Culture Film & TV

Emily in Paris: Light-hearted escapism at its worst

Netflix has once again provided us with a trashy, two-dimensional comedy drama, this time in the form of the 10-episode series Emily in Paris, where the bright-eyed and somewhat naïve Emily (Lily Collins) becomes the new American employee for a Parisian marketing firm.

Watch as the inevitable culture clash takes place, with her colleagues behaving like stereotyped French snobs, characterised by their rudeness, their overt sexuality, and a general dislike of Emily’s social media know-how. This is all interspersed with Emily’s progression towards Insta-fame, and a follower count that soars as a result of a series of embarrassing tourist-type snaps of Paris that she combines with alliterating and punny hashtags.

Her love life inevitably transforms once she breaks up with her dead-beat boyfriend from Chicago, and she is soon confronted with the non-monogamous and open-minded advances of the Parisian male population. This leads to a series of interactions that range from creepy, to ‘sexy’, to down-right workplace harassment.

All of this is centred on her ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship with downstairs neighbour Gabriel, the French chef, and Armie Hammer look-alike. Unfortunately, Gabriel has a girlfriend- the exceptionally friendly and downright perfect Camille, who soon becomes fast friends with Emily. 

While this all sounds like the recipe for a light-hearted and binge-worthy Netflix show, there are a few problems with Emily in Paris that are sometimes a little too hard to ignore.

First a minor issue, but still something I couldn’t help noticing, was just how unrealistic the show is in its depiction of Paris. Emily seems to live in the most picturesque area of the city, with no public transport, poverty, or a single ugly building in sight. She appears to live in a 1km squared postage-stamp Paris, where all her friends frequent cafés and restaurants just down the street from her apartment, and every building has a view of the Eiffel Tower. Anyone who’s done Paris-on-a-budget will struggle to find their own experience reflected in this idealised, Americanised vision.

Then perhaps most unforgivably, attempts to create a ‘diverse’ cast have produced the absolute bare minimum, with the only non-white characters in sight being Emily’s stereotyped best friend Mindy, as well as a vaguely queer-coded work colleague. The latter has no backstory whatsoever, whilst BFF Mindy has a plotline so ridiculous that it comes across as an afterthought. This is highly disappointing, especially when it comes to representing a city as multicultural as Paris.

As for heteronormativity, this show has it in abundance. Emily can barely leave her front door before a series of bland, characterless white men appear to try and gain her affection. It got to the point where there was pretty much a new one every episode, whose names I can barely remember, perhaps with the exception of her main love interest Gabriel.

At one point, I did start to think they were setting Emily up to develop a relationship with Gabriel’s girlfriend Camille- their first interaction was punctuated by an accidental kiss on the lips, as well as several other overtly friendly instances. But no- this was apparently just part of the set up before Camille was revealed to be Gabriel’s girlfriend. According to Emily in Paris, the only people in the city who appear to be getting any are heterosexual.

On top of this, the plot points are predictable to the extreme, so much so that the cause-and-effect series of events can be guessed almost always before they take place. 

And yet despite everything, I still watched all 10 episodes, and ultimately didn’t hate the experience, even if I was irritated to the point of yelling at the screen at times. Perhaps it has something to do with Lily Collins, who always looked so cheerful in her fun outfits and with her enviable eyebrows, never relenting on her mission to complete whatever vague or inexplicable task her job demanded of her.

The other reason for the show’s success is that everyone is probably in the mood for a bit of light-hearted predictability right now- something easy, unchallenging, and totally expected. Ostensibly, there’s nothing really wrong with that. But shows like this won’t do much to improve the standard of Netflix’s content, or to change the continuing problem of representation in the media we consume. Ultimately, Emily in Paris is escapism at its worst, and it seems we’re all just lapping it up.

Sarah Lewis

Sarah is a non-fiction contributor, primarily writing about film, TV and music. When she's not writing she enjoys spending time on the Cornish coast, and working on her poetry.