Written by Lindsey Cook
7 months into quarantine where most days I'm staring out the window just to see the annoying upstairs neighbors running around the apartment complex, you could say I'm in need of an escape, even if it's only through my screen. Naturally, Emily In Paris, arrived just in time. Netflix's new series stars Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) as the titular Emily who is In Paris, and it is best described as a Parisian patisserie personified.
The locales are stunning, the clothes bold, the storylines fun but surface level. As the latest from Darren Star (Sex and the City, Younger) it will satisfy that craving for a female-focused series with a lot of Chanel and a plucky young heroine, but there are a lot of issues that keep Emily from achieving the greatness of Star's other series.
So let's break it down!
The Wanderlust Fulfillment
It goes without saying, but the show is absolutely beautiful and satisfies my quarantine-fueled wanderlust like no other series has. Even before this year, I've been yearning to return to Paris so living vicariously through Emily's strolls along the Seine and visits to Cafe de Flore and other Rive Gauche locales has been delightful.
Emily's boss is essentially a French Miranda Priestley, and she is absolutely delightful. Sylvie, played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, has a dry wit and sophisticated style, always rolling her eyes at Emily's naïveté with a cigarette in hand. I love it.
Gabriel, The Cute French Chef
What's a fantasy view of Paris without a cute French chef to serve as a love interest? Lucas Bravo's Gabriel is dreamy, charming, and cooks a mean omelette to boot! Even when rolling your eyes at Emily's mispronunciations of French mots, you'll find contentment staring into Gabriel's eyes.
The Clothes (Sometimes)
With Patricia Field in charge of costumes—the same woman who gave us Carrie Bradshaw's signature style and the Chanel boots from The Devil Wears Prada—you know there will be some major fashion moments in this show. Emily's fashion doesn't always do it for me (more on that later) but it's best when she's leaning into preppy Parisian looks and pretty jewel tones.
Lily Collin's Eyebrows
When all else fails, Lily Collins is gorgeous, and you can get away with a lot when you look like a modern day Audrey Hepburn. I have always been envious of her eyebrows, and someone please teach me how to get her perfect loose curls!
The recognition of influencers & social media
Emily's job is all about social media marketing, and I appreciated seeing a show that took social more seriously than a lot of similar projects, particularly the influencer aspect of today's social media marketing strategies.
In one episode, Emily is invited to an influencer event, not as a representative of her marketing agency but as a micro influencer herself (because her @emilyinparis account is starting to blow up). I loved this aspect, as it reflected the increasingly blurred lines between media professionals and influencers, and as someone who has both hosted such influencer events and attended them as press, I admired how accurate the portrayal was, from the branded photo moments to the way the influencers seemed much more interested in swag bags and content creation than actually enjoying themselves at the event.
That being said...
The understanding of how social media is used and how influencers act
However, the use of social media feels like it's stuck a few years in the past. I get it, social media moves at lightning speed (TikTok was not the phenomenon it has become when this show filmed last year, for example) but what is it with writers thinking influencers are still posting nothing but cheesy pun-filled hashtags and using selfie sticks?
Emily has the makings of a great fashion influencer (ie. she's thin, white, pretty, and wears nonstop designer clothes) but in 2020, influencing isn't just about showcasing a cute outfit or dreamy Parisian backdrop. Influencers use social media to connect to their audiences, showcase their lives, and share both the inspirational moments and the not-so-glam reality as well. Today, most influencers are posting longer, diary-like captions and sharing candid content to Stories, not just adding a silly hashtag and calling it a day.
There is an effortlessness to Emily's posting, which is somewhat enviable (the goal is for it to look effortless even if it's not), but the reality is that establishing a personal brand and building a social media following takes time and a lot of hard work. That Emily's status as an influencer arrives as a fluke is nice for the show, but it undermines the work that goes into being an influencer and only reinforces the idea that all influencers are lazy, do nothing to gain their followers, and are entitled.
The Clothes (Sometimes)
Remember how I said I liked most of the clothes? Well, some of them are an absolute mess. The good news is that most of the worst looks appear at the start of the series when Emily is trying way too hard to be cool while not understanding the French style at all. Other times, Field relies far too much on the fact that something is "designer" rather than if it looks good or not. Emily wears a lot of Chanel in this show, and while I love a good tweed and 2.55 as much as the next fashion lover, Chanel alone does not a good outfit make! Also, how does a mid-level marketing associate afford such a closet? Do tell, Emily! I would like to know.
The Attractive Older Men Who All Look The Same?
This isn't necessarily a bad thing (I did say they are all very attractive, after all!) but they all had the same long, slick backed hair and were all wearing suits. It was très confusing!
The Outdated American Exceptionalism
Like any good fish out of water story, Emily In Paris has its fair share of culture shock moments, particularly in the first few episodes. From realizing that our outlets aren't the same to false cognates leading to awkward lost in translation moments, dear Emily suffers a lot of embarrassment simply by being a foreigner in a strange land. But a lot of it is her fault! In the pilot we learn that her supervisor was actually the one who was supposed to go to Paris to help out the French agency, but a last minute hiccup forces Emily across the Atlantic instead. And Emily does not speak one word of French.
Not speaking the language in Paris is fine if you're visiting; the Parisians will roll their eyes at you as you butcher your lunch order, but they almost all speak English and are often excited to use their skills on a real life American. However, working in France is a whole different story, and throughout the season I became frustrated that Emily's French never seemed to improve despite her being immersed in the culture for weeks, maybe even months. In fact, she barely even tried to speak the language, sans one or two short scenes at a language class that disappeared by the midway point of the season. The assumption that everyone around her should speak her language to make her feel comfortable was frustrating and arrogant, and only one of many annoying stereotypes introduced by the show.
Some of the stereotypes hold true: that despite Paris being a city of dreams, Parisians are more realistic about the world than their American counterparts. From affairs of the heart to politics, they're less idealistic. I also really enjoyed their approach to the work life balance, as Emily slowly learned: no one shows up to the office before 10:30, everyone takes a 2 hour lunch (that's very true), and the goal is to work so that you can live comfortably, not just living to work. That was refreshing!
However, some stereotypes were a little more annoying; that Americans are all prudes, believe in a "customer is always right" attitude, and that their way of doing things is inherently better just because it's American. A lot of Emily's job hinges on her bringing an "American perspective" to their marketing projects, but at the end of the day they are still marketing to French customers a lot of the time. The American way isn't always the best way! There's an episode where Emily and Sylvie debate the merits of feminism after watching a provocative, possibly sexist ad campaign. Emily plays the part of the pink hat wearing, Women's March feminist, while Sylvie declares she is not a feminist because it's much more complicated than that, but neither stance feels particularly empowering or true. Emily proclaims America is the land of feminism and equal rights, which yeah, a good portion of it is, but take one look at issues like abortion rights and the amount of white women who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election and you'll see that America isn't exactly the feminist playground Emily markets it as.
Beyond this, Emily's character just reinforces the idea that Americans are overall clueless about the world, about culture, about everything! And look, I know a lot of America is clueless (just take a look at Twitter on any given day) but you'd think the American protagonist of a series set in France would be a little more with it.
Which brings me to my final point...
It's a shame that the worst part of this series is usually Emily. I think the writers thought they were creating a modern day Audrey Hepburn by way of Lena Dunham, but the end result is a character who is hopelessly naive, often selfish, and lacking in character growth throughout the season. It's okay to have a character who starts off as a bit of an asshole, but Emily does very little to better herself or immerse herself in the Parisian culture throughout the season.
Her grasp of French is nonexistent even by the finale (oh, how I was hoping she'd pull a Daenerys Targaryen and wow everyone with her French lessons in an opportune moment), her professional relationships remain incredibly surface level, and her continued arrogance about French food, culture, and customs are tiring. She gets away with a lot of it because at the end of the day she's still Lily Collins and still adorable in her pink Chanel turtlenecks and bucket hats, but should there be a second season, I'm hoping that Emily does some maturing...and ups her French lessons, too!
All in all, Emily In Paris is not groundbreaking television by any means, but it's also a lot of fun and as close as you can get to booking a trip on Air France during a pandemic. So order up some macarons and turn on this Netflix series if you are looking for truly escapist entertainment.
What did you think of Emily In Paris? Let me know your thoughts!