The Romantic Wonder of Netflix's Emily in Paris
Over this past summer during quarantine, I told my parents that I needed to get out of the country. Sensing the possibility of spending my final teenage year in lockdown, I felt a sudden urge to do as much as I could within my powers. After spending days researching programs and institutions around the world navigating the novel virus, I finally found the outlet for all my pent-up energy: a screen-acting summer course at LAMDA. In early August, I embarked on a five-week summer vacation alone to London, United Kingdom
Although mainly marketing the trip to my family and peers as one of “theatrical instruction,” my hopeless romantic self, blocked from any personal connection during a (so far) five-month-long quarantine, longed for a European love affair—an experience I would look back upon for the rest of my life.
The second I landed at Heathrow Airport, I embarked on my mission, employing the app Bumble. Over the course of my trip, I met so many different kinds of people with unique backgrounds. I allowed myself to carelessly fall in love with the wide array of London cafés, restaurants, landmarks, parks, and, most importantly, the diaspora of the (former) European Union in the form of hot 20-something-year-old men.
Finally, my trip came to a close when I came back to the US in time for the start of my fall semester, trading in a romantic European city for the unromantic, politically-charged, stagnant, and sparsely populated Washington D.C. Arriving at Reagan National Airport, I realized that—after getting a glimpse of perfection in London, where spontaneity runs free—it is a lot harder to return to the mundanity of normal life.
Similarly to my own craving for a break in monotony, TV viewers, stuck in lockdown since March, desperately needed fictional characters to live vicariously through while their own plans were put on hold. With the majority of America’s greatest geographic movement being the walk from one room in their house to another or, on the exciting occasion, a local café, Americans needed to follow someone who embarked on an international relocation from Chicago to Paris.
For many Netflix watchers, this need has been met with the episodic series Emily in Paris, the romantic comedy following Emily, a 20-something-year-old marketing executive, as she transfers to a Parisian marketing firm in France to give an “American” perspective.
Fraught with clichés—the unwelcoming disposition of French people, their snobbiness at the lack of foreigners’ French language skills, and the obsessively flirtatious men present from parties to workplaces, the show never tries to be anything beyond its surface level premise. Though the show sometimes attempts to draw distinctions between societal norms in France and the US, most prominently shown through the episode “Sexy or Sexist” in which Emily attempts to explain to her French coworkers the potentially sexist nature of their advertisements, it hardly ever lectures the viewer. In fact, the moralities of its principal characters are not particularly upstanding, the main character herself going after her best friend’s boyfriend.
Despite being devoid of Oscar-worthy performances, the show succeeds in its main purpose: giving the audience a good time and allowing the protagonist to partake in the vitality of Paris that all viewers wish they could. This includes catching the attention of what seems to be every single single (or not single) foreign man, including both the handsome, older, and wealthier client Antoine and the younger, gorgeously handsome French chef Gabriel who lives below Emily’s apartment. Viewers follow Emily as she attends fancy ballets and operas wearing expensive ballroom gowns while we sit in our pajamas at 2 p.m., pathetically attempting to virtually flirt with cute classmates through ZOOM sessions. While we younger folk are stuck taking mirror selfies in the same household each day with different outfits, audiences watch as Emily launches her Instagram page with tens of thousands of followers, posting pictures of her favorite bakeries, museums, and monuments.
The show exudes unrealistic expectations—forming great friendships with rich heiresses who seem to conveniently abandon all other acquaintances and finding passionate romantic sparks within the duration of a dinner—but, then again, few have come into the show wishing for realism, especially not in our current time.
As shown through the minimized tab of the luxurious brand Veronica Beard on my laptop (which I definitely won’t be able to afford) and screenshots of the newly-deemed French heartthrob Lucas Bravo populating my already dense desktop, we weren’t looking for some meaningful analysis on the human condition. Instead, we were looking for foreign places, sudden and simple love stories, colorful fashion, and the undeniable optimism of Lily Collins’s Emily. With these criteria in mind, the series is a complete success, compelling us to book our own idyllic European vacation while we sit waiting for the news that we can finally start to begin our lives again.
Sophia George is a sophomore in the SFS studying International Politics with a minor in Theatre and Performance Studies and a certificate in European Studies.