We (don’t always) love TV: Emily in Paris | Small Screen | Chicago Reader

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We (don’t always) love TV: Emily in Paris

Two television addicts scream about how much they hated the Netflix comedy.

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"If Emily really was from Winnetka, studying abroad in Paris her junior year would've already been her entire personality? Sorry, Winnetka." - STEPHANIE BRANCHU/NETFLIX
  • STEPHANIE BRANCHU/NETFLIX
  • "If Emily really was from Winnetka, studying abroad in Paris her junior year would've already been her entire personality? Sorry, Winnetka."

The pandemic has kept many of us from leaving the house, but honestly, why would you want to? There is too much TV to watch to go outside. Outside doesn’t have Hulu or Netflix or HBO Max. To encourage you to stay home and stay safe, comedian/writer Rima Parikh and myself (two people who watched just as much TV in the Beforetimes) will be diving deep into the shows we’re loving or lovingly hate-watching, social-distance-style, over Google chat.

What happens when a privileged white girl from Chicago gets a dream job and moves across the world to start a new life in France? If the new Netflix show Emily in Paris is to be believed, not much! Darren Star’s latest dissection of millennial influencer types follows Emily (Lily Collins) on her journey to Paris where she’s “trying to figure it all out.” The problem? She doesn’t really try that hard but in the process manages to be insulting to Chicagoans, Parisians, and all who dare to view this show. Proceed with caution.

Brianna Wellen: For the first time since we started doing these chats, I am reconsidering the name "We love TV." Because despite watching every episode, I did not love this! And yet, I felt I needed to rage watch.

Rima Parikh: This was painful . . . like I feel like I can tolerate a lot of bad TV, and bad TV can be really fun, but I really wasn't sure I would get to the end of this one. Can I get the two things that I thought they did well out of the way first?

BW: Please do!

RP: 1. Emily and her brickhead Chicago boyfriend feel like a real couple that would hang out downtown on purpose and also be rude to me at a Trader Joe's.

2. THE portrayal of GIRLBOSS FEMINISM was so spot on in a way that the writers, uh, didn't intend? Like Emily is like, "Ummm excuse ME? This French parfuuuuuum ad is SEXIST and WE AMERICANS hate sexism" when she worked in marketing for . . . pharmaceutical companies and that is literally why she is in Paris. It feels like a missed opportunity to make an absurd show about this caricature of a midwesterner.

BW: I agree on both points. I knew right away that Emily wasn't a Chicagoan like you and me when she ordered "French wine" at the sports bar then walked across the Chicago River downtown, but I can imagine such a Chicagoan exists. But I also believe that that type of Chicagoan would be much more in tune with French culture than Emily appeared to be! I completely agree that a small town midwesterner makes much more sense in this role. Someone who was never given the opportunity to learn about French culture, not someone who has been given every opportunity to and yet simply chose not to, even when living in Paris.

RP: Emily's worn her backpack on a packed train the two times she was on it and has only Ubered ever since. I think one of the biggest frustrations was how incongruous the definition of a "midwesterner" seemed. I looked up the writers and one of them is from somewhere in Michigan, and I wonder if a lot of the writing was based around that one experience? I'm trying to understand. ALSO, if Emily really was from Winnetka, studying abroad in Paris her junior year would've already been her entire personality? Sorry, Winnetka.

BW: I also find it fascinating how Darren Star is obsessed with trendy young women who work in media without seemingly ever talking to young women who work in media. For example, why were we not consulted?

RP: Maybe because we would've been like, "Babe, you need to scrap this show."

BW: Or, "Babe, actually go on Instagram even once."

RP: Wait, speaking of Instagram, how is she like this marketing rising star when she starts out with 48 followers?

BW: The way that Emily falls backwards into being a social media influencer is just one of the biggest problems I have with this show. That she basically creates an Instagram while she is in Paris and becomes a sensation by posting selfies with croissants needs to be explained more! Who are her followers? Certainly not other French folks who should be the target market for her job.

RP: Do you think Darren Star is mad that he didn't make this about TikTok.

BW: In ten years we will get the Darren Star TikTok show.

Speaking of her job, for a show that is trying so hard to be all about girl boss feminism, they make an immediate fatal flaw to me: her boss cannot take the job because she’s pregnant, so she gives it to Emily. So now you're saying women can't have a family AND a career?! Why was being pregnant stopping her from going to Paris?

RP: Yes! The whole premise has so many problems. Also, the weird workplace dynamics and the incongruity in what Emily thinks is acceptable/thinks is feminism is really confusing? Like clearly her French workplace has all this creepy sexual harassment happening, but also, her American boss calls her and is like, "Uhhh have you been dicked down recently Em? Get on that!" and she's like, "UGH dating is so crazy here" and it's like !!!! that is also so weird! Stop!

BW: On that note, let's talk about her sexual encounter in Champagne.

RP: OK what a fucked up thing to play for . . . laughs?

BW: Emily has sex with a 17-year-old and it's played off as a joke. Just a little oopsy from our star manic pixie dream girl.

RP: She's such a silly little midwesterner who accidentally had sex with a teen! So embarrassing.

BW: You can't try to make a point about sexism or sexual harassment when your main character is engaging in some pretty questionable behavior. There's a disconnect that almost feels like the script was written 20 or 30 years ago and then a group of writers was like, “OK, let's try to not get canceled” and shoehorned some "woke"ness. Barely. But the bones are still that of a show we would get in 1998.

RP: Yes! There's such a clear generational gap, and it's like, why? Why did that need to happen? Who is this show for?

BW: It feels as if there's almost no attempt to make Emily likable.

RP: I was confused about that at the beginning. Like, are we supposed to be rooting for her? By the end, it feels clear that we are, but I feel like that shouldn't be confusing? Also she doesn't have any personality traits that feel specific to her—it just felt like the writers were like, "What would someone from the midwest say?" and called it a day.

BW: Her personality is that she just doesn't get France but gosh darn it, she's gonna . . . not try at all to understand it.

RP: A bulk of the jokes in the show are just "Emily didn't translate this right" or "Emily can't speak French" or "Emily is either making a sexual innuendo or being embarrassed by a sexual innuendo." If I wanted to watch a show about someone who can't communicate with people she wants to have sex with, like, 90 Day Fiancé is right there.

ALSO Emily goes to a fancy work event and doesn't bring two PBRs in her purse? Sorry but I don't believe it.

BW: THANK YOU. This is not how Chicagoans act!

RP: I have so many thoughts about how much rage this show brings up in me and no way to categorize them.

BW: I think we are so rageful because it is such a missed opportunity.

RP: Yes! It could've had potential!

BW: I always love to see Chicago represented in television. There were moments that almost celebrated French culture and dismantled western ideas of work/life balance. There were some great side characters. But at the center of it all is a woman who is rejecting all these things, not investing real effort in her relationships, completely defying the idea that work should not define you by making it her entire identity, wearing too many bucket hats to ever be taken seriously.

RP: WHO decided to dress her like an American Girl doll?! Yeah, like I feel like so much of the plot ("plot") feels unjustified because I don't think we see Emily ever meaningfully engaging with being in a new place.

BW: She does feel like an American Girl doll in so many senses! She was simply plopped down into this new backdrop smiling, dead behind the eyes, with nothing real to do.

RP: "I came here to work." Everyone hates you! Shouldn't that make you feel bad? Shouldn't we see how you feel about that? She doesn't feel like a real person, and any of the stakes that the show has for her are hollow.

BW: Exactly. She has no emotional depth or regard for others. She is low-rent Carrie.

RP: I hope there's no season two, but if there is, like how do you even build on this character when we don't know who she is?

BW: I hate to be pessimistic, but I truly believe we live in a world where this will have four more seasons and GLOW will never be revived.

RP: It's gonna get a season two, isn't it?

BW: I don't expect every show to have some deeper meaning, or be constantly serious or poignant (that's evident from many of the shows we love!), but making a nice, breezy, feel-good show doesn't mean you can't have substance. Or at least do a little research first. If I see one more depiction of Chicago that focuses on deep dish pizza I'm gonna lose it.

RP: I would've loved a nice breezy show that did research! No one tell Darren Star about the bean. I want to be optimistic and say that they can redeem the show by trying again with building Emily and her relationships.

BW: I want Lily Collins to be likable, and I hope we can make her likable!

RP: Remember when Mindy meets Emily and is like, "Are you from Indiana?" What?

BW: What a strange guess! And what are the odds Emily would instantly befriend another American and the only nice French person who speaks perfect English? What luck!

RP: Emily's just very lucky!

BW: And THAT is the thesis of the show! You can do anything with a little bit of luck and an Instagram account!

RP: J'adore!  v

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