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Emily in Paris: Le Bon, la brute et le truand

By Karina Wensjoe

Netflix’s recent show Emily in Paris starring Lily Collins received a variety of thoughts, praises and criticisms after its release. Advertised as a new take on Sex and the City (but in Paris) Emily Cooper is the new Carrie Bradshaw—or so I thought. A young, ambitious woman from Chicago, Emily is working her way up in the marketing world. Her boss Madeline was originally supposed to go to Paris for a business position but soon discovers she’s pregnant and asks Emily to take her place in working at marketing firm, Savoir. Now, this is where the show takes a tumultuous turn. Although Emily has good intentions in attempting to bring an American marketing perspective to the company, she is surprised to realize that they necessarily don't want her help—or her presence. Shocker! There are a few things to understand why the show has a commotion of good, bad and ugly details that could be seen as controversial. SPOILERS AHEAD! Please don’t read if you haven’t watched the series.

Le Bon: The Good

As much as I would love to say that there are several good aspects of the show, I couldn’t find many after binging the first season. Let’s start with Emily’s co-workers and friends. Camille by far is the best character of the series. She is the perfect depiction of French elegance and sophistication, a great friend to Emily and has an overall down-to-earth personality. She is Emily’s helping hand in journeying through France and confides in her when she asks if Savoir could possibly take her family business as a client. Julien and Luc, Emily’s coworkers at Savoir, are two witty, capricious characters. Although they attempt to get on Emily’s nerves by teasing her and calling her la plouc at first, they do attempt to help her out as she endeavours Parisian life and the demands of her boss, Sylvie Grateau. Emily also meets Mindy Chen, a rich young woman from Shanghai, who decided to move to Paris to get away from her home life after a mishap in a singing competition. Smart and diverting, Mindy is literally one of my favorite characters of the show. Not only is she fun, she is educated on French culture and does not shy away from telling Emily how things are and how she can’t change them. In respect to Emily, she does do a good job at striking marketing ideas to a few clients, such as Antoine Lambert, also known as Sylvie's lover. Emily is not terrible at bringing companies together, I’ll give her that. So much so that she is able to strike a business deal with Antoine and Randy Zimmer, a potential client and a famous hotel chain owner. Her talents spark a little magic in this scenario, which greatly benefits Savoir. Finally, one thing from the series that stuck in the back of my mind, tempting me to pack my bags and move to Paris, was Emily’s apartment: the view, the simple middle-class European decor, and the aura of simply being in the city of lights and love. Existing while young and naive in a city that has birthed styles of art, architecture, fashion and gastronomy is everyone’s dream. Living vicariously through Emily regarding the enchantment of a European metropolis was one thing I admired from the show.

La Brute: The Bad

On the first day of working at Savoir, Emily, who doesn’t speak a lick of French, decides to communicate with others using a cellphone translator. As if not speaking the language is bad enough, using the phone translator is the winning ticket to lazy town. Emily’s ignorance of the French culture and language are what could be seen as the controversial element. Emily is quick to judge the French and her coworkers for being lackadaisical in their work environment when Emily herself has not bothered to learn French—besides throwing a trés here and there—unwilling to listen to her coworkers nor appreciate Parisian society throughout the show. Side comments such as “the entire city looks like Ratatouille” make certain characteristics of Lily Collins’ character cringe-worthy. Her arrogance is disturbing to the point where she attempts to change the French when she hasn’t bothered to adapt to her new surroundings. The show did not shy away from portraying stereotypes in regards to the French and Americans. Emily is portrayed as an ignorant Chicagoan while the French are portrayed as careless. The show is able to provide vapid innuendo when there was potential to create a series with more depth than division among cultures. It makes the French and the Americans look bad regardless. There’s no winning in this show and no 2000s film, moves-to-a-new-country-and-adaptsto-a-new-life depiction anywhere in the show. Another thing I noticed that seemed utterly unrealistic was Emily’s instagram account @emilyinparis. I understand her motive here was to create, at her little corner of the internet, a collection of memories during her time in Paris. The only issue was that she eventually became a rising influencer for posting pictures of random food that wasn’t hers and saying things like “jojoba oil” on her Instagram story. Nonetheless, she’d get 20k likes on a photograph of a woman's dog using the bathroom outside her apartment. A total invasion of privacy and annoyance stems from her constant blogging.

Le Truand:

The Ugly And finally, the ugly. When Emily first moves into her apartment in Paris, she meets her neighbor Gabriel, who happens to be Camille’s boyfriend. At first, Emily had no idea that Gabriel was in a relationship and discovers right after kissing him that he is dating Camille. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop Emily from flirting and pursuing Gabriel. Even though she tries to ignore him, she cannot manage to suppress her feelings. When Gabriel and Camille break up, Emily does the unthinkable and sleeps with Gabriel because he was moving back home to Normandy. Naturally, that is an okay thing to do. And for some reason, Gabriel is not the only person to fall head over heels for Emily. She meets a couple men along the way, such as Mathieu Cadault, the son of designer Pierre Caudault, is infatuated with Emily and even offers to take her on a romantic weekend getaway. Emily’s love life is a headache and one of the reasons why the show can be a bit frustrating to watch. Of course, any series needs drama and romance in the mix of things. But Emily in Paris’ depiction just made me more and more agitated at Lily Collins’ character. In regards to costume design, audiences were expecting to see a full-fledged French runway show. However, that was not the case. Emily’s outfits are a fashion disaster. Sure, some of her pieces were sweet and trendy. Others were just a mix and mash of tacky colors and strange hats. The combinations of all her outfits just didn’t sit right together. Really, the only pieces I was intrigued by were Emily’s designer handbags. While Emily was trying her best to bring an American point of view, she could’ve learned from the French fashion perspective and taken a few pointers from Sylvie, who was the epitome of simplicity and elegance when it came to fashion.

No disrespect to Lily Collins in regards to my criticism of Emily in Paris. She is truly a phenomenal actress and I’ve loved all of her previous works. To me, Emily in Paris is the type of show that needs more character development and a second thought on how to portray cultural differences. I understand that perhaps that was the point of the show but the overall narrative was plainly irritating. Perhaps season two will bring in a diverting plot and change the movement of the story in a different direction.

Karina Wensjoe is an editorial intern who is knowledgeable in all things travel, beauty, and sustainability.


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