This may be blasphemous to some people, but Emily in Paris is so much better than Sex and the City.
I only compare because they were both created, written, and executive produced by Darren Star. While I have to admit I was never a fan of his 90s or early 2000s shows, the new Netflix rom-com starring Lily Collins was like a balm for my travel-starved soul.
In the era of quarantine and COVID-19, everyone will be grateful to live vicariously through Emily Cooper as she gets the opportunity of a lifetime, lands her dream job and moves to Paris in the span of a week.
The first few episodes of the show brilliantly capture the dichotomy between the French and the Americans. Emily, who is living every white American girl’s dream of moving to Europe and accidentally becoming an Instagram influencer, experiences quite the culture shock from the moment she steps on French soil. Of course, she demands to see the chef when she claims the meat of her first meal in Paris isn’t well cooked.
She’s entitled in the way that Americans abroad can be: not maliciously, but simply not comprehending that the American way is not the only–or always the right–way, and that the world doesn’t revolve around the USA or spin on their axis. The French, proud as they are, miss no opportunity to remind her of this.
The most obvious example of Emily’s naïve, internalized American superiority complex is that she does not worry about walking in a French office not knowing a single word of French beyond oui and bonjour, but expecting everyone to speak perfect English in their own country. With her positive, can-do attitude, she thinks she can learn French by taking a course, underestimating the complexity of the language, something that her new colleagues immediately disdain her for.
The climax of this American absurdity is reached when Emily tries to convince the Louvre to put a bed in the same room as the Monna Lisa in a marketing installation she’s working on, and she actually believes they will let her, because, after all, “Beyoncè did it.”
Emily’s error is in repeatedly trying to make Paris (and her workplace) American. The city and French culture are intriguing and inviting, but a mystery that she can’t make sense of, so she tries to make it fit into the patterns she knows and loves.
After many instances of the French’s close-mindedness getting in the way of Emily truly enjoying her new life, we witness one of the finest dialogues in the series when one of Emily’s colleagues invites her to abandon her perspective and look at things through different lenses. He then brilliantly summarizes the American/French lifestyle paradox: “You live to work, we work to live,” and illustrates the ambivalence and cultural clash of (French) arrogance versus (American) ignorance.
The show maintains a good pace throughout the 10 episodes, balancing new characters and mini storylines and plot twists in a way that doesn’t feel like a sitcom at all. Emily quickly becomes friends with Mindy (played by the gorgeous Tony-winning Ashley Park who gifts us with a couple of singing moments in the show), a sassy Chinese girl who’s in Paris to escape her rich heiress and failed teen idol life (loved the episode where her crazy rich Asian friends come to visit!) and then with bubbly, extrovert Camille, also a rich heiress, whose family owns a chateau and produce champagne.
Everything is perfect in the friend department, except one of her new pals is dating the young man Emily kissed passionately the other night. This spirals down in a lot of tension, sexual and otherwise, between the three characters which had me begging for polyamory, as Emily is torn between being a good friend and giving in to her budding feelings.
However, what rom-com would this be if Emily didn’t have multiple love interests? Her options in terms of beaus range from the up-and-coming chef who lives in her building, to a pretentious Semiotics professor, to a guy she meets at a party, to her friend’s perfect brother, to a libertine millionaire who may also have an affair with her boss, to another client whose deal is a make-it-or-break-it for her… practically every man in France seems to want to flirt with her, even the realtor who only hands her her apartment’s keys. Basically, the only men in the show who don’t show an interest of sexual nature in Emily are the gay colleague and the sex addict colleague who act as the comic relief of the show.
We follow Emily along as she grows more confident navigating Paris and her job, as she discovers how ludicrous some French things are… like the way the noun for ‘vagina’ is masculine and nobody thinks twice about it. Or how people in marketing don’t know the difference between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexist’.
Despite the occasional raised eyebrows, Emily finds balance and her life is almost perfect. Paris is out of a dream where everyone’s English is flawless, all distances are walkable, and crime doesn’t exist. Mindy makes one comment about the metro being dirty, but Emily’s glamorous life doesn’t require her to take public transportation. Plus, the legendary costume designer behind The Devil Wears Prada Patricia Field is the genius behind the show’s clothes, so Emily’s outfit game is perennially on point. Her job is finally going well and her Instagram is growing her a faithful audience and some influencer marketing offers.
However, it’s clear the showrunner doesn’t know how social media works: sorry to burst your bubble, Darren, but you don’t really start with 48 followers and get 20k in a week for moving to Paris and occasionally posting snaps of your life in the city with weird hashtags.
There is no overarching social commentary to the show, and for once I am glad of it. The tone of the story is so light that it may start floating, and it’s exactly what you need if you’re living a stressful, anxiety-inducing life every minute of every day.
The show tries to say something about toxic office environments, but it falls short – it’s clear to everyone that Emily’s boss Sylvie is purposely acting like a bitch and dislikes Emily for simply not being French. But even this is glossed over as no one stands up to her and Emily herself tolerates the bullying and keeps trying to win her over with smiles and positivity.
Emily is smart, likable, cutting-edge, great at networking, and has creative ideas, but we shouldn’t disregard that her luck keeps coming because every man she wants to do business with is intrigued by her as this funny, exotic creature. She has talent, but would she be this successful if she wasn’t a conventionally beautiful (I mean it, she’s perfect) petite white woman with Lily Collins’s face and Patricia Field’s style?
The show offers a modern-day fairytale where the protagonist is not some long-lost mighty hero reluctantly going on her journey. She’s an everygirl. She could be me, or you. At the end of the day, she dreams of happiness and success, plans it out carefully and then undoes it with a single decision. Her love life is a mess. But every situation she finds herself in magically unravels.
Emily in Paris is an endearing little show about the (mis)adventures of a young woman who works in media, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.
All ten episodes of the show come out on Netflix on October 2… and we better get a second season because the first ends in a cliffhanger!