Somewhere in the first few episodes of Emily in Paris, Emily (Lily Collins), a guileless social media professional from Chicago, looks at her phone, which is outfitted not with an enormous PopSocket, as I thought, but a giant phone case meant to look like an analog camera. I knew this information before I watched it because someone wrote an article about it, which I saw somewhere in the bog of irony poisoning that is my Twitter timeline, which was nestled amidst jokes about Emily being in Paris and what that entails. The show itself has been out for barely a week. This ambient cultural awareness of a show that, for the record, isn’t that good, is probably exactly what Netflix wanted. However many months into the pandemic, in the middle of a hellacious election cycle, Emily in Paris is the perfect sort of low-stakes trash that was bound to be a “hit,” if the metrics are tweets, blogs, and other internet ephemera from a community that desperately needs to log off.
The premise is thin, with just enough gristle clinging to the bone to be interesting. Emily Cooper moves to Paris to teach American social media strategy to a French company, and what follows is 10 half-hour episodes of beautiful garbage, the television equivalent of double-fisting Mallomars and Jalapeno Ranch ruffles in one sitting. Of the shows that populate the Darren Starr multiverse, Emily in Paris is a dollar-store version of the two-episode arc that found Carrie Bradshaw flouncing around Paris chasing after Mikhail Baryshnikov and his artist friends. There are nods to Bradshaw, Star’s shiniest star, throughout the show, from Emily’s outfits (masterminded by Patricia Fields, the best in the biz) to her complete and utter under-preparedness for moving to a foreign country without learning the language. Also, every man wants to sleep with her and she routinely climbs the five, very long, Parisian flights of stairs to her charming apartment in stilettos. It is not reality, but its unbelievability is not part of its charm.
The city of Paris is as much of a character in this show as New York City was in Sex and the City—a glittering cosmopolis that functions as an Epcot fantasy version of itself, a Francophile teen’s dream full of boulangeries staffed by helpful old women in house dresses, where everyone smokes cigarettes, inside and out. Imagine every article you’ve ever read about French girl style, run through an Instagram filter, crossed with a “classic” fish-out-of-water narrative, and you’ll get a general idea of what you’re in for if you chose this particular adventure.
Not everything that exists on Netflix is prestige or even good; for every somber documentary series about mass murderers or exploding spaceships, there are at least five other scripted shows that are abysmal and difficult to watch—a natural byproduct of their content strategy, which seems to be throwing a handful of bucatini at the backsplash and seeing what sticks. But when the dreck like Emily In Paris takes hold and disseminates naturally through the internet’s tentacles like poison, does that count as success? Emily in Paris is an MTV production, but something about the show airing on Netflix gives it a sheen of respectability, tricking the mind into thinking that this could be something in and around the middlebrow pleasures of Younger or its spiritual cousin, The Bold Type, which is a much better workplace dramedy steeped in the same sort of empowerment feminism as this show. There’s no point in attempting to review the show on its own merits, because there really aren’t any, except for its watchability, which is arguable at best. (For the record, I will probably finish this show, against my own best intentions, because like the rest of us, I am starved for anything new.) For Netflix, a corporation that exists to capture attention, this is the end game.