Emily in Paris is a treat, a beguiling work of Netflix escapism, and also, let’s face it, the closest you will likely get to Paris in the next six months. It is a Darren Star show, which means it’s fun and stylish and only partly steeped in reality. It is unabashedly on the side of its plucky heroine, played by Lily Collins, who dresses like Carrie Bradshaw and is self-involved like Carrie Bradshaw and is also charming, so you will root for her regardless of her flaws, like … Carrie Bradshaw. The first season of Emily in Paris, which drops in full this Friday, contains some moments that are seductive and others that require you to suspend your disbelief so forcefully that they may induce minor temporary brain damage. You also will not care at all about the excessive disbelief suspension because, again, Emily in Paris is a treat, and in 2020, people are desperate for any excuse to treat themselves.
This particular treat doesn’t waste any time establishing its premise. As the first episode begins, Emily Cooper, who works at Gilbert Group, a large Chicago-based marketing firm, is chatting with her boss, Madeline Wheeler (Kate Walsh), about Madeline’s pending move to Paris to work with a boutique luxury-focused firm, Savoir, which Gilbert Group has just acquired. While sniffing some perfume, Madeline immediately becomes nauseous and throws up in her office trash can. A woman vomiting can mean only one thing: preg-nant! No, seriously, that’s the only reason a woman ever vomits on television. Come on, we all know this.
Within four minutes of screen time, after Madeline confirms her pregnancy and passes on the job, Emily arrives in Paris, where she’ll take on Madeline’s role for a year and, in her mind, totally make things work long-distance with her boring American boyfriend. That latter detail seems instantly ludicrous as soon as she cute-meets her downstairs neighbor, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a ridiculously handsome chef with whom she strikes up a friendship. And by “friendship,” I mean they look at each other longingly a lot until maybe, perhaps, one of them makes a move.
Emily is lucky to have Gabriel and another newly acquired acquaintance, a nanny named Mindy (Ashley Park of Broadway’s Mean Girls), since her co-workers at Savoir — especially Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who runs the place — want little to do with her. It’s understandable, to an extent. She has no experience working with the kinds of fashion and cosmetic brands that are their core clients. (Her previous big professional win was a campaign for a diabetes medication.) She can’t speak French. She arrives on her first day of work wearing a button-down shirt with an image of the Eiffel Tower on it. She is the quintessential basic American.
For their part, though, her colleagues are dismissive, rude, and largely resistant to new ideas. In other words, they are stereotypically French. This clash of cultures defines Emily in Paris and may call to mind another Star series, TV Land’s Younger. (Emily in Paris was originally intended as a TV Land series, then was slated to air on the Paramount Network before ultimately being picked up by Netflix, which, honestly, is a perfect fit given the show’s binge-worthiness.) In many ways, Emily in Paris plays like a complement to Younger. Both center on women trying to succeed in unwelcoming professional climates. That character on Younger, Sutton Foster’s Liza, is a middle-aged woman pretending to be a millennial, while on Emily in Paris, she’s a millennial American trying to seem more savvy among the French elite. Both Emily and Liza have antagonistic relationships with their supervisors. (Sylvie is a tougher version of Younger’s Diana.) Even the aesthetics of Emily in Paris are reminiscent of Younger, from the glamorous events Emily frequently attends to the time-lapse images of Paris that bridge the transitions between scenes. If you’ve been missing that series about generational warfare in book publishing, Emily in Paris does a fine job making up for its absence.
To be clear: Younger is still the smarter show, in part because it’s easier to buy that Liza is good at her job (since she secretly possesses professional and life experience) but also because there’s often a gulf between what Emily does and the degree to which she is praised for it. This is particularly true when her social-media skills are on display. In the seventh episode, Emily attends an event for influencers hosted by Durée, a chichi cosmetics brand and former Savoir client. She Instagrams a video of herself wearing its lip gloss and, while eating a berry off of a nearby piece of leafy décor, declares it “smudgeproof, even when you’re berry hungry.” (Emily’s brand is basically puns and plays on words.) Within seconds, the head of Durée sees the video and says to her assistant, “I like her, she’s clever.” I assume the Durée lady really got a kick out of Emily’s Insta post in episode nine: a photo of a cheeseburger in a restaurant accompanied by the hashtag #CheeseburgerinParadise.
As cringey as her Insta can be, it’s still entertaining to watch Emily triumph over try-hards and mega-snobs and resourcefully figure out how to smoothly detangle herself from work snags. It’s also a great pleasure to watch her encounters with Gabriel. Collins and Bravo have an easy chemistry, and Bravo, a French actor and model, has a naturally gentle quality that distinguishes him from the other, more presumptuous men who pursue Emily. (Of course, she is pursued by multiple men. She is attractive, and she is in Paris and that means she has to have sex. The show is very clear on this point.) Bravo is also arguably the hottest guy ever to appear on a Darren Star show, and yes, that is a statement. This writer stands by it.
The humans don’t provide the only eye candy on Emily in Paris. Frequent Star collaborator Patricia Field worked on the costumes, which are invariably eye popping and Google-worthy. The whole first season was shot in Paris, and the way the filmmakers, including executive producer Andrew Fleming, who directs multiple episodes, capture the quaint cafés and walk-and-talks along the Seine makes the city seem both tangible and magical. The pacing in each roughly half-hour episode zips right along, which makes it very reasonable to say, “Oh, I’ll just watch one more.” And you will. That’s practically a guarantee.
During one scene, Emily argues with a co-worker who insists French romances are better than American rom-coms because they’re darker and more realistic. “Don’t you want to go to the movies to escape life?,” Emily asks. Girl, thanks to the pandemic, a lot of Americans still can’t even do that. When we want to escape life, we can turn to Netflix, and when we do, Emily in Paris will be there to say “Bonjour,” in a very American accent.