Review | ‘Emily in Paris’ is not a good look for Paris

The Netflix original from the creator of “Sex and the City” and “Younger” falls flat in more ways than one.

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Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

I have something to confess.

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I love bad television shows. Don’t get me wrong, I also love the good ones, but there’s something to be said for annoying characters, obscure problems, bad acting and horribly written dialogue. I love bad television shows. Just not shows like “Emily in Paris.” 

“Emily in Paris” centers around a Chicagoan marketing consultant named Emily, who takes on her dream job at a Parisian marketing agency. But when she gets to Paris, the Parisians don’t like her, and honestly, I can’t blame them. 

In most scenes, Emily is a ditzy, funkily-dressed American stuck with the arrogant Parisians smoking cigarettes. She walks into her office on the first day and uses Google Translate text-to-voice to talk to her French-speaking colleagues. She wears Paris-themed graphic tees to her job in Paris. She has never worked in fashion marketing or for a design firm. The only French word she knows is “bonjour,” and I’m not even sure that she says it correctly.

One is a chef but has a girlfriend. One is nice but lives in Chicago. One is hot but pretentious. According to showrunner Darren Star, that’s all you need to know.”

— Annabelle Blomeley

The only scenes in which Emily sounds even remotely qualified are those where she talks about her marketing job or her master’s degree in marketing, but that mostly consists of her throwing words around that she would’ve learned in Mass Communication 101 during freshman year. To clarify, this is a show in which a supposed marketing expert says the words “social media engagement” and everyone in the office looks at her in shock, surprised by how smart she actually is.

While I do think that Emily is bubble-headed and annoying, I can’t help but kind of like her. She’s a female character that I don’t see often in Hollywood: an airhead who’s charming, kind and has other characteristics aside from her mild brainlessness. She’s determined in a very endearing way, and though she’s not the brightest, she seems fairly good at her job.

My biggest problem with “Emily in Paris” is not Emily herself. In fact, like I said before, I don’t even hate Emily that much. Lily Collins nails the role and her outfits are perfect while she does it. My problem is that “Emily in Paris” is missing something absolutely crucial to television shows: any type of interesting plotline. 

Sure, the main plot is that Emily is trying to navigate her new life in Paris. But besides that? Emily’s problems in the show are barely even problems. When she and her long-distance boyfriend break up, she shows no emotion and moves on to a hot Parisian hookup even though she just got out of a long-term relationship with a man she supposedly loved. 

Other plotlines include: Emily gets sad because her French colleagues hate her; Emily gets sad because a couture fashion designer calls her basic; Emily gets sad because her hot Parisian hookup is too pretentious for her; Emily gets sad because her hot Parisian crush (not to be confused with her hot Parisian hookup) has a girlfriend. 

In fact, after hours of watching the show, my roommate turned to me and said, “We’ve watched seven episodes and not one thing has happened.”

But don’t worry, Emily is far from the dullest character in the show. Her best friend Mindy, a random woman Emily met in a park while eating a baguette, is only there so that Emily has at least one real friend. On top of that, Mindy has some weird backstory about having a rich CEO father who wants her to also be a rich CEO. Mindy, however, wants to be a nanny in Paris, but she still likes to complain about her rich background every time she’s on the screen. Emily technically also has another friend named Camille, but all we know about her is that she’s beautiful, French and dating Emily’s hot Parisian crush. 

At work, the head of Savoir, the French marketing firm Emily has been sent to consult with, is a Miranda Priestly knockoff portrayed as being mean to poor Emily for no reason, but she actually kind of has a good reason. I mean, Emily can’t even speak French, which is the firm’s lingua franca. Also at work, Julien, one of Emily’s coworkers, is only there to be mean and flamboyantly gay. Not to mention he’s one of only two actors of color in the entire show. 

Don’t even get me started on all of Emily’s potential love interests. They all look the exact same: white, buff and tall, with brown hair and chiseled jawlines. My roommate and I had to turn to each other and ask which man we were seeing on the screen. We literally could not tell them apart. One is a chef but has a girlfriend. One is nice but lives in Chicago. One is hot but pretentious. According to showrunner Darren Star, that’s all you need to know.

Although “Emily in Paris” is borderline rude to Parisians and France as a whole, I couldn’t help but find it hilarious as an American. It was fun to see the beautiful and romantic streets of Paris filled with nicotine-addicted, angry French people bullying a cute and charming American woman.

At the same time, “Emily in Paris” operates on the American hero cliché, where an American goes abroad and changes the lives of others for the better. While Emily did help the marketing firm with her “American perspective,” they would’ve been fine without her.

At the end of it all, the show seems to be poking fun at America’s obsessive and romanticized view of Paris and Europe. Yes, it’s making fun of the French, but it’s also making jabs at Americans, too. However, it’s not actually clear whether or not the show takes itself seriously. 

There are several scenes that made me think Star was laughing with me about how crazy and ridiculous Emily’s life is. There were also parts that wanted me to completely suspend my disbelief and just roll with a meaningless plotline. The see-sawing between earnestness and near-self-parody made me, as a viewer, a bit annoyed. It got tiring wondering if a scene was an actual joke or just badly written and so unfunny that it became mildly humorous.

Overall, I know I’ve been fairly harsh with “Emily in Paris.” To be fair, it’s not horrible or excruciating to watch. You might even chuckle once or twice. The scenes are beautiful, but maybe just because it takes place in Paris. Emily is an interesting character, who you’ll have strong opinions about whether they’re negative or positive. 

My main issue with “Emily in Paris” is that it can’t quite figure out what it wants to be. It could be really funny if it just relaxed a bit or really interesting if it straightened itself up a little more. But unfortunately, it’s trying to juggle both acts and it looks ridiculous.

If you like “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Sex and the City,” you might actually really like “Emily in Paris,” whether ironically or seriously. I mean, it’s actually worse than both of those titles by a long shot but it has a similar vibe. If you have almost nothing else to watch, then maybe you could watch “Emily in Paris,” but then again, you could also watch paint dry. I’ll leave it up to you.