Emily in Paris is Netflix’s newest comedy series from Sex and the City creator Darren Star. The titular character (played by Lily Collins) is a Chicago-based marketing executive who moves to Paris to bring an “American perspective” to a French luxury marketing company, sharing her experiences of the city with an ever-growing following on Instagram via @emilyinparis. As an American who speaks zero French, Emily is clearly a fish out of water, and the series follows the accidental influencer as she navigates work, friendships, romance, and an unfamiliar culture.
Alongside Star, legendary Sex and the City costume designer Patricia Field was behind the style of the show. While Star has a knack for creating urban fantasy worlds for couture-clad white women to swan around, Field is famed for creating costumes that become just as iconic as the characters wearing them. And, with two legends of television at its helm, I couldn’t help but wonder how Emily in Paris would compare to its spiritual predecessor.
From the outset, it’s clear that Emily in Paris knows its primary audience, presenting itself as a Sex and the City for the social media generation, paying homage to SATC with a number of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to the cult show. As such, it is full of notable fashion moments and covetable designer pieces. In one of the most memorable looks, Emily wears a green Chanel jacket with a plaid bucket hat, a Staud bucket bag, and collage-print Christian Louboutin boots. And, in an obvious nod to the legendary Carrie Bradshaw, she dons an Alexandre Vauthier strapless top and black tulle skirt to an event, a homage to Carrie’s tulle skirt in the Sex and the City series finale, paired with another pair of Louboutins and a vintage bag. She’s also spotted wearing earrings that read “Emily” in cursive, similar to Bradshaw’s famous nameplate necklace.
Sex and the City’s influence can also be seen in the show’s plotlines and themes. To start, Star continues his habit of fantasising urban life. Neither a twenty-something-year-old marketing exec nor a journalist writing one newspaper column per week could afford so many pairs of designer shoes, though the fantasy is admittedly part of the fun. What are the odds that two American women move to Paris and both step in dog poop almost immediately upon arrival? And, just like Manhattan is to SATC, Paris itself becomes a key character, albeit an idealised version, with breathtaking sprawling views of the city and handsome French men waiting around every corner to fawn over the protagonist.
“Emily in Paris offers viewers little more than a Pinterest-board view of the French capital, with Instagram-worthy locations, influencer-approved designer looks and dreamy French men, but none of the grit of Sex and the City.”
However, while Emily in Paris near-perfectly replicates the standout sartorial moments and whimsy of its predecessor, it lacks in delivering its punch, with a plot that is almost entirely predictable and somewhat lacklustre. Each 30-minute episode consists of Lily Collins waltzing the streets of Paris, refusing to speak French or learn her new country’s customs, and expecting her new colleagues to sing her praises for doing the bare minimum. It is devoid of any true peril, instead relying upon culture clashes and a few questionable romantic encounters to form the basis of its action. As the bold and brash Emily starts her new life in the ‘City of Lights’, she comes across every outdated French cliché imaginable. From chain-smoking and rare steak to infidelity and the idea that the French are all hostile and arrogant, Emily encounters it all and, of course, tries to rectify it, adjusting it to the American way.
“You came to Paris and you don’t speak French. That is arrogant,” Emily’s new co-worker tells her in an early episode. She counters defensively, “More ignorant than arrogant.” And that, I think, is my biggest qualm with Emily in Paris. Its so-called protagonist is vapid, selfish and not at all likeable. In early episodes, she repeatedly implies that her way of doing things is the right way, while the French are completely backwards, including a cringeworthy encounter in the first ten minutes of episode one regarding the way the French number their floors. She often calls out others for being callous, rude or unforgiving, yet does very little to work on her own character flaws. Granted, Carrie Bradshaw has also been named unlikable, annoying and the worst character on Sex and the City, but at least she experienced true turmoil and exhibited some emotion. Emily’s biggest drama, a breakup with her long-term American boyfriend, is faced with the same happy-go-lucky attitude with which she deals with every other challenge that is thrown at her.
Emily in Paris offers viewers little more than a Pinterest-board view of the French capital, with Instagram-worthy locations, influencer-approved designer looks and dreamy French men, but none of the grit of Sex and the City. It’s unrealistic, even by Darren Star’s standards, the plot is somewhat lacklustre, and the outdated clichés it employs are often cringe-inducing. That being said, if you look past its failures, it’s still a perfectly pleasant watch. Despite a script that feels awkward in places, the actors perform well, the fashion is fun, and the incredible views of the city are sure to get your wanderlust going. Whilst it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever re-watch it the way I do Sex and the City, I’d still recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of fashion-filled fluff to help pass the time as we move towards a second lockdown.
Words by Bec Oakes