Conversations surrounding Netflix’s romantic-comedy TV series Emily in Paris were given a new lease of life this week after a second season of the programme was announced less than two months after the show first launched.
It’s safe to say that Emily in Paris has been one of this year’s most controversial Netflix series, with some viewers citing it as the wanderlust-inducing series we all need to battle lockdown blues. However, while it is undeniable that the show has met a great deal of success and amassed a large fanbase, we can’t ignore the heavily negative reviews it received by social media critics, writers and Parisians themselves for its problematic portrayal of French culture and girl-boss feminist undertones.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the series, it follows American social media marketer Emily Cooper as she moves from Chicago to Paris as part of her firm’s new international links. With a cast featuring the likes of Lily Collins (an actress I’m sure I’m joined in remembering from the 2010s films of Stuck in Love and City of Bones) and Kate Walsh of Grey’s Anatomy fame, I was hooked on the idea of Emily in Paris after seeing the first trailer.
Created by the team behind Sex and the City, I thought that the series would give the same, familial sense of millennials adoring and adapting to Parisian culture with all of its beauty. Yet, it seems that this “love letter to Paris”, as creator Darren Star commented to The Hollywood Reporter, way missed the mark.
The first thing (of many) that irked me about the series was Emily’s brazen attitude to not knowing any French. She marches into the Paris branch of her marketing firm, ready to take over their social media accounts, without being able to speak a word of French. This just oozes an English language privilege that many English and American people seem to expect when going abroad. Alright, I get that it was part of the comedic storyline to watch Emily struggle through life and work in Paris without knowing the language, but it seemed rude and ridiculous that someone would be sent to work abroad without knowing the language at all.
As Emily begins work for the firm, she seems to have so much more marketing and social media experience than all of her backwards Parisian co-workers – simultaneously insulting and unbelievable in a world where all brands use social media to get by. In general, Parisians are depicted as rude and unwelcoming, something which understandably created a huge backlash among French viewers of the programme.
What I truly hated about Emily in Paris was that I just didn’t understand who the target audience was. I felt equally too old and too young to be watching the series, not quite relating to the Americanisms and the American humour which felt a lot to be looking down on French culture and the French way of life.
All of this boils down to the show’s awfully obvious attempts at appealing to white, girl-boss feminism. It has all the classic elements of this brand of millennial feminism that you might expect; a woman who believes nonstop work under capitalism is the most useful way to forge her identity and show that she is indeed an empowered, independent woman. She is a thin, white, beautiful protagonist who is privileged enough to live in a historic building right in the centre of Paris and none of this would be complete without the series’ focus on Emily experiencing casual sex and pleasure in Paris.
Others have criticised the series for how much it romanticises Paris. The realities of living in the city include a rise in violence against Muslims living all over France, high amounts of homelessness, and we also don’t get a sense of just how dangerous Paris can be.
Clichés, poor writing and blatant ignorance aside, I did actually enjoy watching Emily in Paris. I appreciate how off-putting its over-the-top portrayal of girl-boss feminism can be and just how much it misses the mark of representing French culture, but I did find that watching Emily fall in love with the beautiful city of Paris provided me with a form of escapism during the darkness of the past few months.
So, while I think we need to acknowledge that the standard of romantic comedy series that Netflix have been putting out needs to improve, and we need to see Emily in Paris for what it is, I do think there is some sense of enjoyment that can be found in watching the show.
I don’t think it will win any awards and I’m pretty sure that the next season will be even worse than the first – as subsequent seasons to these kinds of shows often are – but Emily in Paris can’t be accused of false advertising. It does exactly what it says on the tin; gives Parisian escapism for people around the world who are stuck in their houses and waiting for the next chance to be able to travel, all while laughing at the ridiculousness of the storyline and a woman living and working in France while not being able to speak a word of French.