Emily in Paris, one of the latest Netflix hits, is receiving heavy criticism from all over the world, especially from France. Critics say that the series is insulting to the people of Paris and depicts them as lazy, chain-smoking snobs who are unable to be faithful. The backlash went so far as to suggest that Netflix is backing shows that get negative publicity as a marketing stunt.
Setting the Stage for Cultural Dissonance
In the series, English/American actress Lily Collins stars as an American who is unexpectedly sent to Paris to take up a last-minute placement and is struggling to fit in culturally. In Paris, Emily’s new life is centered on her work as a media maven, her rising stardom as a social media influencer, and mostly, her inability to cope with French people.
One of the first conversations between Emily and her Parisian workmates involves a heavily clichéd debate about why so many Americans are obese, with Emily responding in kind about French cigarette smoking. The dialogue is predictable and does not paint the protagonist in a positive light.
Been There, Done That?
Unlike other contemporary series, like The Bold Type, Emily in Paris avoids anything to do with racism, queer representation, corporate feminism, or sexual harassment. Instead, most of the show’s challenges are based on the protagonist’s inability to adapt to French culture.
There are also similarities between Emily and her Sex & the City counterpart Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), such as their unrealistic wardrobes and apartments. Just like Carrie afforded an infinite collection of Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik shoes as well as a home in Manhattan on a freelancer’s wages, Emily has a range of admirably risqué and expensive outfits along with a sprawling apartment complete with an excellent view to boot.
Tackling the French Factor
Is the show an irresistible fantasy or more of an annoying fantasy? Critics say the problems are not limited to the content of the show. Emily also takes candid shots of people and posts them on social media without their permission. As if this were not rude enough, the show has an awful portrayal of French people, with one reviewer saying that the stereotyping feels like “weird anti-French propaganda.” It portrays French people as always being late and chain-smoking. French gents are seen fawning over Emily, and there is a cantankerous French boss who is overly jealous of Emily’s popularity with the show’s men, not to mention the French ladies Emily photographed as they were smoking outside the gym. And to make the cultural contradictions even more apparent, there is the in-your-face positive portrayal of classic American optimism.
Is it Really That Bad?
The show has had some good reviews, like “I binge-watched this series. Travel, fashion, feminism, comedy, and romance- it’s what you need to escape this pandemic!” and “I simply love Emily in Paris – watched 4 or 5 episodes so far.” However, even though some viewers are having fun with the series, critics’ overwhelming feeling is negative. Whether the charm of Emily’s adventures will overcome the negativity remains to be seen. Maybe Season 2, if there is one, will be less contentious.