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Emily in Paris Continues to Be the Least Self-Aware Show on TV

Much like its self-absorbed protagonist, Emily in Paris Season 2 fails to learn from its mistakes.
  • Emily (Lily Collins) continues to wreak havoc upon Paris in Season 2. (Photo: Netflix)
    Emily (Lily Collins) continues to wreak havoc upon Paris in Season 2. (Photo: Netflix)

    When Emily in Paris debuted in early October 2020, it was widely criticized as a superficial story about a self-centered American, known among her co-workers as La Plouc (“the hick”), who makes little effort to learn about the vibrant world she’s lucky enough to be thrust into. The backlash only intensified when the Netflix comedy was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards (over I May Destroy You, it should be noted), and as production began on Season 2, creator Darren Star issued a promise: moving forward, Emily (Lily Collins) will no longer get a “free pass” as she navigates French culture. “I think she will be more assimilated,” said Star, “In terms of living in Paris and stepping up to the challenges of learning the language.”

    Now le jour du jugement has finally come for Emily in Paris, and things are not looking great for the peppy marketing exec. In its sophomore outing, Emily in Paris continues to display a stunning lack of self-awareness, particularly when it comes to Emily’s various personal and professional disasters. By the end of the first episode, it becomes clear that Star has not taken the criticism about Emily’s flawed worldview to heart — in fact, he appears to have doubled down on it. As a result, much of the new season feels cartoonish at best, and downright infuriating at worst.

    Emily in Paris Season 2 picks up just days after the events of the Season 1 finale, which saw Emily sleep with her downstairs neighbor, the talented chef Gabriel (Lucas Bravo). At the time, this was purely a goodbye tryst — although Emily admits it was “the most incredible night of sex I’ve ever had in my entire life” — before Gabriel moves to Normandy to open a new resaturant, but in the final moments of Season 1, he reveals he’ll be staying in Paris. Gabriel’s bombshell complicates Emily’s relationship with Camille (Camille Razat), one of her best friends and Gabriel’s girlfriend, and she spends the first few episodes of the season trying to keep Camille in the dark about the affair.

    With her follower-obsessed mentality, Emily has always been a difficult character to root for, but the way she handles the Gabriel-Camille situation erases any sympathy viewers may have had left for her. The expat goes to great lengths to keep her secret, and when things finally come to a head, she’s indignant that Camille won’t hear her out and move on with their friendship as if nothing has happened. In this specific instance, Emily in Paris plays the story for laughs with two Jules et Jim-inspired sequences, but it’s one of the few moments (if not the only moment) where the show seems aware that Emily’s bubbly, “darling” persona is actually the problem. If Emily in Paris is going to insist upon telling the story from Emily’s perspective, it needs to be willing to highlight and criticize her more ridiculous impulses, of which there are many, rather than continue to present them as charming little foibles that are easy to overcome.

    Nowhere are Emily’s shortcomings more apparent than at work, where she continues to clash with her boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) and co-workers Julien (Bruno Gouery) and Luc (Samuel Arnold). In one Season 2 plotline, Emily travels to San Tropez and heads to a beach club serving Camille’s family’s champagne brand, Champère, which her company is representing. Emily has been told repeatedly that the French don’t work on vacation, and that she should not ask the beach club owner about the champagne, and yet she spends the entire episode bothering everyone within a five-mile radius about it. What could have been an opportunity for Emily to learn why the French take work-life balance so seriously instead reinforces the idea that the entire world revolves around this self-centered woman, as Emily realizes she’s projecting her guilt over the Camille situation onto the account.

    By treating its protagonist’s flawed perspective as gospel, Emily in Paris effectively negates the small, positive changes that Star has implemented between seasons. Season 2 expands the scope of the show to include scenes without Emily, which allows its French characters to actually speak their native language to one another (Star recently said that the English-speaking in Season 1 was largely due to the studio's concerns about subtitles). It also gives viewers a chance to spend more time with Mindy (Ashley Park), who takes an unexpected step in her singing career, and Sylvie, who finally gets a romantic storyline deserving of Leroy-Beaulieu’s talents. Not only are these narratives less irritating than Emily’s love triangle debacle, they offer a tantalizing glimpse of what Emily in Paris could be if it distances itself from its bullheaded American lead.

    In hindsight, it may have been naïve to think Emily in Paris could learn from its mistakes. The comedy premiered six months into the pandemic, when a beautiful, Parisian-set series seemed like the perfect escape, and it rode that wave of mindless good vibes right to the top of Netflix’s charts. It stands to reason that Netflix would want more of the same, and that’s exactly what the show delivers with Emily in Paris Season 2. After all, why bother embracing growth or change when your main character refuses to do the same?

    Emily in Paris Season 2 premieres Wednesday, December 22 on Netflix.

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    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Emily in Paris, Netflix, Darren Star, Lily Collins, Lucas Bravo