“EMILY IN PARIS” AMUSES WITH CULTURE CLASH IN FRANCE
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“EMILY IN PARIS” ON NETFLIX As fluffy as a croissant from a Parisian boulangerie and tasty like a crème brulee, Netflix’s ten-episode “Emily in Paris” may be loosely defined as a romantic comedy that fits nicely with the French capital’s moniker of “City of Love.”Emily Cooper (Lily Cooper), a junior level executive at a Chicago marketing firm, is properly skilled at social media strategies since she’s a millennial obsessed with Instagram and taking endless selfies quite often in mundane settings.Having acquired the boutique French marketing company Savoir that deals with luxury products, the Chicago firm needs to send one of its executives to Paris to oversee the integration of a social media campaign from the American perspective. When Emily’s middle-aged boss (Kate Walsh) unexpectedly becomes pregnant and thus unable to take the assignment in Paris, Emily is inexplicably chosen for the task despite her glaring lack of French language skills.
The culture clash in the workplace is immediate when the perky Emily shows up with only having mastered the French greeting of “bonjour” and full of ideas for marketing that offend the sensibilities of her new colleagues. Savoir’s managing executive Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), aghast at Emily’s inability to communicate in anything other than English, is promptly dismissive of the American’s value to her firm. Looking for any chance to send Emily packing back to Chicago, Sylvie throws up roadblocks to social media suggestions as out-of-step with French cultural norms. She also proves intimidating to an office staff that might otherwise start warming up to the foreign interloper.
Moving into an apartment on the fifth floor in a building without an elevator, Emily is startled to discover that in France the first floor starts at the level above the ground, leading to her mistake of entering the wrong unit. As luck would have it, the occupant of said apartment is budding chef Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a handsome young guy working at a nearby restaurant. Inevitable romantic sparks with Emily are as certain as the French love of pastries.
Yet, in the City of Love it’s inescapable that Emily will have a number of suitors, and with the apparent lax French attitude toward marital fidelity, the American girl catches the notice of Savoir’s major client Antoine (William Abadie). Convenient to a plot contrivance, complicated romantic relationships abound. The married Antoine, seemingly with the acquiescence of his spouse, is having an affair with Sylvie, who now suspects he may be attracted to Emily for reasons other than her catchy ideas. Emily meets Camille (Camille Razat) while shopping for flowers, not knowing that she’s actually Gabriel’s girlfriend. Paris is a big city, but if you stay within one arrondissement the environment is evidently that of a small town where everyone knows the neighbors.
Having arrived in Paris without any friends and the boyfriend back home deciding not to visit for even a week’s vacation, Emily makes a new best friend with Mindy Chen (Ashley Park), a nanny for a couple’s small children. Coming from a wealthy family in China, Mindy speaks three languages and has a singing voice that would make her a sensation but for stage fright. Mindy’s desire to stay in Paris is driven in part by escaping her father’s wish that she would enter the family business.
Mindy helps Emily to avoid some cultural faux pas and to navigate the local customs. On her own, Emily is easily seduced by all that Paris has to offer, including a chance encounter at the iconic Café de Flore with a pretentious professor that ends up in a one-night stand.
Not helping her cause at work is Emily’s lackadaisical approach to actually learning to speak French. When enrolled in a language class, Emily demonstrates study habits more in line with those of a high school dropout. The City of Light, another nickname for the French capital, is very much a central character for this series. The tourist landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe create arresting visuals especially when bathed in a nighttime glow. Whether a photo shoot on the Pont Alexandre III, a boat ride on the Seine or exterior shots of a charming bistro, Paris is a place of great beauty that makes one wish for a European vacation at the earliest opportunity.
“Emily in Paris” fits neatly into the pantheon of show creator Darren Star’s penchant for writing television series such as “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Sex and the City,” which result in guilty pleasures from the vicarious enjoyment of glamorous lives. Glamor resides easily within the confines of the Paris environment where stylish people wearing chic clothes strolling along expansive boulevards conjure up visions of elegance that we don’t see in everyday life.
As a result of the glitz and allure of the fabulous settings, “Emily in Paris,” even though the storyline is as predictable as Google tracking one’s online activity, holds appeal if for no other reason than the vicarious enjoyment of an exotic location during the pandemic.