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Emily in Paris Is a Fluffy, Charming Cliché Soufflé

We’ve all had this fantasy: an imperious French woman levels a stern gaze at you and says, in lilting English, “Delete your account.” Television writer Darren Star has long been a purveyor of fantasy, most famously as the creator of Sex and the City. And so, in his new series Emily in Paris (Netflix, September 30), Star blesses us with this almost erotic moment, a Huppert-esque woman telling us exactly what we should all be doing in these terrible digital times of ours.

On the show, though, the line is meant as an impediment for its titular star, a young marketing whiz who’s found herself cavorting the City of Light after an unexpected career twist. She’s been brought there, quite to the frustration of the locals, to revitalize a French marketing house so that it may better represent luxury brands to the young women of the United States. Emily in Paris is, almost shockingly at times, very much a show about social-media marketing, influencers, and the hideous convergence of commerce and personal life. It’s a love letter to terrible things, and yet I swooned.

Fine, okay, “swooned” might be a strong word. Felt the first tingle of a crush, maybe. I happily devoured it. Glugged it with a bottle of champagne while I sat on my couch, dreaming of traipsing along the Seine, sans mask. (I added the champagne part for dramatic effect, but you absolutely should watch this show drunk.) The point is, Emily in Paris goes down a treat if you can set aside the myriad things it does badly or, perhaps worse, fails to do at all. Anyone with a passing knowledge of how the city of Paris actually functions in 2020 will find the show’s portraiture lacking, to say the least. The way the series values fabulousness and the selling of things over pretty much everything else is also not great for this particular juncture in human history. But if you can tolerate, or even crave, some empty calories right now, Star and company deliver the goods.

Lily Collins plays Emily, a clever but not exactly savvy twenty-something who leaves her native Chicago, and her boyfriend, to fill in for a newly pregnant coworker (Kate Walsh in a recurring cameo, perhaps doing a solid for the ‘flix family on breaks from The Umbrella Academy). Off Emily jets, speaking no French, terribly unprepared for the way French people are. Which, in the show’s estimation, is haughty and chauvinistic and ever lunching instead of working. It’s a pretty quaint view of contemporary Parisians, so steeped in years of American stereotyping that it’s weird that Emily is shocked to find her new co-workers like this. All Parisians aren’t this way, of course, and yet so many movies and shows (including Sex and the City! Which Emily surely would have watched!) have told Americans that they are. So it’s awfully strange that Emily, in this little jewel box simulation of Earth, is so surprised to encounter these styles and customs.


What I mean is, the show should be—or at least could be—a little more aware of its cliché. But, non. It is instead happy to gambol off into its tightly prescriptive version of things without question, tossing its poisson into new eau that is almost entirely of its own invention. Which, I guess, is the show’s prerogative, to depict a place how it wants to depict it. Sociology it ain’t.

Anyway, Emily in Paris moves along at a witty enough clip that you can’t spend much time scratching your head at all its curious anachronisms and flagrant, willful inaccuracies. Each episode is only a half-hour, just like Sex and the City, which means you barely have a chance to question things before Emily has found herself in her next mildly intriguing entanglement, job-related or romantic. Collins click-clacks along the show’s cobblestones with aplomb, selling Emily’s tourist-y guilelessness and her workplace acumen. She does so in high fashion, ornate outfits put together by Sex and the City mainstay clothier Patricia Field and costume designer Marylin Fitoussi.

Just like Carrie’s beaux on Sex and the City, the men in Emily’s life are handsome but not too alienatingly hot. They have at least a slight rumple of real life, nicely off-setting Emily’s TV-made glow. Emily has a sassy, singing best friend in Mindy Chen, a Chinese expat heiress played smartly by Mean Girls the Musical Tony nominee Ashley Park. Emily’s boss—who delivers that withering “Delete your account”—is played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who sometimes seems a little embarrassed to be there, debasing her people so. Mostly, though, she commits herself ably to the antagonizing, and maybe every so slightly softening, grande doyenne role.

As the show teeters along, it stays curiously muted about sex, particularly considering its source. Perhaps that’s because the series was originally developed for regular old cable, before the Paramount Network shuffled it off to Netflix. (It’s beginning to seem that Paramount has just become a clearinghouse studio for future Netflix movies and shows.) There is at least one very amusing, and almost ethically wrong, sexual encounter that gives the show a much needed frisson of danger, but otherwise Emily in Paris is almost disarmingly pleasant and frictionless, free of real stakes beyond whether or not Emily will have to quit her burgeoning Instagram account to please her stern and stuck-in-her ways boss.

The big business deals are landed and lost, the men bedded and bemoaned. The croissants are flaky, the jokes alternately pop-culture piquant and corny. What more could you want? (Well, a lot more, but these are meager times.) Oh, and the city looks great. No matter what silliness is set in its streets, it is, after all, still Paris.

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