Netflix UK TV review: Emily in Paris
Services to cultural relations1
Charlotte Harrison | On 01, Oct 2020
A couple of months ago yours truly wrote this review of Selling Sunset. It reflected on why, during these tumultuous times, the escapism of grandiose lives far removed from our own can be extremely comforting. After watching 10 episodes (roughly five hours) of Emily In Paris, it’s clear that review should have carried a disclaimer: non-fictional, structured reality shows, such as Selling Sunset and Below Deck, do the job of letting us play voyeur to the lifestyles of the rich and/or famous. We laugh at the varying degrees of audacity. Vapid fictional TV such as Emily In Paris, however, does the reverse, infuriating with how out of touch it is.
Extraordinarily dated without any semblance of contemporaneity or cultural/social/political awareness, this programme is a televisual vacuum, leeching upon its viewers as it genuinely has nothing to say. This isn’t like consuming junk food – filling for a short period and serving as a great distraction – this is nutrition-less mush of the lowest order. And not in a so-bad-it’s-good-way. In a so-bad-it’s-really-bad way.
Within five minutes of Episode 1, the premise is set. Emily (Lily Collins) works for a marketing firm in Chicago. She has a slightly older boss, Madeline (Kate Walsh – The Handler from Umbrella Academy), she is quite close to, and a vanilla boyfriend (whom there is no point getting attached to). Madeline is due to be moving to Paris to work in the office of their new marketing firm acquisition, with Emily being promoted in her absence. Together they sniff the perfume of one of their new accounts – Emily describes it as “like wearing poetry” but it causes Madeline to throw up. Can you guess why? Madeline finds out she’s pregnant – even though everyone thought she was too old and has no idea which of the many candidates could be the father (more about this later). So Emily leaves behind said vanilla boyfriend and moves to Paris, even though she, a la Girls Aloud, can’t speak French.
The rest of the episode, and the other episodes, follow Emily’s fish-out-of-water exploits – with so little nuance that this almost feels like a hate crime to anyone from France, anyone who has visited France or anyone who likes France. The fact this has been made recently is something that appals more and more while watching, such is the degree of xenophobia and cultural appropriation masking as comedy. Every single attempt at a punchline comes from Emily being American and the person/s she is interacting with being French – which quickly becomes as nauseating as it sounds. Apparently, all French people smoke, are snobby, are degenerates when it comes to dating, have strange traditions and routines, are lazy, and speak a confusing, strange language.
Then you add in how clumsily – almost offensively – it touches upon important issues, from Madeline’s pregnancy to cultural differences and gender – the discussion of the male gaze, feminism and the #MeToo movement in Episode 3 will tempt you to throw something at your screen. The lack of awareness this show has about anything truly boggles the mind.
In what is either a continuity error or one of the show’s many unexplained moments, the opening sequence of Episode 2 sees Emily take one of her many selfies at the end of a run. Her social media account is revealed to have 230 followers. After an awkward encounter with her hot neighbour (because the way French people refer to floors in building is just so confusing…) and a shower, Emily heads off to work but steps in dog mess. She takes a picture and uploads it with a zany hashtag – she now has 1,435 followers. Her increase of 1,135 followers in the space of what was likely 30 minutes is unexplained. Emily merely observes the number with a self-satisfied “Huh”, then heads onto work.
“Self-satisfied” is a phrase that perfectly describes Emily. She’s a ridiculous archetype of what people think young women are like – and, as a result, becomes quite possibly the least relatable TV protagonist in recent history. She’s a nauseatingly oblivious and entitled bingo card of romantic comedy clichés. She’s extremely slim but talks about food all the time – her discovery of croissants will test your tolerance – and never gains any weight, possibly because she only ever has one bite at most. She runs all the time, admiring the city and taking snaps she uploads to social media. She constantly attracts male suitors (each one indistinguishable from the last) wherever she goes. She becomes clumsy when embarrassed around them and they find it charming and endearing. She has a hot neighbour she can’t get with for various reasons – he’s been intrigued by her since day one, again for reasons that make little sense to the viewer. Her new boss hates her, motivated by a strain of jealousy, and does all she can to get her to quit. Essentially, Emily is a manic, cutesy nightmare of the highest order.
So are the ensemble cast, who are all on a sliding scale of unlikability and speak as if their dialogue was written by an algorithm that has only ever seen ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, Moulin Rouge, Ratatouille, Midnight in Paris and some episodes of The Simpsons. This show is so ripe it is an affront. Save yourself and give it a miss.