The City of Light is pretty dark on Netflix’s new series Emily in Paris, with Parisians up in arms over the romantic comedy that stars Lily Collins as an American naif overcoming all manner of French stereotypes in her pursuit of becoming a social media guru.
Created by Darren Star (Sex and the City, Beverly Hills 90210) and produced by MTV Studios, Emily in Paris debuted on Netflix worldwide Oct. 2, and has already become a hot topic on social media on both sides of the Atlantic with housebound viewers both loving and hate-watching a show stuffed to the gills with chic clothes, glamourous locations and incredibly attractive stars.
The show follows 20-something Emily, a junior marketing executive at an American company that acquires a boutique French firm operating in the world of luxury. When Emily’s boss (played by Kate Walsh) is unable to transfer to Paris, the company decides to go against logic, and the character’s glaring lack of language skills, and send along young Emily instead to school her seasoned French colleagues in the ways of Instagram.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s review called Emily in Paris “strikingly watchable, an escapist confection brimming with easily digestible plots, costumes and characters,” but the reviewer took issue with the main character of Emily. “Plucky, cheerful and arrogant, Emily plops into Paris determined to ‘bring an American perspective’ to French branding, never once considering that her proud cultural ignorance is actually a weakness, not a strength.”
For many French critics and viewers, the “proud cultural ignorance” was a little too much, and the show has been roundly criticized, mocked and dismissed for perpetuating stereotypes of the French, glorifying an unrealistic theme park version of Paris and absurdist plotlines.
In his review for Premiere, Charles Martin wrote, “[In Emily in Paris] we learn that the French are ‘all bad’ (yes, yes), that they are lazy and never arrive at the office before the end of the morning, that they are flirtatious and not really attached to the concept of loyalty, that they are sexist and backward, and of course, that they have a questionable relationship with showering. Yes, no cliché is spared, not even the weakest.”
On the entertainment site Sens Critique, one reviewer wrote that Emily in Paris projects the same twee, unrealistic image of Paris that the film Amélie does and that you “have to strongly love science fiction to watch this series, knowing that Parisians are mostly friendly, speak irreproachable English, make love for hours and that going to work remains an option. The writers may have hesitated for two or three minutes to stick a baguette under each Frenchman, or even a beret to clearly distinguish them, on the other hand, they all smoke cigarettes and flirt to death.”
RTL‘s take was similarly dismissive: “Rarely had we seen so many clichés on the French capital since the Parisian episodes of Gossip Girl or the end of The Devil Wears Prada.” Cultural magazine Les Inrocks described the Paris in the show as the unrealistic city of “the Moulin Rouge, Coco Chanel, baguettes and Ratatouille.”
On the popular film and TV user review site AlloCiné, Emily in Paris has garnered a middling 2.9/5 rating, but the negative reviews are uniformly scathing. “Embarrassing series, completely wrong image of Paris. It’s ridiculous, badly acted. As if Paris was all about fashion, romance and croissants. No,” wrote one reviewer. Another wrote, “A series that could have been great if it hadn’t caricatured the French. In this series, the French are described as arrogant, dirty, lazy, mean, bitter … but luckily this young American arrives to explain to us how life works. It’s just deplorable, I wonder why French actors agreed to star in this series.”
It wasn’t all negative though, one reviewer on AlloCiné writing, “So many French people outraged by the clichés put forward in this series, while we are the first to have clichés about others. Relax, it’s a series and there is nothing very bad! I found it funny and light.”
— Danny Pellegrino (@DannyPellegrino) October 4, 2020