‘Emily in Paris’ is back. Let’s break down Season 2’s most deliciously basic moments
The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “Emily in Paris.”
After spawning a cottage industry of influencer analyses and playing a featured role in the controversy around the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., “Emily in Paris” returns Wednesday for Season 2, now going head-to-head with its forerunner “Sex and the City.” This time around, creator Darren Star‘s comedy about an American woman and social media maven (Lily Collins) celebrating or desecrating the City of Light — depending on your perspective — adds new cast members, expands others’ storylines, plays with additional aspects of influencer culture and suggests a certain knowingness about the horror it causes its Parisian subjects. As Emily’s boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) says, “The French are very susceptible to having their culture interpreted by foreigners and shoved down their throats.”
Join senior ringarde editor Matt Brennan and chief ringarde correspondent Yvonne Villarreal as they discuss the return of the Netflix comedy it’s un peu fun to hate:
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.”
Matt Brennan: Yvonne, I must admit I have a complicated relationship with “Emily in Paris.” It premiered on Netflix last fall at a particularly difficult moment in both the COVID-19 news cycle — hello again! — and the presidential election, and along with Emmy winners “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Ted Lasso,” it became one of the quintessential comfort binges of the pandemic. (When I tell people I went through a period of bingeing an entire season of TV while eating pizza in bed, my mind is on this trio.) Unlike those other titles, though, “Emily’s” first season did not enjoy near-universal acclaim, and were it not for my deeply held belief that the series is about basic-ness — i.e., that it knows exactly what it’s doing — I don’t know that I would have seen it as anything more than a one-time guilty pleasure.
Now, Season 2 is here, the pandemic is surging again, and the series’ sumptuous tale of an ugly American rampaging through French culture like a bull in a fromagerie has the same ol’ pep in its step. The fashions are ludicrous, the men are beautiful, the people are mean. I feel like I’ve been transported to Paris, at least the theme-park version of it, and at a moment when my own international travel plans are once again on hold, I’m all in on the ringarde this time around.
I need to talk about Sylvie, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), the series’ Insta-adjacent aesthetic and how absolutely miserable it must be to find oneself abandoned to an all-expenses-paid luxury vacation in St. Tropez. But first, I’d love to hear your initial reaction to Season 2. Is it everything you hoped?
Yvonne Villarreal: Matt, there’s no need to qualify your love. This is a judgment-free zone — let’s live freely and confidently, like we’re walking down cobblestone streets in impractical heels and gloriously mismatched patterns by high-end designers. For me this series also comes to mind when I think about the shows that powered me through the cabin-fever days of the pandemic. I don’t even know if I would say I binge-watched it. My consumption felt way more aggressive. The way I inhaled it in five hours, you’d think Darren Star served up a plate of buttery croissants fresh out of the oven. I was in a mental state where I needed a silly adventure, and “Emily in Paris” was a stress-free trip. It’s not prestige TV or even great TV, but it’s fun and pretty to look at and not demanding of my brain. Sometimes, that’s enough.
As you pointed out, the timing of its return does come with a sense of déjà vu. I once again tore through the advance screeners — though this time I paced it out over two nights because I’m trying not to overindulge this holiday season. I have to say I was especially thrilled by how much Ashley Park, who plays Emily’s bestie Mindy, is showcased in Season 2 — and I’m not just talking about the fact that we get to hear her sing in nearly every episode — because I’ve long said I would like a companion series, “Mindy in Paris.” (I still want that, Darren Star, if you’re reading this.)
Before we get into the relationship dynamics — both in Emily’s personal life and at work — I’m curious to know what you, a person who doesn’t go a day without tweeting, think of Emily’s social media presence. You talked about how you see the show is about basic-ness and I agree ... but I wish it were more believable in its approach to this very crucial part of the show. Emily’s photo captions are mom-level. The photos and Boomerangs and whatever else she uploads to her Instagram are almost too basic. Maybe we should poll some influencers to get their take on how good or bad she is at building a following.
Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” returns “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star to the City of Light — and pays subtle homage to the earlier series’ romantic finale.
Brennan: Knives out! Touché, though — I am nothing if not Very Online. Twitter is a different beast from Instagram, Emily’s medium of choice, but what I think the show gets right is the impulsiveness and obsessiveness of social media use. Her furious typing, the overlapping messages and photos onscreen, the pings and dings of her notifications: There’s a frantic quality to her posting in which I see my own habits. And while the attention and admiration are seductive, it can easily go sideways. Emily is constantly causing heartburn for her friends and co-workers by going rogue on social, like when she lets an unsanctioned picture of a new product go viral. (In the fantasy of “Emily in Paris,” of course, all inevitably works out in the end.)
Still, I agree with you that the tone of Emily’s posts is off. I find her online presence believable in the sense that there are plenty of basics out there — myself included — but I am not at all convinced that it would fly in the high-fashion world of Savoir, the French marketing firm where she works. People who think of Vespas as an accessory and attend highly anticipated restaurant openings do not find twee puns and sunny greetings charming. (Expect maybe ironically.)
Which brings up the workplace relationships you mentioned. I never took to her colleagues Julian (Samuel Arnold) and Luc (Bruno Gouery) in Season 1, and that continues. There is such a thing as too caricatured even for “Emily in Paris,” and these guys are closer to Pepe Le Pew than I’m comfortable with. But Sylvie! J’adore. She’s as ferocious as ever — when she presented Emily with a cigarette case and basically told her to take up smoking, I squealed. Yet she’s softening around the edges as we learn more about her romantic past and present. She feels like the Samantha Jones of “Emily in Paris,” a sharp-tongued and hedonistic foil with a (hidden) heart of gold. And maybe the spice that keeps it from becoming too sickly sweet.
What do you think of life at Savoir this season? Am I the only one getting “Mad Men” flashbacks from all these pitch meetings?
Villarreal: Listen, Sylvie is so goddamn cool that she has me wanting to revert back to a Samsung flip phone. Leroy-Beaulieu is undeniably a force as the firm’s steely boss, and so effortlessly captures the allure of a woman with secrets — it’s been a delight seeing what some of those are this season. But, yes, the pitch meetings at Savoir are straight out of “Saturday Night Live”: “Spray it, don’t say it.” I guess it’s to be expected, though, when people’s lives there don’t revolve around work. I can’t help but applaud it.
But work life and personal life get messy this season. Camille (Camille Razat), Emily’s friend and client and Gabriel’s ex, comes to the realization that her friend and her ex have slept together, setting up a tailspin of betrayal a la Brenda-Dylan-Kelly of “Beverly Hills, 90210” — where, fittingly, Paris also played a part. Then the love triangle becomes a square — or is it a pentagon at this point? Sorry, Mathieu! — with the introduction of Alfie (Lucien Laviscount), an attractive and aloof British transplant and classmate in Emily’s French class. And Matt, I know you’re a fan of him judging from our Slack messages.
I’m still firmly in Gabriel’s camp, though, even as I fully acknowledge he’s a slightly toxic option — I mean, I wasn’t surprised he and Camille got back together (I’ve had enough friends do the same despite my advice), but that he would also move in with her has to be the reddest of red flags. I don’t have strong feelings for who Emily should end up with, if she ends up with anyone at all. But what I am saying is I’m a sucker for a guy who can speak French, chop squash and puts his initials on cookware.
What about you? How invested are you in Emily’s love life? And as a fellow “Grey’s Anatomy” die-hard, were you pleased with this season’s dose of Kate Walsh?
Brennan: I will simply copy and paste the Slack message in question here: Yvonne. I need help. I have such a sick crush on Alfie. With a thousand-watt grin, arrogant swagger, to-die-for accent and biceps that qualify as a Christmas miracle, Alfie has had me making Distracted Boyfriend Meme face all season — even though his hard-shell-over-vulnerable-interior shtick might be even more toxic than Gabriel’s puppy-dog routine.
To answer your question, though, I only care about Emily’s love life — I only care about anything in “Emily in Paris,” for that matter — insofar as it fuels the series’ romantic fantasy. Man, woman or fashion choice, stylish, extravagant or eye-popping, the series is a collection of bonbons strung together with mega-budget twine, and when it embraces that truth, it’s remarkably satisfying. (See Mindy and her hot love interest’s cover of “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” the ultimate low-hanging fruit of warm feeling for a sap like myself.)
In this, “Emily in Paris” reminds me more of “Grey’s Anatomy” than the “Sex and the City” reboot “And Just Like That...” When Walsh turned up as Emily’s pregnant, Chicago-based boss to work on a hilariously timed Peloton-inspired account, I was reminded of the life she breathed into “Grey’s” with her nostalgic guest spot earlier this season — and, by extension, of all the ways “Grey’s” plays its audience like a fiddle. “Emily in Paris” leans hard, at every turn, on the most obvious tropes of the rom-com canon, but like Emily, it does it so guilelessly that what should be grating becomes almost charming. It is self-aware about, and now regularly winks at, its role as pandemic-era comfort food, and it deserves credit for executing that vision without holding back.
Not to sound more basic than I already have but I am an unabashed “Emily in Paris” stan. It’s a modern trashterpiece.
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