‘What would Carrie do?’ How ‘Sex and the City’ lives on in Netflix’s new comedy
Last fall, on a particularly rainy day in Paris, Darren Star paused between filming scenes of his new series “Emily in Paris” to reflect on how his career has come full circle. Sitting at a table at the iconic Left Bank bistro Café de Flore, Star remembered being stuck in L.A. in production on “Miss Matched” while “Sex and the City” shot its final episodes in the French capital.
“I remember Sarah Jessica Parker calling me from the set saying how wonderful it was,” Star says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh.’ But they did a great job. I feel like this is my payback for myself that I couldn’t be there. Now I really get to be here.”
Star has loved Paris and French culture for as long as he can remember, culminating with a memorable trip to Paris when he was 19. “It was one of those places that matched — and went beyond — my expectations,” he recalls. “I fell in love with it the first time I visited.”
Since then he’s traveled to France as often as possible, and once he came up with the idea for a series about an American expat who moves to Paris and stumbles through various cultural faux pas, he made the move himself. Before pitching the series to Paramount Network (which has since sold it to Netflix, where it will premiere Friday), Star temporarily relocated to Paris about five years ago to fully immerse himself in that experience.
“I moved here, I got an apartment, I went to French class here. I liked it, and I struggled,” he says. “I wanted to see what it was like to really live here. I knew I was going to write this show, and I was like, ‘I need to just see some of the daily things.’ The little struggles and the small indignities.”
He adds, “I think all Americans are uncomfortable in Paris, to some degree. We’re all bulls in a china shop here …. This is a culture that’s about civility.”
Darren Star, creator of Netflix’s “Emily in Paris,” reflects on a 30-year career that includes “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Melrose Place” and “Sex and the City.”
Star drew on his own fascination with Paris when writing “Emily in Paris,” which follows Chicago native Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) as her marketing firm transfers her to a French company where her optimism and knack for social media doesn’t quite jibe with the Parisian sensibility. Once in Paris, Emily struggles with the cultural differences but also makes new friends and meets beautiful French men.
Star feels that Paris itself is central to the story, just as New York City was another character on “Sex and the City.” That’s why the entirety of “Emily in Paris” was filmed in France with an entirely French crew, including the same production designer as “Midnight in Paris.”
“It is a love story [about] Paris,” Star says. “I feel like you can’t duplicate that sort of thing unless you’re on location. The idea of just coming here for a week or two and trying to grab locations — there’s just too many details that would have been lost in translation. What you get in terms of the atmosphere … you can’t fake.”
“There’s such a beauty and a magic to the city that you want to properly capture,” adds Collins, speaking after the production wrapped. “To be able to shoot down random side streets as well as the Paris opera house or Café de Flore and these well-known places. You get to have 10 episodes to live and breathe within the city in a way you can’t capture in a 90-minute film or one episode of TV.”
There are a few references to “Sex and the City” throughout the series, including a return to the five-star Plaza Athénée hotel, where Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw stayed with Aleksandr Petrovsky (played by famed dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov) in the show’s final episodes. Costume designer Patricia Field, who reunited with Star for “Emily in Paris,” even gave Emily a small Carrie moment.
“In the beginning, we did a small nod to the Carrie tutu but with updates,” Field notes. “We had it made longer and in black to be a subtle moment but at the same time completely different.”
“Sex and the City” star Kim Cattrall makes her network TV debut in Fox’s “Filthy Rich” as the cunning matriarch of a televangelist family.
Carrie was always in the back of Collins’ mind when filming “Emily in Paris,” partially because she sees Emily as someone who grew up idolizing the women of “Sex and the City.”
“I was a huge ‘Sex and the City’ fan,” Collins says. “I think Emily is a huge ‘Sex and the City’ fan. She would be thinking about the episode when Carrie Bradshaw goes to Paris. Emily is very much like myself and my friends in that she has TV and movie icons who she’s looked up to and loved. She probably had posters on her walls and Post-its everywhere with lines from the show. She probably thought, ‘OK, if I’m going to go to Paris what would Carrie do?’”
She adds, “For me it was impossible as someone who loved ‘Sex and the City’ and has all these iconic moments of Carrie in my mind to not be thinking about it. When you’re at the Plaza Athénée you’re like, ‘Oh my God, Carrie and Mr. Big ran around in this hotel!’ And, ‘She was on this bridge,’ or ‘She wore this sort of outfit.’ I think that’s part of what makes those shows and those movies so iconic — they’re so memorable, and they’re forever ingrained in your mind when you see those locations.”
For Star, the power of Paris is that it evokes that history of romantic comedies and Americans’ intense obsession with the city. Sitting in Café de Flore it’s hard to forget its connection to the Lost Generation and Hemingway, and each location in the series feels like an immersive — and vicarious — visit to Paris’ most iconic destinations as well as its narrow, unassuming side streets. In conceiving the story, Star felt a female protagonist was the right way to embrace Paris and its connection to lighthearted, comedic storytelling.
“Paris is about fashion, so that’s part of it,” he explains. “If you look at romantic comedies that are set in Paris, like ‘Funny Face’ with Audrey Hepburn, I don’t think a man moving to Paris would have quite the same fascination. I love female characters — I think they’re funny and expressive, and they can be emotional in ways that men can’t. You certainly have the cliche of the tortured male artist who’s coming here. You could certainly do the guy’s version of this, but you wouldn’t get into the romance and the fun that this show has.”
“The drastic differences between the cultures sometimes within this show lend itself to lighthearted humor, and Paris is somewhere you can travel to through the show — right now — and find yourself disappearing into,” Collins adds. “So much of it is because there are these locations we dream about in Paris and that we feel connected to even if we’ve never visited because of those scenes in movies and TV, or it’s talked about in history books or travel magazines or fashion magazines. There’s this element of familiarity with it that’s super relatable. So when you pair that with romance and comedy, it’s perfect.”
‘Emily In Paris’
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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