I wasn’t wholly complimentary about the first series of Emily in Paris, Netflix’s poisson-out-of-eau series about an American marketing executive, Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), who moves to Paris from Chicago. She totters around in high heels and smart frocks discovering food, wine, sex and the other pleasures the French capital is supposed to occasion. She is a modern, iPhone-enabled young woman who finds herself rubbing up against old-fashioned French ways.
It was, or so I thought, a witless croquembouche of clichés – berets, smoking, affairs, many shots of the Eiffel Tower – with about as much to do with France as a Starbucks croissant. Why would you waste any time on this when the immeasurably superior French comedy Call My Agent was available on the same streamer?
For some reason, my advice was ignored. Emily in Paris was a humongous smash hit, binged by millions of happy viewers and instantly recommissioned for another series. Defying sense and taste, it was even nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, as well as a brace of Golden Globes. The latter prompted one of the Emily in Paris writers to apologise in print, saying that Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You ought to have been nominated instead.
Still, there was no denying that Emily in Paris was perfect lockdown fodder: unchallenging, easy to look at and served up in digestible half-hour slots. At this point we cannot rule out the possibility that its creator, Darren Star, who also gave the world Beverly Hills 90210 and Sex and the City, might have an eye for a popular television format. But watching it was more or less the same as not watching it.
The second series picks up where we left off. Emily is still in Paris, grinning below a mass of hair that has been moulded into miraculous, gravity-defying waves. She is established at work, advising luxury brands on ad campaigns. But her personal life is complicated. She has inadvertently got herself into an awkward romantic situation with Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a dishy chef whose girlfriend, Camille (Camille Razat), is one of Emily’s pals. A rival love interest, Mathieu (Charles Martins), has proposed a trip to Saint Tropez, but is Emily’s heart in it? Meanwhile, her friend Mindy (Ashley Park, a beaming highlight of the series) is having to work as a toilet attendant in a cabaret club while she tries to make it as a singer. There are many shots of the Eiffel Tower.
Like Emily, I have been on a journey of self-discovery with this series. I could talk about the clunkingly obvious script, the thinness of the characters and plot, and Collins’s one-gear performance in the lead. But what would be the point? Emily is critic-proof, and it’s not aimed at grouchy old hacks like me anyway. It is a fantasy world, a make-believe vision of Paris with no Covid, no stakes, no problems that can’t be easily resolved with a chat and a new outfit. It is exactly what it is, harmless escapism, and on its own terms it is enormously successful. We wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s subversive, but Emily in Paris is definitely in on the joke. It winks at the audience. We know this is all ridiculous, it says, but don’t worry about it. Just keep watching. Look at Emily in her dresses, Emily hauling her big suitcase onto the train, Emily sitting in front of the Louvre. Emily in Paris is as close as TV gets to being completely frictionless. Its millions of fans will enjoy more of the same. The rest of us can watch Call My Agent. You win, Emily.