Emily in Paris is not Darren Star’s first series about women, fashion, and exciting careers. The writer and producer is best known for creating Sex and the City and the shorter-lived Younger. While these shows aired on network television, Emily in Paris is available to stream on Netflix, a platform overflowing with countless web series and movies available for anyone’s choosing. Which is why I found myself constantly pausing episodes of Emily in Paris to watch, well, just about anything else.
Starring Lily Collins, Lucas Bravo, Ashley Park and Phillippine Leroy-Beaulieu in lead roles, the Darren Star creation is a series of 10 episodes, around 30 minutes each. The story is digestible and interesting to begin with, but morphs into an utterly dull, un-enchanting take of France’s enchanting capital. Emily is an all American girl in Chicago, living a great life with her boyfriend and a promising career. When her boss Madeline, played by the amazing Kate Walsh, is pregnant and therefore cannot go to Paris as planned, Emily is sent in her place. And then begins the stereotypical romcom of an American in Europe.
Emily is bubbly, positive, and an incredibly hard worker. She is looked down upon by her French colleagues, specially her new boss Sylvie, while the others: Luc, Julien and Antoine are won over by her. Emily is always on time, always says yes, has an arsenal of ideas, and is owns her ‘basic’ Americanness. Her French colleagues, on the other hand, are always late, cynical, too cool for school and tell her with disdain that while she lives to work, they work to live. And everyone is a stock character. Sylvie is the hard-ass boss, Julien is the sassy (French version of sassy) gay friend, Luc is the eccentric artist and Antoine is the chauvinistic French womanizer.
If her colleagues represent American stereotypes of French people, Emily’s social circle is yet another group of stereotypes. There’s Gabriel, the gorgeous Disney Prince-esque guy next door who’s always there to rescue her with French. Mindy, a Chinese national whose main job seems to be to exist for comic relief, with her overtly sexual innuendos and jabs spilling out of her unfiltered mouth. But Mindy gets French culture better than Emily, even explaining to her how open marriages are a common thing after 20 years; something that Emily’s naive American heart cannot comprehend. French men constantly hit on Emily, right from the moment she arrives there, while the women are fierce and cold. How predictable.
The ten episodes felt like too many for a series that managed to make even Paris boring. For the amount that the characters drawl on about being young in “the most exciting city in the world,” Emily in Paris doesn’t show us anything we’ve never seen before. The Eiffel tower, the high fashion, the baguettes and ice creams, the delicious looking men…these are all poster children of the French capital. Just when I thought that the show will bring some depth to the city, or to its characters, it just ends up weaving worn-out narratives that we’ve been watching since 90s romcoms. Of course gorgeous Gabriel is perfect for our American protagonist. Of course Sylvie grows fond of Emily and parts of her icy exterior begin to melt as we get to know her better. Of course the episodes follow age-old sitcom recipes of Emily getting caught in misadventures at exclusive parties, with celebrities and fashion designers, all the while meeting exciting new men.
There are redeeming qualities to Emily in Paris. Emily owns her basic-ness, as does the fashion designer Pierre Cadault, who turns the insults thrown at him (basic, trashy) into fashionable works of art. The series isn’t just women-centric, it’s pretty damn feminist while being subtle and even normalising it. Emily questions why the word vagina in French has the male prefix, ‘le’. Sylvie says that she is a woman, not a feminist, to which I cringed only because I know far too many powerful women who say the same. Emily owns her independence, her sexual agency and her femininity in an admirable way, all the while being a relatable protagonist.
Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to keep a viewer engaged. Emily might be relatable and friendly, but she is predictable and unexciting. The interactions that she has with coworkers and lovers lacks energy, intrigue or any kind of entertainment. The dialogues are dull and even awkward, leaving me cringing at almost every scene. The locations are boring and say nothing more about the city than a tourist brochure does. The parties are the same old ones we’ve seen since Sex and the City. For all of its sexy fashion and attractive star cast, that’s all that the series is: a glittery surface that, once scratched, has no depth whatsoever. Web series are a fantastic opportunity to really delve into the bottom half of icebergs, but all we got to see here was the half that the Titanic crashed into. A shipwreck.
All in all, Emily in Paris should have been a 60 minute film. At least then I wouldn’t have had to suffer through 10 stretched out episodes, wondering what I could have been bingeing in its place.