Let’s spill the pop-culture tea: Escape with ‘Emily in Paris’

A woman wearing a colorful sweater stands on a bridge over a river with boats.
The new Netflix Show “Emily in Paris” follows a young American’s journey of navigating life in France. (Courtesy: Carole Bethuel of Netflix)

This article contains spoilers for “Emily in Paris.”

From chugging a pint of beer at a bar in Chicago to sipping chilled rosé at a French bistro in Paris, Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) experienced quite the change in scenery.

“Emily in Paris,” created by Darren Star, is Netflix’s latest smashing success. Emily worked at a marketing agency in Chicago and checked all the boxes for a satisfying life. She had a stable job, a loyal boyfriend and a nice group of friends. However, she felt like she was missing something, and when her boss wasn’t available to take a job in Paris to provide an American perspective at the French luxury marketing agency Savoir, Emily happily stepped in. 

Emily thought moving to Paris would be a breeze, despite the fact she didn’t speak French. As soon as she stepped into the office, her boss, Silvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), greeted her with an icy exterior. Emily was told that she’s gaudy, out of touch and rude for not speaking French. Her coworkers Julien (Samuel Arnold) and Luc (Bruno Gouery) were equally shady, clad in Parisian couture and an air of superiority. 

Collins’ character was determined to assimilate to Paris and become refined but ended up embracing who she was and her place in the city. The show does a great job of showing her character development; she broke things off with her boyfriend at home and made a new best friend, Mindy Chen (Ashley Park) but refused to change her personality and sacrifice her values to fit into French culture — though Parisians have lambasted the portrayal of French culture, calling it a lazy stereotype. 

Viewers find themselves appreciating Emily’s authenticity: Yes, she watched “Gossip Girl” and wore mismatched clothes, but she also was witty and intelligent and wanted more than anything to do well for her company.

The great romance of the show was between Emily and her neighbor Gabriel (Lucas Bravo). Gabriel was the wildly attractive head chef at a gorgeous restaurant who had a soft spot for Emily — the only problem was that Gabriel’s girlfriend, Camille (Camille Razat), was one of Emily’s first Parisian acquaintances. Emily navigated a budding friendship with Camille and explored her connection to Gabriel, all the while experimenting with being newly single in Paris.

Two women holding white coffee cups laugh on the street
Lily Collins and Camille Razat portray best friends Emily and Camille in Netflix’s “Emily in Paris”. (Courtesy: Stephanie Branchu of Netflix)

My favorite storyline on the show was how Emily’s company worked with luxury fashion designer Pierre Cadault (Jean-Christophe Bouvet), a legend in the French world of fashion. Bouvet’s character was hilarious and an absolute gem. 

At first, Cadault was horrified by Emily’s seemingly gaudy handbag with an Eiffel tower charm and went on to call her ringarde, or ‘basic bitch’ in French. She chased him down and explained that while she wasn’t a refined French woman, she represented the people who coveted fashion and bought what they could afford, embracing her basicness. He found her honesty refreshing, and they developed an unlikely but strong friendship, which viewers will be rooting for. Their friendship juxtaposed modern culture with old-school high fashion in the perfect way. 

Cadault’s character struggled when his brand was threatened by a new streetwear company called Grey Space. In a marvelous scene, Cadault wallowed in bed about Grey Space’s new success cracking soufflés in a silk black bathrobe and kibitzed with Emily about the death of high fashion. She inspired him to see from a new perspective, and it was a lovely moment to watch. 

One weakness of the show was that it seemed to romanticize Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I loved dreaming of being taken on dates in rowboats on the Seine and working at an amazing job in the city while making tons of friends and networking with the stars, but it’s an unrealistic fantasy. The show created the illusion that as long as you show up in Paris with a passport, you will be rich, in love and living the high life in no time.

Emily used social media to build her brand as an influencer as well as a name for herself in Paris. Emily’s Instagram use made the show feel modern and exciting and created an interesting dialogue about if influencers or agencies are more effective in promoting a product or brand. 

I sat down to watch one episode of “Emily in Paris” and found myself finishing the show that day. It reminded me of “Sex and the City” (also created by Darren Star) and “Gossip Girl,” and I absolutely loved every second of it. While it did paint a slightly unrealistic picture of how everyone’s problems will be fixed by moving to Paris, it let the viewers imagine living out a fabulous Parisian adventure like Emily did on the show.

While the show has definitely been a big hit on Netflix, it certainly hasn’t gotten perfect reviews. The Hollywood Reporter called it “embarrassing,” and Vox wrote that it was “a boomer’s fantasy of a lazy millennial’s life.” These reviews weren’t necessarily wrong. The show wasn’t the most realistic, and there were elements that overdramatized French culture and made social media seem silly. However, I would argue that the coverage of social media could be thought-provoking, as it made viewers question where social media fits into marketing, as well as what it means to be an influencer. I have to disagree with the idea that the show was bad. It was highly entertaining, and while it was a fantasy, it’s perfect for an imaginary trip to Paris with your new best friend, Emily. 

If you are looking for a great binge-worthy show to take you out of our current reality and place you in a world of designer dresses, dalliances at the ballet and navigating the city of love, then “Emily in Paris” is the show for you.

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major who loves her pugs, iced coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.

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