Lily Collins in Emily in Paris. BY STEPHANIE BRANCHU/NETFLIX.
Emily in Paris is the latest rom-com TV series from creator Darren Star, most known for HBO’s Sex and the City and more recently, TV Land’s Younger. Emily in Paris is certainly the fluffiest of the lot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch. You will breeze through the ten episodes fairly easily, but compared to episodes of Sex and the City or even Younger, which both had interesting things to say about the societal expectations of women, Emily in Paris doesn’t really have as clear of a direction.
For Sex and the City, it was really about destigmatizing the idea of women speaking openly about sex, and in Younger, it offers insight into the ageism that working women have to deal with. Emily in Paris discusses topics like #metoo, and where the line is when it comes to sex and sexism, but the conversation never goes anywhere meaningful.
This series is focused more on the whole idea of living abroad – the romanticised imaginings versus the slightly downer reality. The series is centred quite charmingly on the shoulders of Lily Collins, who plays the bright, naive, American ingénue with sweet aplomb. Collins’ Emily has to step up to the plate and take over her boss’ position in Paris due to unforeseen circumstances. The problem? While her superior majored in French, making her a suitable candidate for the Paris branch, Emily doesn’t speak French at all, something which she gets judged and called out for frequently in the season.
They consider it arrogant that she would dare to waltz into their country and office without any know-how of the language. This is all done to make Emily feel like a fish out of water, which is a normal thing when you are diving into a whole new cultural experience. I can understand her getting left out of conversations or feeling isolated at social events because she doesn’t have a grasp of the language, but they go out of their way to shame her about it. It seems a bit excessive and villainises (as well as stereotypes) the French.
The biggest villain of the pack is her boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who seems to be written along the lines of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. She is skeptical of Emily and her American ideas, and frequently goes out of her way to show it. But you see, unlike Miranda’s character, Sylvie doesn’t feel as nuanced or likeable. The same goes for her other French colleagues, who call her names, and send her documents with phallic drawings on them. It all feels very ‘on the verge of a law-suit’ territory.
As with any of Star’s shows, the typical formula still applies. When it comes to men, it’s always safe and boring against sexy and dangerous. In Sex and the City, there was the whole Carrie and Big versus Carrie and Aiden, and in Younger, Sutton Foster’s Liza is back and forth with sexy Josh and stable Charles. In the first ten minutes of the season, Emily is saddled with a long-time boyfriend Doug (Roe Hartrampf), who I knew was going to be done-zo a few episodes in, mainly because he was so bland and basically a non-entity. This leaves Emily with the opportunity to get her flirt on with her sexy neighbour Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), who also happens to be a chef and can whip up omelettes to die for.
Honestly, Emily exclaims about everything while in Paris. Having her first bite of pain au chocolat involves squeals of ecstasy and an immediate cataloging for the gram. Ah yes, which reminds me, social media and the influencer life is a big feature in this. The fact that Emily works in a marketing firm who seem resistant to the idea of crafting a social media brand speaks to the obvious pitting of traditional marketing against that of the influencer. While this is interesting and has currency given how the way we consume information has changed, Emily reaches influencer status way too quickly.
Building a social media brand isn’t something you can so easily do in a matter of weeks. Emily’s posts about her life in Paris gain traction at the speed of light (I know she is in the City of Lights, but that’s a bit ridiculous), and is explained away with someone saying that Emily’s love for Paris is so infectious that people just want to continue to experience the city through her eyes. This explains my dismal Twitter follower count.
The series greatest selling point is the space that it inhabits, which is Paris. Considering how travel-starved most of us are right now, getting to experience Paris vicariously through Emily feels like a drink of water from the coldest spring on the hottest day. What adds to that is the fashion in this, which I absolutely love. Patricia Field, the stylist who worked on Sex and the City, is back to work her magic again, giving Emily a zesty burst of colour and style through her outfits. So yes, for a woman who has been mostly in sweats and pajamas for the majority of this year, I felt such a nostalgic buzz just from watching Emily dress up and paint the town red.
And just like any rom-com, our plucky protagonist must have a good friend to navigate her struggles with. This position is filled by Mindy (Ashley Park), a Chinese expat turned nanny, who becomes a guide for Emily. Park is bubbly and funny, and is a good addition to the series. The series would benefit from more storylines that centre around Park, if it gets a season 2. The decision is still up in the air at the moment, since Netflix is waiting to see how the series performs on the platform before deciding on anything.
I would say that Emily in Paris has enough charm for a season 2, and hopefully that will give it the opportunity to chart a greater sense of direction.
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Much like the various French pastries our lead protagonist in the series enjoys, the show feels very much the same way. It's sweet and appetizing, but doesn't really satiate if you're looking for a full meal.
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