Lewis Pullman Is the Perfect Romantic Hero in Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry”

Apple / Michael Becker

Watch out! This post contains spoilers.

We need to talk about Lewis Pullman in “Lessons in Chemistry.” I didn’t know what to expect when I first sat down to watch the series. I had not read the bestselling book that the Apple TV+ series was based on but knew it was mostly about a woman (Brie Larson’s Elizabeth) dealing with sexism during her career in science. She eventually becomes a TV personality with a cooking show, as her love of chemistry and cooking go hand in hand.

Once I did start to watch, I fell almost instantly for the show. It mixes drama, romance, comedy, and science all together into something one-of-a-kind. It uses its period setting to tell a complicated story that still resonates today, and it gives Larson (an Oscar winner) a messy and complicated character to work with.

But then there’s Pullman.

He plays Calvin, a lonely and off-putting scientist who works with Elizabeth at the very sexist Hastings Lab. Almost no one at the lab likes him, and he self-isolates as he digs into his research. He’s not ready for Elizabeth to come barreling into his life, but during the first two episodes, he lets her into his lab, his stomach, and, eventually, his heart. He keeps showing up in Elizabeth’s life, taking her seriously as both a scientist and a person until her own defenses crumble in the face of his puppy-dog eyes and plain-stated sincerity.

As a devoted rom-com-lover, for a long time it’s felt like TV has not been serving up romantic heroes the way they used to. Perhaps that’s because slow burn, seasons-long romances were a key factor in the type of network TV shows that don’t get made anymore. Maybe some algorithm has told streamers we just don’t want to see people fall in love. However, Pullman’s Calvin – quirky and odd with some devastatingly romantic one-liners – feels like it’s straight out of that bygone era. He’s a romantic hero to root for. But Calvin and Elizabeth aren’t the new Jim and Pam, Ross and Rachel, or even Luke and Lorelai – they’re entirely their own.

Calvin isn’t perfect; he has his own sexist assumptions about Elizabeth he has to get over when he first gets to know her. But the thing that sets him apart from everyone else is that he listens, learns, and apologizes. He never pushes Elizabeth past what she’s comfortable with. He’s honest about his own feelings and what they might mean, but he never assumes what Elizabeth’s are.

Over and over in the first two episodes of “Lessons in Chemistry,” he supports and elevates her, at work and in her personal life. And while Elizabeth needs time to warm up to Calvin, I don’t.

Pullman is perfect. He’s dreamy and funny and sweet, with an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety that gives his character real depth. Perhaps Pullman’s pitch-perfect romantic performance is partially hereditary; his dad, actor Bill Pullman, is similarly beguiling to me in 1995’s “While You Were Sleeping.” But he’s not just imitating his more famous dad in “Lessons in Chemistry” – he has a charisma and spark all his own.

Like Elizabeth, when I look at Calvin, harried and strange, I wish to give him a cup of soup. A slice of lasagna. A lovely sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and fancy mayonnaise. I want to pull him closer and sit with him for a while. The character will stay with me long after the series ends, a romantic hero to compare all others against.

The end of the second episode previews that Calvin’s journey through the rest of the episodes has some serious tragedy, but Pullman’s presence is never fully gone. As the leader of the Calvin fans – The Calvinettes? We’ll workshop it. – I’m very glad for that.

New episodes of “Lessons in Chemistry” premiere on Fridays on Apple TV+.

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