Emily in Paris (2020): The City of Lights and Love

Netflix, Inc.
Netflix, Inc.

Created by Darren Star, Emily in Paris is a popular romantic comedy drama that is currently streaming on Netflix. A 30-minute per episode series, the first season consists of 10 episodes with more to come. Starring Lily Collins as the titular Emily, the glamorous cast includes Ashley Park (as Mindy Chen), Phillippine Leroy-Beaulieu (as Sylvie), Lucas Bravo (as Gabriel) and Camille Razat (as Camille). 

Do note that this review is not spoiler-free.

The quirky main character

In her 20s, the young Emily Cooper is a starry-eyed woman who has a master’s degree in Communications. Fearless and driven, the intelligent Emily is a highly-motivated and opportunistic individual who manages to turn problems into PR chances. Lily Collins has portrayed the character exceptionally, even the coquettish characteristic with every smile and tilt. 

The dramatic storyline

Clinching an opportunity to work in the Paris branch of the Chicago marketing firm, the American Emily moves to France with a head full of hopes and a heart full of dreams. Emily, however, is more than surprised to find that everything is different from what she has envisioned. 

Far from welcoming, the beautiful metropolitan is less than friendly. Emily’s new boss and colleagues look down on her with contempt, “You came to Paris, and you don’t speak French — that is arrogant,” as quoted by Luc (played by Bruno Gouery) who later becomes her friend. Herein ensues a challenging environment with Emily struggling to learn French on the go while attempting relentlessly to get her colleagues to accept her. Sylvie, meanwhile, is less than impressed with the American. 

While life’s not full of sunshine and rainbows, there are still times when Emily is in love with Paris. The gorgeous skyline, the heavenly food, and of course, Emily’s sexy neighbour, Gabriel. As Emily juggles with her career, new friendships and romances are formed along the way with her heart set firmly on one. 

Finally, the storyline navigates towards fashion in the City of Vogue. Old-fashioned yet exquisite French luxury versus new, avant-garde American style. Predictably, the meaning of fashion is challenged in Paris, with the old eventually innovating to re-capture the hearts of the modern world.

The (complicated) relationships

Emily and Gabriel
Netflix, Inc.

Relationship, as it seems in Emily in Paris, is polygamous in France.

Sylvie, who is the distinguished head of the highly-respected marketing firm, is actually the mistress of Antoine Lambert (played by William Abadie). As Emily comes to realise, marriages and relationships are not as definite as it is supposed to be. Antoine’s wife has accepted Sylvie as the mistress and has even given her explicit permission for Emily to become yet another sexual partner for her husband. 

Gabriel, the star-studded hunk who has been flirting with Emily on and off throughout the series, is also revealed to be in a relationship with sweet Camille. 

“Look, you haven’t done Paris right until you’ve had at least one wildly inappropriate affair,” Mindy suggests to Emily, disclosing her thoughts on the amorous French culture. 

The sex and the romance

Paris is known to be the City of Love and Romance, and perhaps casual sex too. 

Sex is a topic discussed frequently in Emily in Paris along with the theme of romance. Emily has had one night stands with men she had met in a cafe, in a winery, and her neighbour (yes, it’s Gabriel) too. 

When Emily had done the deed with Camille’s younger brother who is 17 year-old, she is more than horrified to find out that he is underage. It is rather astounding when everyone dismisses her embarrassment; moreso when Camille’s mother called to speak alone with Emily, only to discuss if her son’s skills in bed are up to standard rather than reproaching the latter. Perhaps this is the Parisian’s open-minded way of love and romance that transcends age. 

The French stereotypes

“We work to live and not live to work.” 

Emily’s motivation and passion for her work are more than quelled when her French colleagues are unhappy with her imposed list of commandments. These negative stereotypes further extend to the French being late for work, having extensive break time, and celebrating the act of “doing nothing”. 

In conjunction, several Chinese stereotypes are being used in the show with Mindy’s Asian character being centric. Mindy, who comes from a rich background, seems to be giving morally questionable advice with money being the solution to many things in life. 

The unfortunate controvesy

Many Parisians have taken offence with how Paris and its people are portrayed in the show. Beautiful architecture but rundown on the inside, with dog poop littering everywhere. Rude, mean, and lazy, the Parisians are painted as the big bully towards the new, innocent kid in town (Emily). 

While some stereotypes are true to a certain extent (French are known to speak their minds), the show has painted an unrealistic image of the people. From sexist, backward-thinking to the lack of loyalty, it seems that the French have little qualities to be admired in the show. Hence, many Parisians have taken negatively to the excessive clichés used. 

On the review site, AlloCiné, one user wrote sentiments shared by many, “A series that could have been great if it hadn’t caricatured the French. In this series, the French are described as arrogant, dirty, lazy, mean, bitter … but luckily this young American arrives to explain to us how life works. It’s just deplorable, I wonder why French actors agreed to star in this series.”

Charles Martin, Première’s critic, writes that there is indeed an insult while watching Emily in Paris. “The French are all mean and all lazy and never arrive at the office before late morning; and that they are incorrigible flirts with no concept of being faithful”. However, at the end of the day, Charles states that Darren Star’s little mockery is never really mean. 

My thoughts on the show

Paris is the city where dreams come true. Or at least it did for Emily in the show. For me, I guess I will have to visit the city to find out.

As a fan of Lily Collin’s performances, I find her character Emily to be rather likeable. Naive and driven, there are many aspects to learn from her, especially her perseverance and positivity. However, I disapprove of the character’s moral disintegrity whereby she acts as a friend towards Camille but sleeps with her boyfriend in secret. The theme ‘everything is condoned in Paris’ conveys a rather troublesome message whereby it is alright to do anything and everything, albeit wrong, because they will be able to get away with it in a foreign land.

That aside, I find Emily in Paris to be a compelling series with interesting love lines and over-the-top drama. In particular, I have loved the backdrops of Paris, transporting me to the metropolitan within thirty minutes along with stunning landscapes, ritzy costumes, and attractive yet entertaining characters.

Overall, Emily in Paris is an escapist drama for young adults. Be warned to take this show with a pinch of salt, it is intended to be more fantasy than factual. After all, how could a junior marketing executive be able to afford different chic outfits everyday?

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