Let me just complain for a minute: Paris. I was supposed to go to Paris last May. Spring. In Paris. For a week. To visit a friend. Let me just repeat: Spring, in Paris, with other college juniors. And then the virus hit Europe and the trip was canceled. Understandable, it is a pandemic after all. So, imagine, how excited I was for “Emily in Paris” — a moment in October, in the middle of midterms, to leave Ann Arbor and enjoy the escapism that is, in essence, a glorified romantic comedy? Count me in.
The show follows Emily (Lily Collins, “Love, Rosie”) a marketing “executive” (that word feels a little bit strong for what she actually turns out to be) as she moves to her company’s Paris office for a year. A promising premise, with lovely French accents scattered throughout, that proves to be just as disappointing as a chocolate croissant at an American Starbucks.
The title comes from Emily’s Instagram account, @emilyinparis, that she creates upon moving to Paris. I just want to know, who writes social media into television? Maybe it’s because I’m not an influencer, but nobody uses Instagram the way Emily (or any character in one of these shows) uses it. Impromptu selfies, with mundane captions that the writers want you to think are interesting, flood her feed. And if I know anything about Instagram, that is absolutely no way to gain thousands of followers overnight. She’s not someone I would follow Instagram and, sadly, she’s not a character I really wanted to follow for 300 minutes of uninterrupted binging.
And if that were the point, if Emily was supposed to be a parody of the annoying, bright-eyed American with no concept of the world, then I would say brilliant. Give me the satire. But she’s not. She’s the “up-and-coming” young person of the show, the “American perspective” that apparently everyone wants to hear. The show pits her against Savoir’s — her Paris company — matriarch, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, “Mirage”). And for good reason. Sylvie and Emily’s relationship highlights the differences between Americans and the French, between the old(er) and the young, the boss and the employee. But despite all these layers, the relationship always seems to be about the male clientele that everyone wants to sleep with. It’s an exhausting and forced piece of drama because, honestly, there are incredibly valid reasons beyond these boys for Sylvie to dislike Emily that are never really explored. Sylvie is simply portrayed as a heartless boss despite the fact that she has to work with Emily who is, in essence, an intern who doesn’t know the difference between a bague and a baguette.
Netflix also fell into the trap of rolling their only Black character into their only LGBTQ+ character. Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No. Samuel Arnold (“Platane”) plays Julien, alongside Luc (Bruno Gouery, “Super Jimmy”) as the show’s quirky, offbeat, comedic relief. It’s a stereotypical office dynamic — is Julien sassy because he’s French or because he’s gay — and apparently the only kind of gay, Black man Hollywood thinks is suitable for audiences has to be flamboyant and in your face? Luc, on the other hand, seems to be the show’s stoner. Relaxed and a little bit sexist, he’s the first character to warm up to Emily, telling her the office is “afraid” of her. The first of many, many truths in the show that are stretched so far, Emily could have used them to walk back to Chicago.
The saving grace of the show is Ashley Park (“Tales of the City”) as Mindy. Though she plays another POC supporting character for the half of the season, “Emily in Paris” reveals that she is, in fact, a very talented singer that gave up because of an embarrassing experience in China. In any other circumstance, this would be an out-of-the-blue, what are you doing Netflix, story arc that has no place in 10 episodes that are only 30 minutes. However, Ashley Park is a decorated Broadway actress and the fact that they figured out a way to showcase her voice, was a refreshing moment in the series. I almost forgot that I wanted to strangle Emily every time she tried to speak French.
The first five episodes are littered with workplace faux pas that anyone who went to business school, even online, could have avoided. Granted, there would be no story if intelligent decisions were made, but watching Emily enter a French workplace, with no understanding of the language, only to try and do everyone’s job with no prior reputation? An episode later, she sends out the corporate office’s commandments which, unsurprisingly, do not go over well in Paris. Absolute train wreck of a management style that I refuse to believe would ever happen in the real world. Speaking of the real world, the ad campaigns that Emily proposes? Boring. Tired.
And maybe the merits of the show and the character shouldn’t be based on their accuracy of business principles, fine. But then consider the numerous cultural insults — there is an entire conversation in which Emily and another American character complain about the lack of the pronounced “r” in the French language. While some of the jokes may be based on stereotypes, there is little balance. “Emily in Paris” feels like an American power trip through Europe, stomping through the world of high fashion in a pair of chunky Filas.
– Emma Chang, Daily Film Writer
Remember traveling? Remember the days of making spring break plans with a level of certainty that’s enviable and almost outlandish now? Yeah, I miss it too, which is why I was intrigued by the new Netflix original series “Emily in Paris.”
In the midst of a pandemic that for many has meant canceled traveling and study abroad plans, “Emily in Paris” gives Americans a brief escape from a world that has almost unilaterally shunned them. The series features Lily Collins (“Love Rosie”) as Emily, a Chicago native whose marketing firm sends her to bring the “American perspective” to a smaller Parisian firm and increase their social media presence.
Within the first few minutes of the series, “Emily in Paris” drops you headfirst into its editing style and fast pacing, which can be described as so tacky it’s almost bold. Emphasis on the almost. The show frequently depicts Emily posting to her instagram on the account “@emilyinparis” and uses animations to depict the caption, which is almost always a hashtag, as well as the number of likes and comments. Oddly, the whole show seems like it’s produced on Powerpoint with its use of graphics and interwoven stock footage of Paris. It follows the recent trend of using a sort of internet POV to display digital content like social media, texts and FaceTime. The editing comes off as gaudy and borderline cliché, and this is without even addressing the series’ indulgent use of montages.
To cut the series some slack, social media and Emily’s Instagram account is an important theme and plot device throughout the series. Emily’s dedication to her marketing work is an essential part of her character, and she uses her work to channel her strengths, like her creativity and willingness to go the extra mile.
On the other hand, the use of social media and marketing as the metric for what success means to Emily can be off-putting in our modern climate. A popular critique of the growing world of social media and influencers is that it can feel constricting and superficial, which makes rooting for Emily’s rising popularity on Instagram and her ability to sell commodities feel empty. This, coupled with the unnatural and highly produced editing style, makes the show feel meta in the sense that it’s about marketing but the show itself is noticeably marketed through its cookie cutter presentation.
Unfortunately, the plotline is not much better. The show is full of plenty of cute love interests, all of whom are unavailable or unviable for one reason or another, but without a lot of substantive tension. We don’t get a complete sense of what makes any of the guys particularly right for Emily, which made me groan with impatience for the plot to move forward rather than yearn for anyone to get together.
An interesting central theme however, was the exploration of what it means to be an American tourist abroad. Most of Emily’s conflicts arise from her inability to speak French and understand French culture, which makes her seem arrogant and unlikable to most of the people she meets. This is difficult for Emily, who has so far lived life trying to make people like her, as apparent by her job in marketing. She is particularly disliked by her boss, Sylvie (Phillipine Leroy-Beaulieu, “Mirage”) who dislikes the arrogance of a person traveling abroad with no respect for the culture. This criticism was powerful and makes a valid critique of the imperial nature of traveling abroad, especially from America. However, besides this one moment, the series doesn’t significantly explore this theme further aside from people constantly being rude to Emily. The series attempts to use this to show a transformation in Emily, wherein she changes from being a person that cares about what others think and can be herself, but this creates a paradox in the show’s messaging. Should Emily learn from French culture or should she not care what they think?
The show seems to answer that it should be a little bit of both, but I don’t find this very compelling. There is meaningful American criticism, but only in repetitive, superficial jokes that make fun of Emily. At the very least, Emily becomes more empowered over the course of the show. She speaks her mind honestly even when those around her are telling her to be quiet. But does it significantly push the envelope? I’d say no, not really. I’m proud of her but at the same time, I’m not thoroughly convinced she overcomes adversity. While it’s true that powerful narratives aren’t measured by any sort of overcoming adversity Olympics, I couldn’t help but be unimpressed by how often luck, whether it be through a chance meeting or introduction, is what leads Emily to success.
That being said, I had fun sometimes through the cringeworthy moments. In all its marketed glory, “Emily in Paris” seems like it could be a fun watch for the right audience. Unfortunately that wasn’t me. But who knows, maybe it could be you.
— Sarah Rahman, Daily TV Writer
Daily Arts Writer Emma Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at email@example.com
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