We are two seasons deep into Emily in Paris , and Emily (Lily Collins) – the Chicago-bred influencer with a glaring talent for being ever-optimistic – still hasn’t learned French. Not a criticism, just an observation given the writer of this review has been in India for about five years and is still butchering Telugu into kheema .
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Despite the first season having brewed some divisive opinions on the polarising Netflix show’s cliched representations of France and of Americans living in France (reducing French culture to mistresses galore, hordes of wealth and cigarette smoke, laziness and bizarrely camp fashion), here we are awaiting the launch of season two on December 22.
Season one saw Emily adjust in some pretty cringe-worthy ways to life in Paris, from using incorrect conjugations in French to coming to terms with the city’s unusual work-life approach while working at luxury marketing firm Savoir. The last scenes showed her and Gabriel (Lucas Bravo) in the throes of passion, after Emily had gotten the impression Gabriel would be off to Normandy to realise his cheffing dreams and that he had broken things off with his very likeable girlfriend Camille (Camille Razat). But Emily has also developed a little romance with luxury brand heir Mathieu Cadault (Charles Martins). Meanwhile Emily's friend Mindy (Ashley Park) — after being disowned from her uber-rich family in China — has moved in with Emily after being fired from her nanny job, ultimately pushing her to pursue her career.
New challenges for the American
The second season has certainly shifted gears slightly but not too much to change the overall bubbly and hopeful voice of Emily and of the show. We can still see shades of Emily’s ignorance regarding the consequences of her actions; her regret over her night with Gabriel translates to her determination to fix things between a heartbroken Camille and a Gabriel who wants a future with Emily. This mission from the first episode has some questionable methods; use a paid-for vacation (courtesy Mathieu) to St Tropez for a girls’ trip with Mindy and Camille, and also get a brand promotion done for work.
While the first season saw a turbulent working relationship between Savoir’s Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) and Emily, the second season sees a little more understanding between the two. While Sylvie’s cynicism pushes Emily to work harder than ever, with Emily’s empathy and kindness, Sylvie becomes a little more open-minded. This synergy is a joy to watch for anyone who has had a colleague with whom they’ve struggled to get on the same wavelength.
One of the most gratifying experiences of the season, though, is Emily lives up to her hard-working nature, and finally goes to French class. She even makes a friend: British banker Alfie (Lucien Laviscount of Coronation Street and Waterloo Road fame), spelling for another love interest in her mission to stay away from Gabriel. The straightforward Alfie challenges Emily’s unrealistic romanticism and talks about how “Paris’ reputation is all a facade... smoke and mirrors, selling you something that’s not real.” I watched his monologue four times — that is how much I loved it.
But things rarely stay so peaceful in Emily in Paris ! Given Camille’s family’s champagne brand Champére works with Savoir, her personal woes bleed into her work life, inviting more chaos. Sylvie lands quite a memorable punchline directed at Emily: “Oh Emily, you’re getting more French by the day!”
As punishment from Sylvie for a number of mishaps, Emily must work with a few out-of-profile accounts: leek farmers who want to give their humble root vegetable a chic Alison Roman makeover and make it into the likes of Goop, and an exuberant founder of Peloton-esque exercise bike. (In the latter instance, the real loser is Peloton if you have also watched Sex and the City ’s new series Just Like That )
We are also finally graced by the presence of Kate Walsh’s Madeline, the big boss in Chicago who fell pregnant and sent Emily in her place to Paris in the first place. She comes to ‘check in on’ Sylvie and her team and this places Emily in the middle of a very uncomfortable power struggle.
Nuanced writing still in progress
When writing for a show is equanimous, it makes it easy to like the central character even more because of how she interacts with the other characters. Emily in Paris has been guilty of some one-dimensional writing for characters other than its titular persona, and it shows.
If you were a fan of Gabriel in season one, season two might change your mind. His disinterest in how much he hurt Camille is as aggravating as Emily’s continued tunnel vision. Sure, he is busy with his partnership with Antoine Lavaux for his restaurant opening amid his pining for Emily, but surely no one can be that thoughtless?
Disappointingly, Camille’s arc is reduced to a heartbroken girl rather than someone who works hard for her family’s company, a loyal friend and a person in her own right. Razat does the best she can with the resources she is given, even then making Camille into something more than the other woman.
The show does some justice to Mindy, who struggles to come to terms with her visa situation in Paris while trying to make money with no moral support from her family. But she finds her voice and some love, and her storyline is one of my favourites through the new season. Without trying for a woke angle, the series examines the prevalent dilemma of finding work in a post-Brexit Europe on a foreign passport.
We finally got to see beyond Sylvie’s mistress and boss-lady status to glimpses of her past and what makes her the powerful woman she is. Even if she begrudgingly takes a round on the Pelo-Tech. Leroy-Beaulieu ups her dramatic chops, to match Sylvie’s complexity.
I am always in two minds when watching Emily in Paris ; on one hand, I cringe to see the blind blunders Emily makes and her frustrating tunnel vision, and on the other hand, it actually succeeds in summoning up a smile or even a chuckle when I watch it for a little escapism.
That said, the show does well in serving fans who want to watch something a little campy and superficial. It is still hard to vouch for Emily’s choices; but creator Darren Star has unlocked the secret formula of balancing camp and binge-worthy perhaps spelling for more drama and weird humour for season three – if that has been confirmed.
The second season of Emily in Paris streams on Netflix from December 22