour. The nurse was actually asking for the baby's name. And, thus, Mad Zott it was.
On the show: After giving birth, the nurse told Elizabeth to name the baby after how she was feeling in the moment.
10. In the book: At a young age, it becomes clear that Mad is a brilliant kid who gets her smarts from her genius parents. But instead of encouraging her, Mad's teacher treats her awfully because of how smart she is.
On the show: Mad's teacher acknowledges that she doesn't belong at the school, and instead recommends her to a private school where she can truly thrive as a student.
11. In the book: Elizabeth takes the job for the cooking show Supper at Six after she felt she had no other great options financially. She had just quit Hastings (after she returned post-firing due to pregnancy) following an incident wherein Donatti stole her research. And she also felt guilty because one of Mad's classmates had told her they were poor.
On the show: Elizabeth needed the Supper at Six gig in order to pay for Mad's private school tuition.
12. In the book: Elizabeth refuses to endorse sponsorin a product she sees as vile and immoral for Supper at Six. She even goes as far as discouraging her audience from buying anything from the brand. Elizabeth's boss Phil intended to punish her for this, and attempts to sexually assault her. But she was prepared, threatening him by pulling out a kitchen knife from her bag. He suffers a heart attack and faints on the spot.
On the show: Elizabeth doesn't react as dramatically to the proposed sponsorship as she did in the book. Her refusal to endorse the product results in a three-day suspension during which Supper at Six plays reruns instead.
13. In the book: Reverend Wakely and Calvin became friends after a lecture Calvin gave at his university. They hit it off and became pen pals, talking about everything from the existence of God to their mundane lives. But their friendship ended abruptly when Calvin wrote that he wished his own father was dead. He was unaware that Reverend Wakely's father was critically ill at the time. But when Wakely learned of Calvin's death, he feels guilty, and decides to preach at his old friend's funeral.
On the show: Wakely and Calvin remained friends, and wrote to each other until the day he died.
14. In the book: Walter is the single father of Amanda, Mad's elementary school friend. His wife had left him, but he finds love once more with Harriet who ends up divorcing her husband.
On the show: The miniseries's version of Harriet is in a loving relationship with her soldier husband. It didn't make sense to give her and Walter, the TV producer who pitched Supper at Six, a love connection. But he does find love with Fran. The two confess their feelings for one another in the show's finale.
15. In the book: Elizabeth's happy ending is that she becomes the Head of Chemistry at Hastings — replacing Donatti.
On the show: Elizabeth finds joy in her new role as a chemistry teacher.
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