Emily in Paris: the cliche of all cliches

October 9, 2020

Every now and then, people need a series to take their minds off the unpleasantries of the world. “Emily in Paris,” released on Netflix on Oct. 2, certainly delivers on that brand. With a colorful wardrobe, a highly saturated color scheme and a quirky, excitable protagonist, “Emily in Paris” doesn’t ask its audience to think too much of its episodes. Rather, the show is more focused on transporting the audience to its interpretation of Paris: a seemingly perfect dream land in which there are affairs aplenty, unfairly attractive people around every corner and where cigarettes, croissants and relaxed mornings abound. 

Enter our protagonist Emily Cooper. Played by Lily Collins, Emily Cooper is the typical “hashtag relatable” rom-com heroine who does things like accidentally try to get into her very, very attractive neighbor’s apartment, accidentally use the French for “condom” instead of “preservatives” and also accidentally becomes an influencer via Instagram. 

That’s not to say Emily doesn’t have actual problems—as the new American employee in a French office, Emily goes through a culture shock. She’s looked down on for coming to France without knowing French. She makes little mistakes like talk about work at social gatherings. She struggles to work among people who have already made up their mind about who she is. For instance, Sylvie Grateau (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), the head of Emily’s new firm, is the main antagonist in the workspace and seems to take a certain pride in belittling Emily in public. She remarks on how Americans like Emily walk through Paris as tourists—and “after a year of food, sex, wine and a little culture,” Emily will waltz right back into her American life. Sylvie, as well as the other uppity people in the workplace, are therefore wary of letting Emily into their space. They’re wary of her overall Americanness, what with her “work hard” attitude and her desire to be politically correct—the latter of which is not even an accurate accusation.  

When shooting a perfume commercial, Emily points out that having a naked female model walk through a cloud of perfume is objectifying and just “would not fly” with American women in the current political climate. The French, of course, wave this off and chalk up their own perspective on the perfume commercial to a cultural difference—an explanation which actual French viewers deemed inaccurate and rather insulting, according to this New York Times article

And that isn’t the only incident of French culture being misrepresented as less moral than American culture. Starting from the first episode, Emily finds herself surrounded by many, many attractive French men. The man who shows her apartment hits on her almost right away, and when Emily politely says she has a boyfriend, this mystery man comments, “well, you don’t have a boyfriend in France.” Similar comments are made by other random male characters in the show—Paris is the city of lovers, and the French are all lovers, and therefore cheating is c’est la vie to an extreme.

Emily, of course, being the good girl, absolutely refuses to cheat on her admittingly forgettable boyfriend (who breaks up with her in the first few episodes anyway). And while, of course, the audience agrees that cheating is one of the worst things one can do when in a romantic relationship, the fact that the show relies on this idea that nearly every French person is some version of a cheater is a bad image. 

All-American Emily seems to be the only one who’s disturbed by affairs but, at one point in the show, she has an accidental one-night stand with a seventeen-year-old. A supposedly relatable, quirky miscommunication of French and English strikes again—Emily assumes that “collège” means college, when in actuality, it means high school. (Fun fact, “collège” actually means middle school).

Therein lies the main problem with “Emily in Paris.” While admittedly lighthearted and fun, the show’s entire premise relies on cliches of French culture to the point that the show becomes ridiculous and, at other times, cringeworthy and uncomfortable. That said, there are still some redeeming moments: Emily is still a somewhat likable character, the romance is somewhat enjoyable and Emily’s relationship with Sylvie and the workplace progresses in a somewhat upward direction. 

But that’s really all there is to “Emily in Paris.” All the good parts are only somewhat good, and all the interesting bits are only somewhat interesting. Perhaps “somewhat” is good enough for entertainment sometimes, especially when the audience doesn’t necessarily want to use too much brain power in digesting much else. So if you’re not in the mood to watch anything too serious, then “Emily in Paris” might be fun, but just know that there are also probably much better rom-coms out there. 

Menu Title