When it comes to Darren Star (the creator behind Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Sex and the City, among others), Primetimer editor-at-large Tara Ariano knows what of she speaks. An avid consumer of Star's many shows, together with Sarah D Bunting, she's the co-host of the weekly Star-forward podcast Again With This, and co-author of the just-released A Very Special 90210 Book. So who better to review Star's latest series — his Netflix debut — Emily in Paris?
Recently, Darren Star revealed that the upcoming seventh season of his TV Land romcom Younger will probably be its last. And though that's terrible news for fans of Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), they needn't be too bereft. Not only is Star developing a Younger spinoff for Hilary Duff, he's also ported over a lot of the elements that have made Younger a success to his new Netflix series, Emily in Paris.
Once again, our heroine is a stunning career girl with the loose waves every woman on TV is still required to have. Once again, she's a brunette. Once again, she has spectacular accommodations in a world-class city. Once again, she toils in a moderately creative job, under an older woman who resents having been assigned to manage her and is impossible to please. Once again, she falls into a romance with a business owner in her neighborhood — but once again, there are complications, including overtures from another man who's older and more conventionally successful. And once again, there is both shameless product placement for real brands, and barely fictionalized versions of easily identifiable figures.
Where they differ, of course, is in the specifics. Emily (Lily Collins), who works in marketing in Chicago, is about to lose her boss, Madeline (Kate Walsh); the firm has just acquired Savoir, a boutique agency in Paris, and Madeline's transfer there is one of the terms of the deal. However, on her last day, Madeline finds out she's pregnant, and decides not to leave the U.S., so Emily will go in her place — just for a year, she assures the boring boyfriend we know isn't going to last (spoiler, I guess, but come on, his name is Doug). Emily embarks upon this adventure full of ideas and optimism (and apparently no concern about her inability to speak French), and must be educated about French cuisine, French rudeness, and French quirks about things like floor-numbering and date-abbreviating. Will she maintain her sunny Midwestern attitude, or get crushed by the accumulation of Gallic insults?
First, let me assure you that Emily actually is in Paris. The production doesn't try to make Dubrovnik pass with tight street shots and some Eiffel Tower b-roll; Emily jogs by, drinks next to, and boats on the actual Seine, which is nice. Also, Star has re-teamed with the legendary and multiply award-nominated costume and wardrobe designer Patricia Field, who has worked with him on Younger and Sex and the City, so the looks are on point — key for a show in which the lead has traveled to a fashion capital to work for an agency serving clients from various luxury brands. Even more crucially for a romantic comedy, every man who crosses Emily's path and gives the slightest whiff of possibly kissing her at any point is appropriately hot, particularly Lucas Bravo as Gabriel, Emily's downstairs neighbor.
It's just too bad that Emily is in Paris to headline such an irritating and superficial show. Admittedly, I don't come to Darren Star product for probing sociological insights, which I assume is true for most of his audience. But Emily in Paris has a habit of noting cultural differences between Americans and the French without, apparently, any thought of follow-up. Early on, for instance, we learn that Emily's manager Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) has been mistress to Antoine (William Abadie), the agency's parfumier client, for some time. Emily is scandalized, since Antoine is married, but Emily's friend Mindy (Ashley Park) — Chinese and Korean, by way of Indiana — breezily explains that Antoine's wife probably knows about the relationship, and probably has a lover of her own: "The French are romantics, but they're also realists." Emily eventually oversteps the boundaries of her relationship with Sylvie (which is barely professional, never mind friendly) to say she thinks Sylvie deserves more than she's getting from Antoine; Sylvie snorts that she doesn't want 100 percent of him, or any man, nor does she want to give anyone 100 percent of herself, and while Leroy-Beaulieu plays the moment without apparent conflict or wistfulness, the viewer never gets the sense that Emily understands or at the very least respects that traditional monogamy is not for everyone, and that another culture may define fidelity differently than she was taught as a child back in Winnetka.
Similarly, Emily is annoyed when she arrives at Savoir on her first full day to find it locked for two hours, because she never actually asked anyone when the office opens for business. Her colleagues immediately dismiss her as "La Plouc" (the hick) for her lack of French language skills, and of sophistication, generally. But Luc (Bruno Gouery), running into her after work, kindly admits that everyone is scared of what changes she'll impose, with their parent company's American values: "You live to work. We work to live." It seems like Emily's arc will be finding "balance," so that she doesn't derive so much personal fulfillment from her job... but then all her work storylines show her demonstrating perfect instincts and triumphing over Sylvie's low expectations for her, including via lessons learned as a social media superstar on her own Instagram account, all evidence of which makes her seem extremely basic. (And please, TV production companies, start hiring younger people to create onscreen graphics who will know that hashtags can't have apostrophes in them!)
Anyway: if Emily already knows more about marketing than everyone at Savoir and has nothing to learn about life from the French, then why are we watching her?
If Emily comes across as a live-action Strawberry Shortcake — I assume the production took out extra insurance on Lily Collins's smile and eyebrows — then imagine how dire the situation is when I tell you that Mindy is even more woefully underwritten. The would-be heiress to a Chinese zipper fortune who washed out on the country's version of American Idol, when it was discovered that her father was a billionaire and the audience turned on her, Mindy has eschewed the safe path her father wants her to take and refused his financial support, dropping out of school in Paris to take a job as a nanny. Any single element of her backstory is more compelling than Emily in her entirety, which is why it's so frustrating that Mindy doesn't get more to do than tell Emily about French mores and occasionally express moderate horniness like a sixth-generation photocopy of Samantha Jones. And why anyone bothered to cast Kate Walsh for fewer scenes in the whole season than I have fingers on one hand, I don't know.
If you want to watch a cute, well-dressed girl get it on with hot guys in some very telegenic settings that you may not get to visit yourself for another year — if ever — give Emily in Paris a shot. If you tried Younger but found the secret-keeping too stressful, or the literary plotlines too highbrow, this show may have been conceived with you in mind. But if you watch Younger and love it, you will not be able to ignore the many ways Emily pales in comparison. No need to find your passport to join Emily in Paris, mes chéris; it's a non for me.
The first season of Emily in Paris drops October 2nd on Netflix.
People are talking about Emily in Paris in our forums. Join the conversation.
Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.