TV TATTLE

Emily in Paris should've been escapist fun, but it's infuriating in its shallowness

  • Darren Star's Netflix dramedy "bombards us with heavily confected prettiness—the clothes, the streets, the characters (at least it allows the amazing Ashley Park, as Emily’s friend Mindy, to sing)," says Tim Teeman. "But it is also low on all the charm it should possess. You don’t root for its lead character, because there is not much to root for. Whenever this person sees something she likes, she whips her phone out and snaps a selfie. The show is obsessed by her rising number of followers. How does Emily feel about being somewhere new, somewhere foreign? She doesn’t care. She’s more interested in the background to every shot. She gains influence and power this way, but it also makes her seem utterly shallow and surface. Even when the show puts Emily in a room of other influencers to show how normal she is and how grotesque they are, the scene has the opposite effect; she is just as grasping, she is just cuter as she grasps. What is really terrible about Emily in Paris? That its heroine is a social media-addicted influencer who works in marketing and appears to have no depth of character beyond those signifiers. The show is as shallow as she is. She trots around in cute outfits, cute guys on her trail, solving utterly forgettable professional crises. That’s it...It is not unusual for female characters to be diminished on TV and film. But Emily in Paris diminishes its heroine from the first moment; they turn her from professional woman to simpering girl. It is not romantic, or cute, but dispiriting, particularly as the show at one point decides to take what seems at first like an interesting side-turn down #MeToo alley." Teeman adds that Emily in Paris "has a heroine who should be charming. It is set in a city that should ooze charm. It is structured like a fairytale. The clothes and settings should be the cherry. But Emily in Paris feels like an Instagram post itself—airbrushed, too perfect, too set in place, too calculated to elicit our pleasure. It doesn’t have mess, it doesn’t have a heart. It just twinkles at us, and expects this to be enough to gain our likes."

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    • Emily in Paris is a baby boomer's fantasy of a lazy millennial's life: "Part of the fun of watching Emily in Paris is figuring out what media Darren Star has plucked directly from and mashed up to create this show," says Alex Abad-Santos. "The introduction of Mindy (Ashley Park), Emily’s best friend, as a good-hearted Chinese zipper heiress with a bunch of very wealthy Chinese friends makes me believe he very much enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. The way Sylvie talks feels like he told Leroy-Beaulieu to just watch Meryl Streep’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada over and over. Gabriel’s chef drama signals that Star may have marathoned both seasons of Sweetbitter and/or loves Top Chef. But the way Emily spouts off talking points about social engagement, audience, and interactions makes me believe Starr was probably called into a corporate meeting with a social media team to learn how to relate to the youths. Emily comes across as a character written by someone who had heard good things about those millennials but never actually encountered one in real life. And what he took away from his education was a sense of relentless pressure to work hard and perform well. Starr’s conclusion seems to have been that millennials have a constant need to work all the time, and if they aren’t working, then they’re not succeeding."
    • When the dreck like Emily In Paris takes hold and disseminates naturally through the internet’s tentacles like poison, does that count as success?: "Emily in Paris is an MTV production, but something about the show airing on Netflix gives it a sheen of respectability, tricking the mind into thinking that this could be something in and around the middlebrow pleasures of Younger or its spiritual cousin, The Bold Type, which is a much better workplace dramedy steeped in the same sort of empowerment feminism as this show," says Megan Reynolds. "There’s no point in attempting to review the show on its own merits, because there really aren’t any, except for its watchability, which is arguable at best. (For the record, I will probably finish this show, against my own best intentions, because like the rest of us, I am starved for anything new.) For Netflix, a corporation that exists to capture attention, this is the end game."
    • Emily in Paris' biggest mistake is Emily herself: "There are lots of faux pas in Emily: Emily’s hot love interest from the provinces somehow speaks impeccable English and has a schedule no one who has ever worked in hospitality could vouch for," says Sarah Moroz. "Emily gets confused by her apartment building’s floors and the way the date is written; berets are worn as sincere style affects. But the most egregious oversight, which accounts for the show’s overall artificiality, is Emily herself, who shows zero personal growth over a ten-episode arc. The show’s creators may view Emily’s ignorance/arrogance with some side-eye, but mostly the show is intended as lightweight and mollifying, a by-proxy fantasy for viewers to 'travel' to the City of Light. Yet featuring a character who never rethinks her personhood, whose sense of imagination and purpose flares only when she is scheming brand strategy, conjures not only an enormous amount of secondhand embarrassment but speaks to her flatness as a protagonist. Emily’s vapidity is baffling to anyone who has moved from their native country. Being displaced — even from a position of absolute privilege — creates a minor revolution to your sense of what is normative. When faced with new surroundings, customs, and even intonations, where you fit and what you want and how much you can or wish to adapt is called into question. It’s a jarring exercise to review your own needs and desires, however slightly, as a function of where you are. It is also exhausting, confusing, infuriating, and enriching."
    • Emily in Paris is bad, and not in a fun way: Though plenty of critics have Found it to be fun-bad, "I just found Emily in Paris mostly…bad-bad," says Shannon Keating. "The show, as many have pointed out, feels fresh out of 2005, even though Emily’s bafflingly quick rise to social media influencer status is all too modern," says Keating. "Unlike another similarly girlboss-y show, The Bold Type, Emily in Paris doesn’t even bother to gesture at the contemporary tenets of corporate feminism, let alone any other kind of justice-minded narrative. Whereas Emily’s Bold Type counterparts contend with issues like racism in magazine publishing, queer representation, and sexual harassment and assault, Emily’s biggest crises involve small-fry problems on the job, which are mostly the result of her hopeless Americanness and failure to adapt to French culture."
    • In defense of Emily in Paris, an irresistible fantasy: There is "something appealing about Emily’s improbable lifestyle and Star’s allergy to conflict," says Shirley Li. " The producer never goes too far or treads too lightly with any element of the series. The story is soapy, but not overdramatic. The jokes are sexual, but not risque. Emily’s French colleagues are critical, but not withering. But as obnoxious as Emily's behavior may be, the chaos of Star's nonsensical interpretation of Paris eventually becomes riveting. In fact, after a few episodes, I found the show comforting, because I knew exactly what to expect: eye-popping outfits, silly puns, picturesque shots of Paris—and absolutely zero tension. As the season progresses, Emily’s sunny nonchalance becomes her—and the show’s—strong suit. She laughs at her faux pas. She notices but doesn’t dwell on her co-workers’ criticisms. She moves past a breakup with ease. She’s not ignorant of her missteps; she’s just utterly unfazed by them. She’s a Millennial who also happens to be a worry-free, serial optimist, a mix so supernatural in today’s TV landscape that it made even a jaded viewer like me cheer on her idealism. Emily in Paris operates like a high-end perfume ad: cinematic in looks, low-stakes in plot, and somehow so strangely captivating that you can’t look away. Star’s shows have generally been devoid of consequential drama, but he’s never told a full-blown fantasy."
    • Emily in Paris is unrelenting in its pro-American propaganda: The Netflix series is an ill-timed love letter to American exceptionalism, says Noah Berlatsky. "While Emily in Paris has been billed as a romantic comedy, the real focus of the series is on the star's career advancement, which is closely linked to her national virtues," he says. "The Paris office's stereotypically cynical and lazy French staff is no match for Emily's American hustle and know how. Each episode introduces a business setback that causes Emily to pout fetchingly before coming up with a dazzling pitch or a social media post that solves everything." Berlatsky adds: "In another era this particular fantasy might not be so jarring. American ignorance these days doesn't mean assuming the best of everyone. It means encouraging people to inject bleach and telling partisans not to take basic public health measures during a pandemic. Emily doesn’t seem politically conservative, but the show's glib American exceptionalism and relentless sunniness in the midst of escalating disease and despair seem uncomfortably in line with a president who spent months trying to downplay Covid-19 only to test positive for it on Friday."
    • Emily in Paris' awfulness is extended to its food: "What could have been, and should have been, a blissful escapist confection, the Darren Star — he of Sex in the City and Younger — production is instead a croissant of poop and pee that proves, as Sartre entitled his play, there is no exit," says  Joshua David Stein. "The remit of this review, like all Eater at the Movies, is how food plays into the show. In this case, all of Emily in Paris’s ineptitude can be refracted through the show’s boulangerie, brasserie, and bistro, which, like every other aspect of the city, is simplified into inane simulacra, a fetishized form whose richness and texture has been stripped away through Instagram filters and the willful trite presuppositions, not to mention arrogance and cupidity, of the titular character, Emily."
    • Why are all the men on Emily in Paris toxic?: "Let's be real, no matter how handsome Emily's slew of Frenchmen are, nor how fabulous the outfits, Emily in Paris glaringly leans into a cringeworthy world where sexual harassment, cheating boyfriends, and leering clients are all part of the fantasy," says Samantha Bergeson. "In a post-#MeToo world, the Netflix hit attempts to tackle the 'is it sexy in France but sexist in America?' overarching theme but does more harm than good."
    • Ashley Park says "this show really changed my life": "Not only because it was a dream job, but it really changed me in terms of me coming into my own womanhood," she says. "It was so meta the entire time. Everything that Emily is figuring out and discovering, and her growing as a woman and as an adult, is exactly what I was experiencing."
    • Lily Collins flew from Paris to Los Angeles to film Mank on weekends during filming of Emily in Paris: “I would fly on a Saturday morning get to L.A. on Saturday morning, go to rehearsals all of Saturday with David (Fincher), and Sunday morning get back on a plane, fly through the night, get off the plane, sleep for four hours, and go into work on Emily at 5am. It was the craziest experience but you have to do it. I’ll go from Emily in Paris to Lily in L.A. and I’ll get off the plane zonked out of my mind and go into rehearsals with David and jump back on the plane. It was a crazy whirlwind.”
    • Emily's awful social media is an insult to actual social media editors
    • Emily's terrible hats are dividing the internet
    • Despite Emily in Paris being a bad show, it has inspired some great memes
    • 13 things Emily in Paris gets wrong about Paris: From the beret to the high heels
    • How does Darren Star define a "Darren Star show"?: Star says his greatest influence is The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That's why his shows focus on career-oriented women “wanting to lead strong, independent lives.” Star adds that "when I pitched Sex and the City to HBO for the first time, I said, ‘I want it to feel like The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the ’90s.'" Star also admits to being drawn to fish-out-of-water stories, which has resulted in Younger and Beverly Hills, 90210. “I know what it’s like. I am a fish out of water in Paris, and I always have been,” says Star of Emily in Paris. “I have felt that whenever I’m there, and I kind of enjoy that. I can find the humor in it.”

    TOPICS: Emily in Paris, Netflix, Ashley Park, Darren Star, Lily Collins




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