In season one of Emily In Paris, Chicago native-turned-Parisian Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) is dubbed “ringarde” or “basic” by a famous French designer. He means it as an insult, from which she passionately defends herself later, but the comment rings true in terms of Emily’s broader characterization. The Netflix series from Darren Star is marred by a nondescript protagonist, who doesn’t evolve or gain any kind of dimension in the second season, which premieres December 22. Emily—and, by extension, the show—both feel stuck in time.
Emily In Paris is essentially a whimsical, escapist comedy; it would be simpler to let it play out as a travelogue or even the couture fashion show it is meant to be. Instead, the show and its lead try to be more earnest in season two, only to fall short due to lazy writing, dramatic and stretched-out narrative arcs, and Emily’s ongoing lack of distinctive traits beyond the fact that she’s apparently good at her job.
The show continues to try to sell Emily as a relatable millennial who is obsessed with hackneyed Instagram captions. As the series begins, her world shifts when she relocates to Paris for work, trying to lend her American social media wisdom to the French marketing firm Savoir. The early sitcom-like vibe makes it so that her workplace failures somehow end up becoming convenient successes.
This is especially true in the second season as her work and personal life mesh even further, creating room for lots of chaos, whether it’s a trip to St. Tropez gone wrong or Emily losing track of an actress because of her new crush. Much like a previous Star protagonist, Sex And The City’s Carrie Bradshaw, Emily often fails upwards career-wise, all while never repeating any of her colorful, fancy outfits. It’s the American dream remade as a glamorous French illusion.
Emily In Paris relies on convenience as season two drags out the love triangle between Emily, her love interest Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), and his girlfriend Camille (Camille Razat). The latter’s Champagne brand, Champere, was already a Savoir client. Now, in order to bring Gabriel into the lead’s sphere, the series places his newly opened restaurant under Emily’s marketing turf, leading to an endlessly complicated back-and-forth between the three of them.
Emily does get a couple of new suitors: a brief tryst with Matthieu Cadault (William Abadie), and a relationship with newcomer Alfie (Lucien Laviscount), a British expat and banker who simply hates all things French. That is, until he is reintroduced to the city through Emily’s eyes. Alfie is a strong competitor for the swoon-worthy Gabriel. But as the triangle expands to a square, Emily In Paris can’t help but fall into familiar and boring patterns in order to pull at narrative threads that should have already been buried.
The show is remains all frill with little to no substance in its second season—just like Emily herself. At one point, Alfie points out how busy and fascinating Emily’s lifestyle is, yet his words hardly seem to leave an impression on her. Her romantic endeavors and professional dilemmas continue to mount, but her personality simply refuses to emerge. Emily’s insipidness stands in stark contrast to the show’s far more interesting female characters: her friends Mindy (Ashley Park) and Camille, and her formidable boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu).
Park’s radiance bolsters Mindy’s electric screen presence, even if the character gets bogged down with a rushed romance of her own. Mindy’s perseverance in trying to become a singer by working at a drag club or busking, along with her unabashed humor, manages to elevate the show to some extent. If the show had been Mindy In Paris, it would’ve been a charming and watchable TV comedy. Camille and Sylvie, the show’s two French women, are independent and fabulous in their own way. Leroy-Beaulieu gets to dive into Sylvie’s backstory a little bit more, giving the character depth, and the actor a chance to showcase more somber acting.
Just as Emily is no match for her colleagues and peers, Collins can’t keep up with her co-stars. Her expressions remain roughly the same, lest the outfits or her manicured waves go awry. Whether it’s a turbulent confrontation with a friend, a disaster at a fashion show, or juggling two of her love interests, Collins remains poised and dainty. Despite her best efforts, the role does not serve her talent.
The series insists that Emily being “ringarde” is her best asset, which the sophomore season doubles down on by trying to make use of her “tackiness” as a business. At one point, she’s in charge of making leeks cool, just as Gwyneth Paltrow did with Goop. None of it adds any real value. Unlike SATC or similarly frothy dramedies like The Bold Type or Good Trouble, the show doesn’t invest in the depths of Emily’s friendships. The characters’ bonds seem as shallow as the show’s idea of French people and culture.
Season one of Emily In Paris was also vacuous, but it arrived in the midst of a global lockdown. The show blew up because it offered a dreamy getaway to Paris’ tasteful cafes, monuments, and trends, but that’s just not enough to justify an entirely new season. Emily In Paris can’t get by on its looks in season two.