Warning: spoilers ahead for Emily In Paris.
It’s difficult to explain how one can love a television show with a protagonist they hate. (Even the Tony Sopranos of the world had charisma!) Yet, there I was a few days ago, binging all ten half-hour episodes of Emily In Paris in two consecutive sittings, completely unable to stop myself from letting Netflix’s “Next Episode” bar continually skip from one installment to the next. The new Darren Star series, whose title gives away so much of the premise that it feels redundant to further explain any of its central conceit, zips by as it dramatizes the wholly unrealistic life developments of one Emily Cooper (a perfectly-cast Lily Collins), a plucky young assistant rising the ranks at a large Chicago marketing firm. Within the pilot’s first three minutes, however, Emily finds herself preparing for an impromptu move to Paris when her boss finds out she’s pregnant and decides to pass down her own opportunity to move to the City of Lights. Despite Emily’s complete inability to speak French and virtual inexperience with the Parisian firm’s most prominent clients (mostly luxury fashion and perfume labels), the show is primarily driven by the young American’s inexplicable ascent up the corporate ladder as she keeps stumbling onto winning ideas.
In so many ways, Emily In Paris is the type of show I would normally hate. But I found it impossible to resist the undeniable charm and carefree whimsy of Darren Star’s idealistic Parisian fantasy. The more I watched, in fact, the more I realized that I didn’t necessarily dislike anything about the show itself — like Star’s other series Sex and the City, Younger, and Beverly Hills, 90210, Emily is lighthearted and quirky, even if it is ridiculously unrealistic, especially for someone who works in media myself — but rather, I simply disliked Emily. Emily is the kind of person who sighs a breath of satisfied relief after finishing a five-mile run 18 seconds faster than the day before, who pretends to be excited about the Chicago Cubs going to the playoffs for her boyfriend’s benefit but insists on ordering a glass of white wine (“anything French, if you have it”) in the middle of a rowdy sports bar, who wears Hood By Air but has definitely never heard of the name Shayne Oliver, and who seems completely flabbergasted by the mere idea of an open marriage even though she’s supposed to be a liberal millennial living in the year 2020.
She’s the kind of person who gains thousands of Instagram followers seemingly overnight despite coloring her feed with corny selfies and pictures of cheeseburgers captioned #CheeseburgerInParadise. Instead of trying to actually learn the language of the city she now finds herself residing in, Emily would rather spend time complaining about why the word “vagina” is masculine in French. She’s perpetually perky no matter what’s going on around her — it’s no surprise that she’s a dedicated morning person. Emily is allowed to fail constantly and still be granted an endless supply of second chances. Even on the rare occasion that she does make a good point — yes, that De L’Heure perfume campaign was indeed sexist — one can’t help but dwell on the fact that she’s only commanding any attention in the first place because she’s young, beautiful, skinny, and white. And of course she’s used to this kind of preferential treatment. “I’m an agreeable person. People like me! That’s my strength,” she confides to her new friend Mindy at one point, without the slightest hint of self-awareness.
But eventually, I learned how to enjoy Emily In Paris, and no, it wasn’t by forcing myself to love Emily. Quite the opposite, actually. Rather, I started cherishing the moments when Emily failed — when things didn’t go her way, when she felt embarrassed or incompetent, anytime her picture-perfect vision of the world revealed a slight crack. It was in these moments that Emily In Paris truly came alive. After all, in a show defined by the concept of “failing upwards,” what can be more entertaining than watching someone...actually fail? Below, I’ve gathered a few examples.
That time she was called “ringarde” by a Parisian couturier...
Much of my aversion towards Emily could be boiled down to my assessment of the fledgling social media strategist as quintessentially basic — a thought apparently shared by Pierre Cadault, Emily In Paris’ answer to a Karl Lagerfeld-esque designer extraordinaire. More than halfway through the season, Emily accompanies her boss and coworker to the designer’s couture showroom, where they are meant to discuss the promotion of his upcoming Paris Fashion Week show. Emily has seemingly done everything in her power to make a good impression — the Queen of Color even dressed in all black to better blend in — and yet she still couldn’t find a way to wash the stench of pure basicness out from her perfectly-tressed curls.
As Pierre walked down the line soaking up the compliments pouring out of each Savoir employee’s lips, he seemed flattered — amused even. But something about Emily immediately gave him pause. As he looked her up and down, sizing up the kind of woman she was, he stopped as soon as he spotted her truly heinous bag charm (a fluffy red heart with a dangling pendant of the Eiffel Tower? Really?), began to choke, and immediately blurted out, “Ringarde” before storming out. Emily was so basic that he couldn’t even bear to stand in her presence!
Of course, since everything always works out for Miss Cooper, she eventually pushes the designer towards creating a headline-making collection that gains him more press (and followers) than he would have ever had otherwise. But in that moment, seeing Emily react to the news that she’s offensively basic was simply sublime. “He called you a basic bitch,” her coworker Julien snaps when Emily asks for a translation of ringarde. Well, I can’t help but to agree with you, Mr. Cadault!
That time she stepped in shit...
We’ve all stepped in shit before. It’s a very human experience, one that intimately connects us to nature and animals in the most primal way imaginable. But Emily Cooper is not human. She clearly floats above us mere mortals, somehow immune to the mundane complications the rest of us are forced to tackle on a daily basis. Instead, Emily typically glides through her day with few setbacks, randomly befriending French champagne heiresses when she’s buying flowers or getting retweeted by Brigitte Macron for a rather inane post.
So when something typically human does happen to her, it’s hard not to cheer. As Emily excitedly left her apartment building one morning, ready to take on a new day in her new adopted home, nothing could have prepared her for the dog shit that sat right outside her door. As she looked down, her improbably clean white boots now submerged in a pile of semiliquid canine excrement, I sighed my own breath of relief. Finally, a moment for Emily to reckon with the reality the rest of us are forced to live in everyday! Sure, she ends up getting new followers after posting a picture of the woman who left her dog’s feces unattended to her Instagram feed (caption: #mindthemerde), but, well, your boots are still covered in shit! Have fun with that!
That time she had to wash her hair in a bidet after her shower broke…
I’ve been to Paris and, from firsthand experience, I can confirm that the French often are snotty and rude. But if I were a Parisian landlord saddled with the responsibility of making my living space suitable for an American as utterly demanding as Emily Cooper, I, too, would reach a breaking point where I refused to help her with anything else. Which is why I completely sided with the grumpy landlord when Emily unexpectedly came running down into the public courtyard, dressed in nothing but a bathrobe, demanding that her shower be fixed. Sure, Emily was right about the fact that she hadn’t actually done anything to break the shower (“minding my own shower business,” as she says), but after Emily busted a fuse and caused a power outage in the entire building because she needed to plug in her vibrator the night before, could you blame the landlord for being fed up with Emily’s constant struggles? None of the other tenants seem to have this many gripes! When the landlord laughingly suggested that Emily wash her hair out in the bidet until the shower could get fixed...that’s history. Nothing delighted me more than watching her lean over into an object primarily used for cleaning out dirty anuses.
The time she accidentally slept with a 17-year-old…
I must admit, I had to look up the age of consent in France before I could revel in the utter embarrassment Emily felt after finding out that the hot connoisseur she slept with on her first night at Camille’s Champagne estate was the heiress’s 17-year-old younger brother who had just finished high school and not the 20-something gentleman Camille had been insisting she meet the entire time they were driving out to the countryside. (Nothing about statutory rape is funny!) But after learning that the age of consent in France is 15 (which is...well, let me not judge), I could fully delight in the shame Emily clearly felt about her drunken rendezvous.
So much of Emily’s personality is characterized by her complete devotion to maintaining a flashy facade of perfection — she arrives early to meetings! She is always ready to talk about work! — that the mere possibility of having slept with a younger man rattles her to her core. The pacing of the scene where she finds out is seamless, too. The way her younger paramour stumbles outside to give her a fat kiss on the lips mere seconds after she finds out about his true age is television gold, and the way he apologizes for “biting too hard” when she momentarily pulls away is...chef’s kiss. (That his name is Timothée, spelled just like Mr. Chalamet, who was nominated for an Oscar for playing a boy in a similarly age-gapped relationship, is the icing on the cake.)
Hilariously, it’s Emily who seems to have the worst reaction to the encounter. Camille and the rest of her family, with their typically French free approach to love and sex, are more surprised than anything, but clearly don’t mind that it happened. In fact, upon finding out, Camille’s mom pulls Emily to the side not to scold her for corrupting her innocent, underaged son, but rather to inquire about his love-making skill. If I wasn’t already hysterically laughing as I watched Emily squirm in her seat, Camille’s mother’s reading of the line, “I need to know if my son is a good lover. I worry for my children’s future” would have certainly sent me over the edge.
That time she got fired...
In terms of reality, Emily being fired after inciting a sequence of events that concluded with Pierre Cadault, one of Savoir’s biggest clients, deciding to cancel his fashion show mere days before it’s scheduled to happen was one of Emily In Paris’ most rational developments. After convincing the designer to donate a dress that was immediately destroyed, irritatingly trying to persuade him to take the incident in stride, and then failing to alert her boss when Pierre made the decision to drop off the Paris Fashion Week calendar (“for the first time in three decades,” her boss notes), the young ingenue, who had technically been playing with fire since she first boarded her flight to Paris, would have definitely been pushed out the door if she weren’t, well, a Darren Star protagonist. So naturally, I relished her firing — and since it came at the tail-end of the season, it made perfect sense that the Patron Saint of Failing Upward would be pushed in a new direction that would eventually set the scene for an unavoidable second season.
And yet, as we all know, such was not the case. Almost immediately, Emily was informed that it’s near-impossible to ever actually be fired in France (“the bureaucracy takes months,” one of her coworkers explains). All she has to do, her coworkers continue, is “abandon her self-respect” and keep a low profile until everyone in the office forgets she was even supposed to be gone.
Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t even heed that sage advice. Instead, she takes yet another grand swing to fix a problem she created in the first place — and because this is a Darren Star series, she has completely earned back the trust and respect of her boss by the end of the episode. The way she’s welcomed back into Savoir’s inner-circle sickens me, but at least I’ll always have the moment when it looked like everything was over. “Oh. Is that all? We thought someone died,” her coworkers exclaim after seeing Emily dejectedly leave her boss’ office. “Nope. Just my career,” Emily sighs. Wouldn’t that have been a much better conclusion?
Emily In Paris is streaming on Netflix now.