Emily in Paris? More like Emily in a Pickle


Lily Collins, playing the role of Emily, is the show’s main protagonist.

Berets, boys, and backlash are at the center of Netflix’s highly criticized show, “Emily in Paris”. Following the misadventures of a young female protagonist, Emily Cooper, her romantic relationships, spontaneous French excursions, and workplace mishaps have created a clichéd, culturally insensitive narrative for viewers to watch. Critics have shamed the show for its idealized view of the city, one-dimensional portrayal of characters, and lack of genuine diversity. 

In season one, Emily Cooper moves to Paris to provide an American perspective at the French marketing subsidiary, Savoir. While she is well-intentioned in her workplace suggestions, Emily is perceived as an arrogant imposition by her French co-workers because of how culturally tone-deaf she is. Instead of trying to understand the nuances of French culture and learning their language, she only advocates for her viewpoint and often approaches professional problems with the mindset of “American saviorism.” In one scene of the show, Emily criticizes a French perfume connoisseur for oversexualizing a perfume advertisement, and while she may be correct in her own perspective, she struggles to grasp the French perspective of how this ad is meant to be a celebration of femininity. Emily is the epitome of rigidity and having a fixed mindset in terms of accepting foreign cultures and views. 

The showrunner, Darren Star, is unapologetic about Emily’s characterization and the show’s glamorous view of Paris. Audiences see France through a romanticized lens, from the illuminated Eiffel Tower to countryside vineyards to grandiose 19th century estates, which inadvertently masks the poverty and racial hate that many Parisians face. Although Paris is quite beautiful and Star wants to preserve this beauty, he does more harm than good by not accurately portraying the city. Firstly, as a country that already owns a general reputation of being immune to racism and other types of inequality, this show only further perpetuates France’s gilded appearance. It conceals important social and political issues such as gentrification, air pollution, worker exploitation, etc., which the city faces. While this is only a T.V. show, these issues are still worth acknowledging on air because it brings attention to relevant problems that Parisians encounter, increases genuine representation of the French experience, and has the potential to spark meaningful discourse amongst audiences globally. Secondly, there is a lack of diversity in Star’s portrayal. With the main protagonist being a white, heteroseuxual woman who journeys through Paris finding love and drinking champagne, her experiences do not reveal anything substantial to viewers and many believe this show actually mocks French people because of how far-fetched and assumptive it is about French culture. It also does not highlight experiences of any other group/community living in Paris via the protagonist’s interactions with others, or even the show’s supporting characters. 

Not only is the show considered superficial in its portrayal of French people as it features  repetitive tropes of marital affairs, cocktail parties, and luxurious lifestyles, but it is also offensive to other countries. Recently, Ukraine’s culture minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, complained to Netflix over a season two Ukrainian character, Petra, who upholds a negative image of stealing and acting rudely. Tkachenko was concerned about his country’s perception abroad because of how the show reinforced criminal stereotypes of Ukrainian individuals. Many also complained how “Petra” is an inauthentic Eastern European name. Another character, Alfie, who plays Emily’s love interest is a stereotypical Brit that drinks in pubs, watches football, and despises the city of love. Rather than using his character as an opportunity to reveal the intricacies and depth of British culture, Star portrays Alfie as a disgruntled and standoffish individual. These negative representations decrease viewer favorability towards any of the show’s supporting characters and their respective countries. While the American perspective may consider these portrayals as comedic and inconsequential, other opposing perspectives consider these portrayals as insulting and insensitive. Star’s argument for showcasing Paris in a celebratory limelight should not be a pretext for discluding multiculturalism and positive representations of other people. 

Although many audiences rejected this show because of its content, it was further scrutinized when Emily in Paris became nominated for a Golden Globe, while other deserving shows such as Michaela Coel’s, “I May Destroy You”, which featured Black actresses, was not nominated. Critics bashed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the nominating committee for the Golden Globes, and its long history of neglecting stories that depict people of color. In addition, a 2019 report revealed that the HFPA members visiting the set of Emily in Paris received a special two-night stay at the five-star Peninsula Paris hotel, raising questions about bribery and sparking more controversy around the show’s credibility. Deborah Copaken, a writer on Emily in Paris, later wrote in an 2021 op-ed for The Guardian how “I May Destroy You” “deserves to win all the awards” and that the HFPA is indicative of a wider problem in the entertainment industry regarding “corruption [and] sexism.”  

The show, Emily in Paris, has many drawbacks, from it’s over-romanticization of the city, to its misrepresentation and surface level depiction of most characters. However, it can be fun to hate-watch if you have a lot of time on your hands (cough cough *seniors*), or binge as a form of escapist T.V. No matter if you love or hate this show, Netflix has renewed it for a third and fourth season, so stay tuned to watch the new twists and turns in Emily’s love life, her reluctant adoption of French culture, and whether or not the show redeems itself after all the backlash faced thus far.