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Arts & Culture, Reviews

‘Emily in Paris’ is a buttery bore

Series by ‘Sex and the City’ creator is a fun, fast-paced frivolity vacant of visionary value

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Boasting the rom-com power duo of director Darren Star and costume designer Patricia Fields, ‘Emily in Paris’ seeks for a French revival of the pair’s canonical ‘Sex and the City.’ But Lily Collins’ as Emily fails to bring the classic chicness of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie.

French confections, frilly outfits from 2016 Pinterest boards and a naïve millennial American are the centerpiece of the new bingeable Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”

The new MTVproduced, Netflix-streamed show was released Oct. 2 and stars Lily Collins as the eponymous Emily: an American entry-level marketing employee who gets to live in one of the most luxurious residential neighborhoods in Paris, and somehow has a matching Chanel bag for each Chanel coat she has on rotation. If you are willing to discard common sense and lean into the luxe silliness, the succinct ten, twenty-minute episodes make the show an ideal weekend soiree. 

The prolific sitcom director Darren Star’s “Sex and the City” brought high expectations for what was seen as a spiritual successor to the legendary series. Yet, Star’s new dramedy suggests that the longings for a millennial Carrie Bradshaw were but a pipe dream. Charlotte Alter, a Senior Correspondent at Time Magazine tweeted that “…the evolution from Carrie Bradshaw, a funny and flawed newspaper columnist, to Emily Whatever, a basic and boring brand strategist, is deeply depressing.” Essentially, Emily feels like a Carrie with less charisma and more matronly style.

When Emily makes the career-driven move from Chicago to Paris to offer an “American perspective” at her luxury marketing firm Savoye, she suddenly becomes the ultimate ‘cool girl.’ Emily’s life is an object of envy. She has the job and the clothes — plus, she is doted upon by every eligible French chef, academic or bachelor that comes her way. 

Soon, she cultivates a cult social media following under the moniker @emilyinparis, satiating the Francophile dreams of her assumedly American Instagram followers. Emily snaps selfies and photos of French people doing stereotypical French things. #Frenchworkout, she captions an unsolicited photo of French women smoking after a workout.

By contrast, Emily’s life back in Chicago is imagined as a daze of Midwestern mundanity. She was a plain jane with a boring boyfriend — but an 8 hour flight and a pain au chocolat have imbued her with intrigue. 

Much of this intrigue is at the hands of famed costume designer Patricia Fields, who spoke to her visions for Emily’s character in an interview with the New York Post: “She wants to impress,” Field told the Post. Many of Emily’s looks are lurid in color and American in their gaucheness. Fields said that one of Emily’s first looks in Paris, an Alice & Olivia blouse with an Eiffel Tower motif, was a “nod to her excitement at being there — it was intentionally cliche.”

It is through this sort of ostentatiousness that “Emily in Paris” becomes somewhat self-aware of its ridiculousness, and teeters into funness. Collins’ performance carries much of the show: She is at once awesomely enchanting and terribly annoying. The American in Paris narrative, though clichéd and frustrating at times, is perhaps look-over-able in the moments where Collins shines most. 

Where the show falters, though, is in its attempts to be more earnest or evocative of Star’s past endeavors. After being doted upon by French chef and neighbor Julien, played by Samuel Arnold, Emily leans in for a kiss. Moments later she finds out that Julien is actually the boyfriend of one of her few French friends, Camille. And so the love triangle ensues. In a way that feels very Carrie-Mr. Big-Aidan, Emily is challenged to toe the line of friendship and romance in a predictable rom-com fashion. 

But the pacing of the series seems to fail itself in this narrative trap. Star gives the audience little time to root for Emily here. At no fault of Collins, she is caricatured as a jejune American. Because Emily’s character feels flattened and unripe, we are left no choice but to deem her as a bad friend when she continues with her flirtationship. 

In Paris, there are other miniature moments of conflict: a few bad dates, a not-so-nice boss, difficult clients. But none of these issues are ever sources of stress — they are mere blips that we are confident Emily will solve in some serendipitous fashion. 

Occasionally, Star attempts some political commentary, but the sitcom platform seems to fail him here. In one episode, Emily tries to tell off a French perfume client for proposing a nude ad. “Sexy, or sexist?” she asks him in the conference room, worried that it will not appeal to the sensibilities of an American audience in a post-me too landscape. Because, apparently, French people are more sexist than Americans? Unsurprisingly, in a way that feels far too optimistic around sexism in the workplace, the issue finds itself resolved within the quick 20-minute frame of the episode. It is moments like these that “Emily in Paris” feels a little too try-hard in its grasps at contemporaneity. 

At its strongest, “Emily in Paris” is an aestheticized, bubblegum American vision of Paris. It is vacuous and clichéd and starry-eyed, but that unreality is what makes the series an effortless watch. But when it attempts to achieve pertinence through trite social commentary, “Emily in Paris” becomes too interested in itself, and the fun dissipates. 

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  1. Appeler “Emily in Paris” superficiel et banal passe à côté de l’essentiel. En fait, la série télévisée illustre que bon nombre des clichés que nous avons entendus sur Paris et les Parisiens sont basés sur des faits. Plutôt que de révéler ces vérités avec un drame sérieux, les écrivains et les acteurs ont choisi d’utiliser l’esprit léger et la ruse pour révéler ce que c’est vraiment pour un Américain, avec des attitudes américaines, de vivre et de travailler à Paris.
    Je le sais par expérience personnelle, en tant qu’Américain qui a vécu et travaillé à Paris pendant cinq ans. J’ai trouvé que les Parisiens étaient superficiels, infidèles, ne travaillaient pas dur et n’étaient pas très amicaux. Ce n’était pas seulement mon point de vue. En fait, beaucoup de mes collègues français (d’autres villes françaises) ont ressenti la même chose.
    John Lonergan, BA ’72, Harvard MBA ’76

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