Courtesy of Netflix

February 6, 2022

‘Emily in Paris’ Season 2: From Cliché to Touché

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When “Emily in Paris” first aired, French critics were appalled. The show’s portrayal of France, they claimed, was not only offensive but also tremendously inaccurate, raising many questions about its details. Why doesn’t Emily ever take the métro? Why does her office only open at noon? Is this how Americans really view France? The French cultural magazine Les Inrocks was one of many to ridicule the series’ depiction of Paris, describing it as the city of “Lights, Moulin Rouge, Coco Chanel, baguettes and ratatouille.”

Despite the criticism, audiences across the globe — including in France — streamed the show in record numbers. On May 3, 2021, Netflix announced that 58 million households worldwide had watched the series in the month following its release. The second season, which first aired on Netflix on Dec. 22, 2021, proved to be just as popular, to the point where the show was recently renewed for at least two additional seasons.

In the second season, core elements of the show remain the same, but the depiction of French people feels less superficial. The essential storyline is unchanged: 20-something Emily Cooper navigates life, love and work in Paris. Emily was sent by her Chicago-based marketing company to oversee its new French office, but her American background, as well as the fact that she does not speak a word of French, leads to major culture shock.

Season Two picks up exactly where the first season left off: Emily has to deal with the fallout of spending a night with her handsome French neighbor, Gabriel. Gabriel is a chef (he is French, so naturally he must be a chef!) and previously dated Emily’s Parisian friend, Camille. A love triangle ensues, along with plenty of drama, including an eventful dinner party that involves a cigarette case and broken glasses of champagne (yes, everything in “Emily in Paris” is always très chic). In this sense, Season Two is just like the first: flat and predictable but highly enjoyable.

However, Season Two does differ in that it tries to address some of the series’ blind spots. For one, Emily starts learning French. Her accent is terrible, and she learns the hard way that French teachers are not ones to reward students for simply trying. 

As Lily Collins, who plays Emily, recently explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, “You really … see Emily trying a little harder and making an effort in her new city. She’s really leaning into the environment and allowing herself to embrace it and become one with it.”

Season Two also introduces a new character, Alfi, who is a British banker sent to Paris to deal with the fallout of Brexit for his company. He does not buy into the Parisian fantasy, providing a more nuanced (and realistic) view of the City of Lights. Alfi and Emily start dating, which turns our love triangle into a love square. Alfi’s smugness makes for several hilarious scenes with Gabriel, in which the Franco-British rivalry is on full display. 

Additionally, the supporting cast are given more important roles this time around. Emily’s French colleagues, Luc and Julian, are more present in her life, and they’re delightfully ridiculous. Mindy, Emily’s friend and roommate, gets a storyline of her own that centers on reconnecting with her father and singing professionally. 

Perhaps the most interesting character development is that of Sylvie, Emily’s boss. In the first season, she was stereotypically portrayed as an annoying French woman who dismisses Americans as unsophisticated Puritans. In Season Two, however, she grows on the viewer as we watch her struggle to salvage the company she built, as well as start a new romantic relationship and become a real mentor to Emily.

What Season Two does best is move away from the clichés of the previous season to more thought-provoking portrayals of cultural differences. There are still some faux pas, however: There is an extremely awkward sauna scene that involves undressed French women and an embarrassed Emily. The scene was shot at the Grand Mosque of Paris (which in the show is described as a “cool Moroccan place”), and it reinforces the stereotype of American prudishness. Moreover, Emily’s fashion sense is still very eccentric, even by French standards, and after months of living in Paris she still hasn’t taken the métro or left the touristy city center. 

Yet, in general, Season Two deals well with the varying approaches of American and French culture to issues such as the corporate world, faithfulness and friendship. As someone who grew up in Paris in a Franco-American household, I found these depictions very accurate. The central message of this new season of “Emily in Paris” may very well be this: French and American people come from different planets, but in the end there is nothing stopping us from being friends. For that, and for five hours of entertaining television, I give the show four stars. 

Rafaela Uzan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].