Once upon a time, TV creator Darren Star specialized in frothy soap operas featuring a plethora of people not yet old enough to rent a car (Beverly Hills 90210, Grosse Pointe, Melrose Place). But then he seemed to tire of his large ensemble dramas, zeroing in instead on plucky, stylish urban heroines ready to take life by the horns (Sex And The City, Younger). In his latest creation, Emily In Paris, Star continues along that bent, featuring his pluckiest heroine yet, for both good and ill.
Lily Collins stars as Emily, a Chicago marketing wunderkind who suddenly gets sent to Paris when her company buys a smaller French firm. Her boss (a woefully underused Kate Walsh) was supposed to go, but she got pregnant, and in the Emily In Paris world, women can’t fly even in the first trimester. Emily arrives at the Parisian marketing firm to offer a fresh, American perspective on apparently alien things like social media, to the consternation of her constantly sneering, smoking new colleagues. Despite her humble Midwestern roots and mere handful of trunks, Emily looks like she just walked out of Teen Vogue, never repeating an outfit, Carrie Bradshaw-style (trust us when we say that no one in all of Chicago dresses like she does). A bland Windy City boyfriend shows up so briefly we wonder why he’s there at all.
Emily’s snooty new coworkers look down on her enviable, fantastical wardrobe. But it’s mainly the fact that she can’t speak French that seems like an insurmountable hurdle. All this leads to myriad faux pas, despite Emily’s sheer determination to make a success of her new life, armed with kicky accessories, an Instagram account that’s chock-full of quippy hashtags, and out-of the-box marketing ideas that somehow always triumphantly rise from the ashes after initially crashing and burning.
The quick removal of the forgettable boyfriend opens up Emily’s Parisian love life, where she has no shortage of suitors: a pretentious philosophy professor, a handsome fashion heir, and Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), the cute chef neighbor who—oh no!—is dating one of her few new friends. That tired triangle amounts to heavy drama compared to the rest of Emily In Paris’ frothiness, though Collins and Bravo certainly smolder. Fortunately, Emily, like Carrie Bradshaw and Younger’s Liza before her, takes full control of her love life, open for the occasional tryst but also ready to discard an admirer at the first utterance of a crude word or a snobby opinion.
Emily’s career shenanigans don’t fare much better than her relationship hijinks. If she already worked at the corporate headquarters, why is she worried about getting fired all the time? Emily’s evil queen boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who looks enough like Lea Thompson to make you think that she has a fancy French doppelgänger, is Devil Wears Prada with a French accent and overflowing ashtrays.
At least Star’s previous protagonists offered some humor in the face of their plights, but the jokes here are tired as well. Fifty francs if you can guess what happens the first time Emily plugs in her vibrator in her Parisian apartment (shorts out the whole building? Exactamente!). The repeated reference to the “coq” in Gabriel’s coq au vin at a dinner party is supposed to be hilarious. At least Emily’s verging-from-enemies-to-frenemies coworkers (Samuel Arnold as Luke and Bruno Gouery as Julien) offer some decent French-laced wisecracks.
Ultimately, Emily In Paris’ strongest asset is its compelling case for Francophilia. As all of our passports gather dust and European travel is something we can only dream about, the series’ luscious on-location backdrops are drool-worthy, Emily’s frequent high-class events, from influencer luncheons to formal cocktail parties so shimmering we can almost taste the champagne. Collins has enough charm to save Emily from being full-on saccharine, and she’s so stunning that she’s able to pull off every ensemble, from a pink plaid newsboy cap with matching cardigan to Audrey Hepburn-worthy evening gowns. As travelogue and fashion inspiration, Emily In Paris makes for an enjoyable watch—but the familiar plights of its rom-com heroine are easily outshone by the gorgeous, glittering surroundings.