Creator: Darren Star
Cast: Lily Collins, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Ashley Park, Lucas Bravo, Samuel Arnold, Bruno Gouery, Camille Razat
Streaming Platform: Netflix
If marriage is America, Paris is the affair. It’s the stereotype we have heard, watched, and loved watching (sort-of), and it is that which is mercilessly tapped into in Emily In Paris, Netflix’s 10 part series. Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) is first shown in Chicago, and then plot-swerve to Paris, the city of the Eiffel Tower- both the sex position, and the monument, both of which find ample reference in the show. On the first night, when she plugs her vibrator made for American sockets into a Parisian one, it short circuits and causes a blackout. The city has warned her- for sex, use men, not machine. Emily will acquiesce, screeching oui-oui. When Emily is told that the orgasm in French literally translates to “little death”, she hmms at its supposed profundity, of each orgasm becoming a roadmap for a new life. It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at her, afterall she is shown drinking Starbucks in Paris. This is a show of rose-tinted, myopic, stereotyped, aesthetic, articulate, pretentious romance and it’s just as wonderful as it should be. That is it to say I had no difficulty finishing the 5 hour run-time in one toothy-grinned chug.
Emily, working at a social media marketing firm is sent to Paris when her boss who was supposed to go finds herself pregnant. Emily knows no French, but she does have her persuasive, unpretentious charm. She navigates that difference in work culture, the lazy high-brow social media attitude in France, and the initial antagonism she is faced with, specifically her Miranda-Priestly-but-jealous boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu).
There’s love too. In the first episode we are introduced to Emily’s American boyfriend when he is watching baseball or football or some irrelevant-to-this-story sport, and we know, or at least hope that he will be out of the picture within an episode. This is Eat, Pray, Love territory, and I was praying for some Parisian love in Emily’s life. Lucky for her, her neighbor who lives under her is a chef, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo) so there’s going to be a lot of eating, both kinds. She finds a friend in a Chinese immigrant, a rich dad’s spoiled, talented daughter, and a French art collector. Her professional and personal become one, and the season ends with a promise of more.
The show isn’t always coherent, the serendipity not always believable, and the chance brushes with fame not as well arced. Get this- Emily becomes an influencer in Paris just-like-that. She attempts to but fails at schooling her clients on the male gaze, and cannot even cause a dent in the hazy, smoking culture. (“Smoking is a pleasure, and without pleasure, who are we?” Emily’s boss asks her when she brings up the cancerous proclivities of tobacco.) The drama too is predictable- when Emily is made to sign an insurance contract for a million dollar watch her client is wearing to an event, you KNOW the watch is going to get lost. But predictability has no bearing on the binge-factor, and that’s quite commendable.
I was reminded of a film I keep coming back to, One Day. The lead actor finds himself teaching Literature in Paris and comes to a cafe to meet his parents who are in the city. He chats with his mother while they both sit at the cafe, and they stare at his father, her husband, sitting on a chair, by a fountain nearby, just staring at it. I was struck. This idea of idleness being somehow an integral part of one’s life is so woven into the fabric of stereotyped Paris. It is taken so seriously by cinema and its cinegoers that there is a 24 hour hotline in the Japanese Embassy in Paris to calm the panic-stricken tourists who find Paris not as beautiful as they imagined it. It literally drives some people crazy.
The Parisian critics are enraged- as they should be. When Never Have I Ever put the American ignorance of brown-life in the spotlight, god knows we were enraged. But even while it enraged, that show endeared (for me, at least). And it’s the same here. Of course when a character breaks out into song it is La Vie En Rose. Of course the French age of consent is 15. Of course the French hickey looks like rouge. Of course there is a joke about a handsome French man’s Coq-au-vin (pronounced cock-oh-vaan), and of course one of the characters replies to that, “It’s a beautiful day for a ride.” This is a city that takes its mistress more seriously than its wife, its sex more seriously than its poetry, and god forbid the stereotype be false.