David Hyde Pierce has already starred as one-half of a dynamite sibling pairing as Niles Crane in the original Frasier. Now, on the second season of Max’s Julia, he takes on another brotherly mantle with a tried and tested TV staple: playing his original character’s identical twin.
The bar for appearing on screen with yourself is impossibly high after Tatiana Maslany shared scenes with multiple versions of herself in the hit sci-fi series Orphan Black—deservedly winning an Emmy for her efforts in 2016. However, Pierce more than rises to the occasion, whether during a spirited piano duet or having a noticeably differing on-screen rapport with Sarah Lancashire’s Julia Child.
After spending a summer sojourn tasting culinary delights in France, Paul and Julia find themselves thrust back into the limelight upon their return to Cambridge, thanks to the success of Julia’s cooking series, The French Chef. An interview with Life magazine coincides with twin brother Charlie’s surprise visit, which adds to Julia’s agitated mood.
Paul has found his footing as the husband of a TV star, but his wife struggles to adapt to the changes that come with national fame. Even BFF Avis DeVoto (Bebe Neuwirth) has left her comfort zone, entering the dating scene for the first time since her husband’s death. Pierce and Neuwirth play the two grounding forces in Julia’s life, yet the second season gives them space to shine outside their established husband and bestie dynamics.
A titular character anchored by a lively supporting cast is a feature of Julia and Frasier, though the brother and ex-wife of Frasier Crane are now the husband and best friend of the cooking legend. For those craving Pierce and Neuwirth together again on TV, Julia softens the blow of Niles Crane’s absence from the Paramount+ reboot while giving a much larger serving of Neuwirth’s brilliant performance. While it feels like a lot more, Neuwirth only appeared in 12 episodes of Frasier as Lilith Sternin (and 80 episodes of Cheers before that), making every second count. Unsurprisingly, the Frasier revival clicks into gear when she enters the room during a recent guest appearance.
While Frasier fans might hold out hope, a Pierce cameo is unlikely. Kelsey Grammer recently told Variety, “I did my best to have him come along for the ride. And at one point, he finally just said, “I don’t really want to play the character anymore.” Paul Child is far from a Niles Crane redux, as while they share a love of fine art and fine cooking and a fondness for natty accessories (Paul’s ascot, Niles’ suspenders), the personality similarities end there.
Still, especially in an episode when Pierce is playing his twin double act, and Neuwirth tackles the shifting parameters of friendship, seeing their repartee and the fireworks on screen again is a much-welcome second course of an acting treat baked from two of TV’s finest comedy talents.
The Frasier farce
While Paul and Niles differ, Julia does deliver a taste of light farce reminiscent of the beloved Seattle-based sitcom. In the recent episode, “Bûche de Noël,” uninvited houseguest Charlie causes mistaken identity mischief when he sits down with the Life reporter and pretends to be his brother. It is not the first time Julia dips its toes into a well of the type of comedy hijinks that Frasier perfected. In Episode 3, Paul and Julia’s romantic few days in Paris are briefly interrupted by the arrival of Avis, and an adjoining balcony provides the perfect running back-and-forth setting. It doesn’t escape my attention that Pierce and Neuwirth are fluent in this comedic styling; however, the duo offer a masterclass beyond farcical scenarios.
Whereas the Crane brothers were always in competition, Paul Child has spent a lifetime playing a hype man: first, to his twin, who can’t help but eclipse his baby brother (Charlie is 90 seconds older) at every opportunity, and then to his wife, who he anchors. Paul sincerely tells the reporter, “I like it,” about his supportive role. The softness in Pierce’s delivery will have you longing for a partner who shares this reverence.
Not every night sees the couple head-over-heels for each other, cozying up (or getting horny) in matching pajamas. Secrets have come between them. But the fights and flaws add layers to the mesmerizing duo, who complement each other like a French baguette and Brie. While Julia is unhappy by the sudden appearance of her brother-in-law, Paul is thrilled to welcome Charlie into the ensuing chaos. It also offers further insight into Mr. Julia Child, such as marrying someone who occupies a space similar to his larger-than-life brother.
During Charlie’s visit, Julia is woken by the twins loudly singing “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” on the piano. The song, made famous by Judy Garland, exemplifies how Pierce builds a new character in Charlie alongside his regular role of Paul. The vitality in their voices is equal, but he sings in different keys for each man, and it never sounds like the same actor singing both parts. It is an extraordinary moment, and one I have watched multiple times. Julia watches this duet unnoticed, going from sheer delight to annoyance at Charlie’s continued presence.
Julia’s irritation at her brother-in-law percolates during an earlier dinner conversation, proving that two people can share a face, but not a personality. Pierce deftly showcases adoration as Paul and button-pushing as Charlie, when the latter shares culinary criticisms. It is easy to forget that one actor inhabits both brothers, as their mannerisms, tone, and posture differ: crackling chemistry as Paul, flirtatious with anyone but Julia as Charlie. Each man has a spring in their step and a musicality beyond their piano skills, but only the visiting twin impersonates Julia’s unique cadence—Pierce takes great pleasure in drawing out her name like an out-of-key note when Charlie mocks his sister-in-law.
Much like The Gilded Age, having this caliber of performers who have also found success on Broadway adds a playful theatricality to Julia—Neuwirth and Pierce have two Tony Awards each. That’s the case whenever Neuwirth and Pierce share a scene, whether razzing each other or finding common ground beyond their shared Julia support system role. Neuwirth still gets to give her co-star a hard time, but unlike Lilith, these barbs don’t have the same jagged edges. There is also no chance that Paul and Avis will hook up, as Niles and Lilith once did in the hilarious Season 5 episode of Frasier, “Room Service.”
One moment cementing the delightful pairing in Julia occurs in the first season’s penultimate episode, when Avis looks after a sick Paul during a trip to New York (so Julia can attend to book-related business), and the hotel doctor mistakenly assumes they are having an affair. Despite the very different circumstances and settings, it is impossible not to think about “Room Service” and the breakfast cart shenanigans. In Julia, it is also a hilarious sequence of events, underscoring their talents and the playful tone of the Max series.
It isn’t all sickbeds and misunderstandings, and Neuwirth’s radiance in this role is as enticing as Julia’s food. She confidently fires missives during a war of teasing words, but when it comes to matters of the heart, Avis is less assured. She goes to Paris to avoid seeing Stanley (Danny Bernstein), a Harvard professor she is dating—yep, in both this world and Frasier, Harvard guys catch her eye. Neuwirth digs into her character’s vulnerability, as she hasn’t dated since her husband died—television didn’t even exist the last time she went out with a man.
When she admits she was wrong to flee the country, Paul fakes having a heart attack, as he has never heard Avis utter these words, and this ribbing gesture underscores their sibling-like relationship. She can roll her eyes with the best of them, but her eyebrows rise with giddy enthusiasm during a double date with the Childs, when Avis embraces the new romance. By the start of the next episode, she is dancing to “Tell Him” by The Exciters in Stanley’s kitchen, wearing nothing more than one of his shirts, a huge grin, and a loose ponytail that is serving Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine on Seinfeld.
Julia remains the figure Avis and Paul orbit around, but it might not always be this way, as Avis is beginning to push back. While Julia might wish she could shrink her friend to pocket-size so she could be with her 24/7, Avis has a life of her own. Julia scolds her BFF for giggling like a teenager with a crush during the Life magazine shoot, but Julia has forgotten that Avis changed her plans at the last minute to be there. Avis responds in a tone oscillating between hurt and anger: “Friendship is a two-way street. Put up with me. I put up with you.”
Lancashire’s rapport with Neuwirth and Pierce is as lived-in as the two former Frasier co-stars are with each other, and there is nothing better than watching the trio bounce off each other. But even when Pierce and Neuwirth engage in rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that could conjure images of Niles and Lilith, the specter of Frasier is pushed to one side.
Julia isn’t a replacement dish for those wanting to relive the sitcom with its original cast (you can watch all 11 seasons on Paramount+ for that). Instead, it offers a new taste of co-stars with more than one flavor—delicious in every combination.
Source: The Daily Beast
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