Emily in Paris: Netflix’s New Original Series

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Photo by valcker via Flickr

Roar writer Charmaine Tan reviews Season One of Netflix’s new original series, Emily in Paris.

For some, Netflix’s new series, Emily in Paris, is nothing more than an egregious caricature of the French and Americans; it leaves a sour taste in their mouths for its lack of originality. On the other hand, some think of it as an intelligent piece of satire that gives them a reason to stay at home during the current pandemic.

First released on 2nd October 2020, Darren Star’s comedy-drama tells the tale of Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a Chicagoan marketing professional who is unexpectedly posted to Paris for a year during which she has to: one, win over her colleagues who all seem to have a negative preconception about Americans; and two, learn to navigate various cross-cultural differences.

Episode one begins with a conversation between Emily and her boss, Madeline Wheeler (Kate Walsh), in which they gush about the latter’s imminent move to Paris. However, it turns out she is pregnant, and thus, Emily is sent to Paris instead. Thrilled by the prospect of moving to the City of Light, Emily is quick to jump on the opportunity.

Unfortunately, her idealistic image of Paris falls apart as soon as she arrives to work on the first day. Emily finds herself welcomed – or rather, unwelcomed – by a rude Anglophone-hating woman, Sylvie Grateau (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), her soon-to-be boss. She is then further unwelcomed by Paul Brossard (Arnaud Viard), the outspoken owner of the firm, who appears to have absolutely zero qualms about pointing out America’s growing obesity problem and how “dégueulasse” (disgusting) American food is to her face.  

A quick search on Google reveals foreigners’ views of Parisians: a bunch of rude, snobby and lazy chain-smokers. Whether you agree or not, Emily in Paris confirms the stereotypes. Emily is a constant target for her colleagues’ snide comments since day one, despite having done nothing wrong. She’s always walking on eggshells, in fear of accidentally offending someone and falling prey to their rude remarks. With regards to nicotine addiction, multiple instances in the series reinforce this cliché, notably the scene where Sylvie replies, “No, I’ll have a cigarette,” when asked if she wants to have lunch. As for the reputation of the lazy French? Finish watching Episode one, where Emily’s French counterparts arrive to work two hours later than her.

The list of stereotypes doesn’t end there. Emily herself is a walking American cliché: loud, obnoxious, overly enthusiastic, and ignorant. She tries hard to fit in with the French, but fails miserably at every step. It’s not just her bright outfits and berets that make her stick out like a sore thumb; she’s ignorant about many of the faux pas in France and barely speaks a word of French. When she does, she embarrasses herself by accidentally ordering “préservatifs”  (condoms) at a café. It’s really no wonder she has such a hard time adjusting to the local culture.

Ironically, Emily’s first friend in Paris, Mindy Chen (Ashley Park), also happens to be an English-speaking foreigner, much like herself. Seeing how Mindy isn’t French, my guess is that Star didn’t think it was fair to portray her as rude or snobby. It’s probably also worth mentioning that neither of Emily’s nice newfound French friends from later on in the series – Camille (Camille Razat) and Gabriel (Lucas Bravo) – are Parisians, suggesting that the arrogant Parisian cliché holds water.

From florists to lovers to acclaimed fashion designers, the latter calling Emily a “ringarde” (“unfashionable” or  “basic bitch,” as characters in the series put it), there’s barely any Parisian who’s not giving Emily a hard time during her time in France. Nonetheless, as Season One progresses, Emily adapts to the new lifestyle and develops meaningful relationships with those around her. She eventually earns the respect of the designer who had once called her a ringarde, as well as the acceptance of Sylvie who had initially tried to fire her.

It’s difficult to understand how a series that purely revolves around clichés made it into the list of Top 10 Most Popular Shows on Netflix. Yet Emily in Paris did, even if the characters are a little too superficial and the depiction of Paris a little too picture-perfect. Nonetheless, Emily in Paris is filled with so many awkward moments that it’s bound to leave you smiling and maybe even looking forward to a Season Two.

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