Netflix’s new comedy-drama Emily in Paris, created by Darren Star (Beverely Hills, 90210, Sex and the City), is what happens when the over-romanticisation of Paris meets the under-representation of female screen characters with any depth or originality. Sorry, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But you can’t set a TV show in an iconic European city and make the premise of said show about how many men are interested in the annoying American girl who doesn’t even speak French.
Ten episodes follow Chicago-based marketing executive Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) as she navigates the Parisian workplace, social scene, and dating world. While I can get behind the supposed difficulty of her transition between the two cultures, I can’t believe for a second that a millennial with a career in marketing who starts off with 48 followers quickly becomes a big social media influencer whose posts are being retweeted by Brigette Macron. While the soundtrack may include ‘TikTok songs’, this is certainly not a show for the TikTok age; one tweet reads, ‘Emily in Paris is set in an alternate timeline where people still go viral on IG instead of TikTok’.
This show does a disservice to both Parisian inhabitants and American visitors who are genuinely interested in their way of life. The women are vilified as ‘mean, jealous, and anti-feminist’, while the men are hyper-sexualised and somewhat predatory in their attentions, both of which are stereotypes suggesting that only America is allowed nuanced and multi-faceted characters. I couldn’t help but see the irony when Emily criticises a company advert for objectifying a woman through the male gaze, when this whole show feels like it was made for thirteen-year-old girls who consider Paris only as a magical dreamland where all their unrealistic romantic fantasies will come true.
It often feels as if the real villain of the show isn’t Emily’s Devil Wears Prada boss, or her boring baseball-loving ex-boyfriend – but Emily herself. She prides herself on being popular and charismatic – ‘I’m an agreeable person, people like me, that’s my strength’- but ultimately sacrifices her girl-next-door title when she has sex with her new friend’s boyfriend and seventeen-year-old brother. Also, haven’t we moved past emphasizing pretend likeability as the principal character trait in our female heroines? Emily is the perfect oxymoron of someone who is trying so hard to be liked but doing everything in her power to ensure that she comes across as the worst possible version of herself.
Rebecca Nicholson for The Guardian writes, ‘at times, I wondered what the French had done to deserve Emily in Paris’. Even Lucas Bravo, who plays Emily’s primary love interest, agreed with critics in the sense that, ‘we’re portraying cliches and we’re portraying one single vision of Paris’. And in doing so, not only does the show render itself unnecessary in the long canon of media representations of Paris, but it undermines what Emily in Paris could have achieved by focusing the narrative more on the actual (and important) differences between French and American culture.
While Emily in Paris may be silly, clichéd and generally detrimental to the world of progressive American popular culture, I’ll admit that it’s easy watching. I did after all watch the whole thing, albeit critically, so there’s something to be said for the welcome distraction it’s providing us of the city we all wish we could one day spend a year living in.
Featured Image Source: Still via Netflix / Youtube