Reviews, Screen

Emily in Paris: the show that got lucky

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Currently dividing the internet, Emily in Paris is a Netflix comedy-drama that follows a young, career-oriented American, Emily Cooper, as she takes on a new marketing role in Paris. It’s light, it’s bright, it’s filled with beautiful scenery and an equally beautiful cast.

It’s also a little bit terrible. Best enjoyed in a single, reality-escaping session, Emily in Paris is a momentary release from the decade-long year that is 2020.

Aside from that, it offers very little. Basically, Emily in Paris got lucky.

We are at a time in film and television where we crave substance, where we ask for more from our characters and the lives they lead. We want authenticity: outspoken, ambitious, flawed characters, as demonstrated by the accolades given to shows such as Euphoria and Fleabag.

We want characters struggling to make rent, or who are figuring out where they belong and what they value. Characters pushing for promotions, falling for the wrong people and reckoning with the aftermath of their choices.

Only a few months ago, Aisha Dee, star of The Bold Type (also a female-centred drama comedy, praised for its progressive, layered storylines and characters) called out the show for her character’s most recent storyline being inauthentic and out of character. She also called for more care, nuance and development for queer and POC characters across the industry. 

This is the level of connection to the show’s overarching story and community that many viewers now seek.

In the case of Emily in Paris, we did get a driven, self-assured twenty-something female character (the verdict is still out on her actual age). And yes, she is flawed.

The issue is that I’m not sure that last part is intentional.

Emily seemingly waltzes through life with an air of confidence that commonly reads as obnoxiousness. While yes, we believe she is good at her job and passionate about her field, opportunities in both her professional and personal life seemingly fall in her lap, including the very promotion that takes her to Paris.

Originally intended for her boss in Chicago, it takes less than a work day for her boss to discover she is pregnant (unplanned), decide to not take her dream role that she was gushing over not five minutes earlier in the episode, offer the position to Emily, get that approved by her seniors, Emily and her long-term boyfriend to have one very short conversation about what this would mean for them, and then for Emily to get on a plane. Is it not, however, enough time to tell the Paris bureau to expect someone different arriving on Monday morning?

Sure, Emily is simply seizing an opportunity by both hands. Yet it is hard to root for a character who makes minimal effort to respect her new workplace and the overall culture of the country she is living in. A character who demonstrates minimal personal growth or self-awareness as the season goes on, and who goes viral after posting the same photos that every tourist in Paris has ever posted, with hashtags filled with cliches and apostrophes.

Emily seemingly waltzes through life with an air of confidence that commonly reads as obnoxiousness.

Don’t even mention Brigitte Macron (schoolteacher and wife of French president Emmanuel Macron) re-tweeting an Instagram post from Emily before she has come close to influencer status. Sure, that post would be on her radar.

While challenges arise through the French team being slow to warm to their Chicago expat, the element of being ‘an outsider’ falls down every time a client, or boss, immediately falls in love with Emily.

While I am all for a little work-romance tension in my escapist TV, must all the romantic interests be clients 10 years Emily’s senior or a boss? Do we need to have this powerplay present (and simultaneously ignored by Emily? Perhaps if this dynamic was explored further it would create space for a more complex storyline).

Not only this, but it has the effect of presenting Sylvie, Emily’s boss, as a bitter older woman. Rather than being understandably cautious of someone new coming into the business they have built up for years and suddenly challenging every decision being made, jealousy appears to be a common thread. Are we still peddling that storyline?

Where is the struggle of a young woman finding her way? Of lonely nights in a foreign country, faced with an office who resents her? Give us escapism, but blend that in with a dose of reality here and there. Build the tension, make us want to rally behind the lead character. In 2020, being bright, bubbly and beautiful should not be enough to carry a TV show.

Emily in Paris offers a brief release, jumping in to fill the Schitt’s Creek-shaped hole in our hearts.

And yet, Emily in Paris arrives at a time when, frankly, people are exhausted. So many of us are distanced from our loved ones, living through lockdowns or restrictions, and facing overwhelming daily uncertainty.

Emily in Paris offers a brief release, jumping in to fill the Schitt’s Creek-shaped hole in our hearts. And there’s no denying it is easy watching: simple, aspirational and an opportunity for us to lose ourselves for a day.

Maybe that is all it needs to be. It is intended as a light show: the driving force here is not reality. But is it too much to ask that it at least tries?

Would it have been as successful if it had arrived at any other time? I suppose only season two shall tell.

And yes, despite all my criticism, I will be watching. This year has been rough.

Emily in Paris is streaming now on Netflix.

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