‘Emily in Paris’: The millennial fantasy of a white woman in a foreign place
Natalie Allton | Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Season two of “Emily in Paris” dropped late last month, following a polarized response to the first season and two controversial nominations at last year’s Golden Globes. The show was widely criticized for its stereotypical portrayal of the French, cliché writing and a vapid, entitled “Mary Sue” protagonist. Despite these critiques, “Emily in Paris” remains one of the most popular shows on Netflix and has now been renewed for both a third and fourth season. Knowing the divided response to the show, I sat down and watched all of it in approximately four days.
I don’t want to equivocate in this review. The show is not good. I got 11 minutes into the first episode and had to reevaluate whether I wanted to continue. Emily Cooper moves to France to be an “American perspective” at an existing Parisian firm catering to luxury clients, despite not speaking French nor attempting to engage with the language or culture in any real capacity. The audience is supposed to pity her when she is rightfully called out for her conceit and pride. We are supposed to root for her when she goes from less than 50 to more than 1,000 Instagram followers in a week. We are supposed to marvel at her “fresh” marketing ideas, which are filled more with quirk than substance. In short: “Emily in Paris” is a show about a fashionable American millennial influencer working at a marketing firm in Paris, written by people who clearly don’t know anything about fashion, millennials, social media, marketing or France.
For being a “fashion-forward” pseudo-socialite, Emily’s outfits are horrendous. She looks like she dressed for a business-casual rave in the dark. She looks like an extra on the 2010 Disney Channel show “Shake It Up.” She looks like a color blindness test. She looks like an alien civilization watched a black-and-white Audrey Hepburn movie and then tried to make up the colors and patterns of the clothes. She makes the costumes in “Euphoria” look boring. Some of her outfits are so bad that they lower my standards for what I consider good fashion. I’d call it camp, but she’s the most boring straight white woman in the world and she challenges nothing. She’s an insult to what camp is and what it stands for.
Unlike other sitcoms with unlikable or morally ambiguous protagonists (see: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Seinfeld”), Emily is never condemned by the show and is meant to be a surrogate and paradigm for the audience. She always succeeds at her job. People want to be friends with her for no reason. Every man desires her carnally. There are no repercussions for her awful actions. We are supposed to relate to her, to want to be her. She is left to terrorize Paris unchecked — like a high-heeled Godzilla — and we are meant to take her side.
With all of this in mind: Why, then, is the show so popular? Why are people returning for the second season? Who is this for?
The appeal of “Emily in Paris” is simple and effective: It presents “une vie en rose.” Every element of the show capitalizes on escapism. The show seems to take place in a present day, even if it isn’t ours. There is no pandemic — no masks, no social distancing, no travel restrictions. If you see yourself in Emily, then her clothes, job and romance present you with a more charming and Pinterest-ready alternative to your own life. If, like me, you’re hate-watching the show — even if you curse the protagonist every episode — you’re still escaping into it. The showrunners know that sometimes it’s easier to criticize someone else’s reality than to examine your own. For as bad as the show is, I did enjoy watching it, and I will probably come back for the next two seasons. “Emily in Paris” doesn’t have to be good so much as it has to be perfectly packaged, and that, it unequivocally is.
Emily’s biggest problem is herself. In today’s world, that’s a luxury.
Show: “Emily in Paris”
Starring: Lily Collins, Lucas Bravo, Ashley Park
If you like: “Gossip Girl,” “The Mindy Project,” “Sex and the City”
Where to watch: Netflix
Shamrocks: 1 out of 5