When asked to describe the fashionable heroine of his sunny Netflix rom-com, Emily in Paris, Darren Star chose his words carefully.
“I wanted to know, to create a character that had a lot of real sort of gung-ho ‘American qualities’—ambitious,” he told me during a recent phone interview. “She’s... she’s not a know-it-all, but she comes in with a... I think certainly a lot of, um, you know, spunk...”
He seemed to be tip-toeing around the increasingly obvious word: annoying. Eventually, he landed close: “I wanted all those qualities to be a little bit off-putting to a lot of the French coworkers she encounters,” the producer said.
Emily of Emily in Paris is the kind of character who requires a certain magic to really work. Like Star’s Sex and the City anti-heroine Carrie Bradshaw, who owed her vexing adorability to the enduringly lovable Sarah Jessica Parker, Emily would be insufferable if played by almost anyone else. Lily Collins is simply too winning, too ebullient, too unbearably adorable to hate—and so, her character’s naive optimism takes on a charismatic light all its own.
“You need a really, really charming, likable actress to pull that off without actually feeling like she’s annoying,” Star told me, finally saying the word. “Lily did a fantastic job of that—like, walking that line between being that sort of overconfident American girl and also being winning at the same time.”
The plot of Emily in Paris is consistently—comfortingly—exactly what you’d expect. A confident American college grad with both a marketing degree and a long-term relationship that’s become increasingly suffocating, Emily does the inevitable and prances onto a plane for a new, more exciting life in Paris. (Paree!) Eventually, she launches a blog called “Emily in Paris” and gets a taste of life as an influencer. Then she falls into a love triangle—sacré bleu!—because this is, after all, a show from the guy that made 90210, Melrose Place, Sex and the City, Younger, etc.
Star himself first fell in love with Paris during a college backpacking trip and returned several times afterwards; “I had this idea that I would spend enough time there to get fluent in French,” he said, “which has never happened.” A few years ago, though, Star finally did spend some time living in Paris to explore what his character might encounter in her travels.
In addition to some Devil Wears Prada-like workplace humor, Star mines Emily’s struggles as an American expat in Paris as a gentle source of friction—a faux pas here, a bidet-hair-washing session there, an argument about the objectification of women here... Anyone who watched Carrie stumble through dog feces in the Parisian streets during the final season of Sex and the City will know the vibe.
There are times when one could argue Emily in Paris bites off a little more than it can chew; the show’s discussions of objectification and #MeToo, for instance, feel a little pat. Still, those moments are few and far between—and the show’s supporting stars, including the impeccably cast Ashley Park as Emily’s fashionable friend Mindy and the smoldering Lucas Bravo as the sexy, brooding chef Gabriel, are all just as delightful as Collins.
Emily in Paris is Darren Star at his most fluent—weaving together charismatic characters, cheeky humor, and dreamy landscapes into a Euro-trip fantasy from happier times. As a chaotic summer gives way to an even darker autumn, this show feels like it beamed in from another planet in the best way possible.