Paris – I still have the text message saved from my best friend here who arrived last October with an urgent need for a high speed TGV train. He just said “omg,” with seven extra G’s, and preceded a screenshot of American actress Lily Collins sitting at Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in Paris’s 5th arrondissement: my favorite café in town, with the best sausage and lentils at lunch and a view of a mysterious little square behind Pantheon.
My friend texted me: “I’m done with the show,” and for weeks after I agonized over the brutal mockery that my Parisian bolt hole was about to become a tourist site, like the brownstone of Carrie Bradshaw or the platform of a Harry Potter train station.
I’ve lived in Paris, and have known my way around French culture and French men (I had just married one). I thought I was a sophisticated person with better taste than the millions that come every year. And here was Emily, in one of her stupid clothes, in Mine Cafe.
Shame appears to be a common reaction to “Emily in Paris,” which became the hate hour par excellence in Pandemic Year One, whose second season arrives on Netflix Wednesday with… The new variant Omicron. That show’s renewal for a second season might surprise you, if you’re in the dwindling number who still think critical contempt and general nausea can triumph over streaming algorithm logic.
Netflix says “Emily in Paris” was its most popular comedy series of 2020, and the show earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy (after more than 30 members of the famous Hollywood Foreign Press Association came here in the five-star category” Emily” Junkett).
It’s worth being precise about its appeal, because “Emily in Paris” isn’t trash TV, and it’s not some “Real Housewives of Île-de-France.” She’s not even drenched in champagne enough to be a runaway, in the “big little lies” or “gossip girl” way. It’s something weirder and newer than those: Like a gluten-free meringue from the food court at Bon Marché, so a whisper asks you not to watch, at least not without your phone in your hand. In this, I must say, it does sound like a hack, although perhaps in the sense that having the coronavirus could be a hack.
When we left Emily at the beloved Place de l’Éstrapade (or Place Emily, as I call it now) at the end of Season 1, our Chicago heroine was at a romantic crossroads. Gabrielle (Lucas Bravo), the chef neighbor she finally slept with, decided to stay in Paris and open his own restaurant—not filmed in the Nouvelle Mairie, thank God, but in an Italian spot across the square. This makes things difficult for Emily’s friendship with Camille (Kamil Razat), Gabrielle’s girlfriend; It also muddies the waters with Emily’s current beau, though if you can remember his name Matthew, you’re really ahead of me.
I watched all 10 episodes of season one—let’s say 2020 was a rough year and I left it there—and yet I don’t remember any of those details, which took on the same fleeting impact as my Instagram reel. I still have some fun, vague memories of Sylvie (Philippine Leroy Beaulieu), Emily’s boss and the only person here with whom I’ll have lunch for two hours (at L’Astrance, and on expenses).
The second season has the familiar amenities. Emily and her marketing firm co-workers still run half-serious ad campaigns, and product placements are still pitched thickly like foie gras on pain. There’s the same old cliché, which was meant to be true to Parisian knowledge: Sylvie smokes in the office, has a husband and a lover, and swears by magic leek soup for weight loss you might remember from “Oprah” circa 2005.
Emily’s fashion continues to be indescribable: a green shaded jacket worn with purple motorcycle gloves! Home dress decorated with a heart worn pink coat and gang! Blue Lace Bust – A with one sleeve Blue Lace Bust – Somehow rated as a work fit! It’s as if Darren Star, the creator of both “Sex and the City” and this show, has replaced the costume designers with a low-level machine learning algorithm that beams Carrey’s catchy clone.
I have friends who say they watch stupid TV like this to “turn their minds off”, but I had the opposite feeling: My brain was so unexhausted that it started working overtime. When I wasn’t browsing my phone, I found myself involuntarily writing new episodes that could bring a bit of real Paris to Place Emily. An hour later they just started writing themselves: Emily misspelled an address on her taxi app, and He ends up in Eric Zemmour’s pool. Emily’s best friend visits from Dubai, but her head scarf is causing a stir at Savoir…
But Paris, in “Emily in Paris”, is not so much a city as a series of transferable backdrops. Lunch at Café Marly in the Louvre. Coffee on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. Drinks at Lutetia Hotel’s bar. And above all there is Emily’s Place, the perfect little hideaway on the Left Bank, where our fellow American is She’s taking over my yard for her own dinner party. For filming in the area, Le Monde reported this summer that Netflix closed seven streets. “They think they bought the whole neighbourhood,” complained one local who lived next door to Gabriel’s—though the field baker appreciated the compensation, which means, “I don’t have to make a single French toast.”
It’s always sunny on Place Emily, although the DP on the show appears to have trained at Dolly Parton’s Film School: it takes a lot of money to make Paris look cheap. At least there was some real-world magic in The Devil Wears Prada, where Anne Hathaway throws a fountain-throwing T-Mobile Sidekick on the cloudy Place de la Concorde. Whereas “Emily in Paris” comes close to being an Instagram feed in its own right: a gently flowing stream of vaguely familiar characters in vaguely familiar settings, costumes veiled in color, lighting settings tweaked, with no major developments to report.
Is “Emily in Paris” really an anamorphic projection of emilyinparis, Emily’s Instagram account, in motion pictures? That would explain the complete lack of impact this 20 episodes of Blancmange has had on me, and how little I care because Emily never gets stuck on the RER or waits in line for a visa renewal.
Compared to “Sex and the City” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Emily in Paris” may be cinema ferret too, insofar as it shows us the luxury of the smartphone biographies we all compulsively hold dear. Some days I wonder if it’s better just to accept this: to accept the tragic triumph of Emilism, to accept the basics that have surrounded us all, than to take one last pathetic stand for a life without mediation. What is there to do? Insisting to your friends (and followers) that Netflix’s Paris is a fake, and that you alone have discovered the real city? Isn’t this the most emoji move ever?
On a Monday morning, as I was running late, under a classic gray Parisian sky that no Netflix outlet would allow, I slipped into my favorite corner of the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie. I’ve suffered various small indignities, the likes of which Emily will never know: waiting two hours for an antigen test; delayed trip bumper-to-bumper traffic on the ring road; An old man, who was suckling what wasn’t his first white wine of the day, and coughing up his lungs on the table next to mine.
The day was cold, the virus was circulating, but Emily’s place was still here. With the air of American possession I felt like I was back home, and so I took out my phone and angled it so the gray stones looked fine, and took a picture. Emily, This is me.