Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 1st, 2020
Emily in Paris (Darren Star, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
France is a country known for its cuisine, haute and otherwise, along with its fine breads, pastries and other comestibles (along with perhaps just a smattering of culture). Though it has its share of problems and a history both glorious and not, its capital of Paris – known as the City of Lights – offers, for the tourist, a promise of pleasures both ancient and new. Everything is what one makes of it, however, and Paris can also fail to impress if one expects too much. It’s just a place, after all, filled with inhabitants going about their own busy lives. Still, what a beautiful place …
Such thoughts, in all their complicated, conflicted array, perhaps enter the mind of protagonist Emily as she arrives from Chicago in the new Netflix series Emily in Paris, coming to us from creator Darren Star (HBO’s long-running Sex and the City). She has no extensive knowledge of French culture, no facility with the language, yet steps through the streets as if in a dream, happy to be there and ready for adventure. As they are wont to do, the Parisians quickly disabuse her of such foolish notions. After all, they are to France what New Yorkers are to the United States: brash, rude and also, upon occasion, quite charming.
Lily Collins (Tolkien, and daughter of Phil) stars as Emily, and it is truly her show. Bouncing from scene to scene, she owns the series over the course of all 10 of its light and frothy episodes (this is a Darren Star production, don’t forget). Effervescence comes to mind, appropriate in the land of Perrier. Ably supported by an equally charismatic ensemble, she turns her sometimes clueless American into an always winning heroine. Among the rest of the cast, standouts include Samuel Arnold, Lucas Bravo, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Bruno Gouery, Ashley Park and Camille Razat, among many others. They’re a more than agreeable bunch with whom to spend the approximate 4½ hours of the complete series.
The premise is as follows: Emily is content in Chicago with her job at a marketing company and a cute boyfriend, hopeful that her boss’s upcoming transfer to Paris to manage a smaller marketing firm they just bought will lead to a promotion of her own when – surprise, surprise – something happens that sends her to Paris, instead. Ignorant of the ways of the new posting, she heads there, anyway, only to find that what works back home does not always translate so well. The head of the Parisian company, Sylvie (Leroy-Beaulieu), takes an instant dislike to poor Emily, and it will require a lot of effort to turn her around.
The joy of the affair is in watching how Star and his associates play with well-known clichés of how the French see us and we see them (full confession: I am half-French, steeped in the language and culture, and have always been the butt of jokes coming from both sides), tweaking them for comedy that almost always lands well. Sometimes it’s a little too heavy-handed, but cultural stereotypes often exist for a reason, if only in the eye of the beholder. It’s all in good fun (until someone loses that eye, perhaps).
There’s lots of of talk about sex, bien sûr, especially of the extramarital variety, but also some genuine romance. With the show’s ambitions to keep the fizzy sparkles bubbling, that works. Nevertheless, it’s not without its limitations: there is but token diversity, and no sense of Paris beyond the world of the financial elite on display here. It’s a cinematic patisserie, in other words, lovely to consume and digest, if ultimately not that filling. But quelle délice …