There is plenty of content out there for you to flex your cerebral muscles. For this one, sit back, strap your seatbelts, or get into your pajamas.
Six months have passed since Emily moved to Paris, and her world still appears to be tied together by a charm bracelet. First off, there is no hint of a pandemic even though the timeline is very much 2021. And we are not in Succession country either where the rich cannot be bothered with pedestrian concerns of being infected by a virus.
We are still very much in and around the fifth arrondissement in the ‘City of Light,’ in ancient apartments without elevators, with most people walking or biking to work. I kept looking closely for signs of masked passersby in outdoor scenes but it seems this is a parallel universe in more ways than one. The show, that we apparently “hate”-binged last year, is still every bit a touchscreen Parisian escape. I, for one, am not complaining. I did not even understand the hate the first time around but more on that later.
In Emily’s calendar, we catch up the very next day (from where Season 1 had ended), precisely in the morning-after her little goodbye to Gabriel ends up in the bedroom. If the last season was more about culture clashes, this season is slightly more internal. There is some amount of emotional mess to sort out, and we see a clear graph of personal growth in Emily. Linguistically too, things have moved forward. The American has begun to take her French classes seriously, even as she pens a letter to Camille with words more misplaced than she herself was on her first day in Paris.
However, her culture radar is currently limited to American and French only – when Camille offers her to take her to the hammam as a birthday present, Emily goes, “A ha-what?” Maybe we’ll need an “Emily in the Middle East” at some point? I would be down for that.
Her Insta game is still going strong; ton more followers, birthday wishes spam, a la influencer life. Almost. True to her nature, or rather the show’s nature, Emily’s “fix-it” attitude – which the show deems American – is as robust as ever, until things blow up in her face. She remains untiring in her efforts to bring sunshine into the lives of the French who are not exactly complaining about overcast skies.
Her clothes continue to be louder than American nightlife; in fact most of hers and Mindy’s (Ashley Park) clothes are characters unto themselves — they stand out like hashtags in Shakespearean verses. Among the more interesting sartorial choices are Mindy’s take on a drag costume, when she turns a part-time singer in a drag club. A Broadway talent, who has been hailed as the breakout star of the show, Park brings her all into the role, giving viewers a chance to savour not just her exquisite comic timing, but also the range of her octaves as she belts out BTS’s ‘Dynamite,’ and even an original composition, among many more.
If Emily is the most unidimensional character in the show, then Mindy is anything but – a disgraced billionaire from Shanghai, dropped out of business school in Paris, turned nanny, and is now chasing her music aspirations, gigging her way through Paris – can we have a spin-off already? Parks is more or less synonymous with perfection, whether she is her worldly wise self, a steady BFF or just a girl lamenting her complicated relationship with her father.
People have wondered what makes Emily In Paris so watchable, despite its flaws. For me, the answer lies in the characterisations. Every character is deftly fleshed out, irrespective of the screen time they enjoy. From the two-bit Laurent G (Arnaud Binard), who plays Sylvie’s husband, to Emily’s frenemy Julien (Samuel Arnold), the maverick Luc (Bruno Gouery) as her steady rock, to more principle cast members like the very genial Camille (Camille Razat) and Sylvie herself, a French Miranda Priestly played by the extraordinarily talented Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu; they are all complete stories unto themselves. We meet them, we understand them, and we root for them.
Among new faces, the most memorable is Alfie (Lucien Laviscount), the Cockney-accented, bratty banker from London who Emily meets in her French class. In case you were missing an English touch to this Franco-American cocktail, Alfie is here to fill in. There has never been a dearth of extremely handsome men in Emily’s life, and he is the newest addition to keep up tradition. We are not complaining. Chef Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), even with those soul-stirring blue eyes and silken hair, was getting a little too sulky. Laviscount, who plays a black British guy in the show, also appears to be moving the needle in terms of representation. His character comes from the more modern, non-Parisian side of Paris, inhabited by expats who cannot wait to go back. He is everything Emily is not – while she continues to make more French friends and induct herself into her Gallic surroundings with all her Americanness, Alfie is content having found a breakfast place where he does not have to order in French. A realist to the bone, he does not care for the romanticism of Paris. “Paris is built on a fantasy,” he muses at one point, to which Emily replies, “Being a romantic and a realist is not mutually exclusive.”
Thought provoking words, sure. But realism in Emily’s world is akin to the presence of Chicago’s deep dish pizza in the French capital. Lily Collins immerses herself into the titular role in all her wide-eyed glory. In Sylvie’s words, she does turn “more French” after doing the dirty on her friend Camille by sleeping with her boyfriend, but even so, Collins’ Emily is not given too many cards to play with – the layers go only as far as her clothes. But despite the improbable situations and solutions she keeps stumbling into, her disarming charm keeps us going. Collins just fits into this exuberant world that is as picture-perfect as Emily’s Instagram grid: #goodvibesonly. The proportion of serendipity in her life remains tantamount to that of chocolate in a breakfast croissant. We do see Emily’s relationships with people turn complex or stupid, depending on who is watching. But interestingly, at their core, they remain relatable, even when embellished to fantastical levels. A betrayal still stings.
While the first season was very much Emily’s point of view, in this one, the gears shift a little where we get inside the heads of others. And that helps the show from not getting tedious despite its predictable template. The internet had smoke coming out of its ears last year, when the much-maligned first season got nominated for the Golden Globe. So it is certainly not high art. But is it watchable? Undoubtedly, as the numbers would say. To quote The New Yorker, this is “ambient television”– it is light, charming, uncomplicated, and effortlessly watchable. Showrunner Darren Star has created a screen version of an airport chick-lit paperback – it knows exactly how you feel but will not do anything out of character.
We certainly seem to be living in the golden age of OTT, where prestige TV and sugary, ridiculous TV can coexist. Why hate when you can escape? Savour the sights. A boat ride on the Seine, a walk on cobbled streets, a fashion show in Versailles, or just lunch by Balzac’s grave in Pere Lachaise – for those of us yearning for but unable to take a Parisian holiday, this is a ticket to escapism. There is plenty of content out there for you to flex your cerebral muscles. For this one, sit back, strap your seatbelts, or get into your pajamas. As the tagline says, “Your Parisian holiday awaits”.
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