This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
I don’t mean to be alarmist or hyperbolic, but Netflix is an insidious beast with dastardly designs and we should all be aware and in fear of its algorithmic reign of terror.
I’m not saying that Netflix invented the Omicron variant in order to make sure that we’d all be stuck at home this week with nothing to do but watch Emily in Paris—a television series whose mere existence constitutes an act of evil—but also be in such a state of despair and dread that we would actually be grateful for it. That we’d appreciate its distraction. That we’d even want or love its frothy nonsense feel-good vibes.
But I’m also not saying that Netflix didn’t not do that.
How diabolical is the streaming service in this mission? Against all odds, against the very fabric of what Emily in Paris is and every human instinct we have to discern what is good vs. what is bad, this plan has worked. After weathering a narrative as one of the most derided series and pop-culture phenomena in recent years during its first season, the second batch of episodes, released this week, have people genuinely liking this show. Could I possibly—for the love of all that is good and holy—be one of them?
Emily in Paris shouldn’t be the cultural lightning rod it’s become. About an attractive girl from Chicago who is sent to work in Paris for a year, it was innocuous and inoffensive, though unequivocally bad. That’s OK! Bad TV is fun to watch, and that’s what Emily in Paris was, to be most generous: Fun. Pretty shots of Paris. A very hot French love interest. Clothes that were absolutely hideous, but in a way that makes you know that it’s “fashion.”
When it premiered last fall, it became instantly popular. Everyone was watching it. Tweets about it flurried on the social media site like a blizzard, all with a version of the same message: “This show is so annoying. I can’t wait for more.”
Lily Collins’ Emily was as if the most unappealing character traits of the four Sex and the City women manifested themselves into one person. The show had a sentient rodent’s understanding of influencer culture and social media, which was a major issue considering the crux of the series is that Emily is a social media expert whose own Instagram account goes viral. Then there was the fact that, for all the stunning Parisian shooting locations and the aforementioned impossibly hot French boy, this was less a love letter to the city than a total mockery of it.
The French, especially, got so pissed off with the show’s portrayal of their culture that it became something of an international crisis. Studies started to come out explaining away the series’ popularity as part of a trend of TV series that are made to play while viewers pay them little to no attention, merely a colorful background to fleetingly glance at while sporadically looking up from scrolling through your phone.
But then the unthinkable happened. Inexplicably, the series earned a Best Comedy Series nomination from the Golden Globes, arguably the first domino leading to the disgrace and demise of the once-popular award show and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the body that votes for it. People couldn’t imagine how any discerning voter could consider Emily in Paris the “best” anything, other than Best Silly Thing You Binged on That One Rainy Weekend. But then it soon came to light that the voters had essentially been bribed, receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris to visit the set during production.
Emily in Paris became the beret that broke the camel’s back for the HFPA. Its long history of corruption had a comeuppance, alongside a scandal over its history of racism and the fact that not one of its members was Black. Even one of the Emily in Paris writers was embarrassed by the underserved nominations. “I tried to avoid reading its criticism, but I don’t live under a rock. It never occurred to me that our show would be nominated,” she wrote. She also issued a public apology to Michaela Coel, whose I May Destroy You was snubbed by the Globes
The more undeserved accolades the show received—somehow, after all that Globes backlash, Emmy voters also nominated it for Best Comedy Series—the more the show became this dark force of entertainment to be understood and reckoned with. And, because this is America, the more people made a point of saying something like Emily in Paris is bad, the more aggressive its fans and defenders became in insisting that it was good.
“You can’t tell me what’s good and what’s bad.” Liking Emily in Paris became a political act. Make America Paris Again.
It’s with that energy, the idea that proclaiming to enjoy the new season of Emily in Paris was in some way renegade or provocative, that so many people have started watching these new episodes.
It helps that life circumstances gave them the perfect defense to bolster their argument—whether or not they were engineered by the Netflix overlords. The world is so harrowing right now. We are perhaps lucky to have this lunatic terrorizing all of her Parisian friends and coworkers as a diversion. It’s a passport at just the right time, with all of us stuck at home either quarantining after a positive COVID test result or hunkered down in order to prevent infection.
For these people, to criticize the show would be cruel. The snarky cool kids aren’t the Emily haters now. They’re its unabashed enthusiasts.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but, in some respects, they’re right.
I watched the new season of Emily in Paris and it is an unequivocal improvement—albeit still, yes, a very bad show. Maybe it’s the resigned pleasure of knowing what you’re in for this time, but I found myself far less allergic to this maniacal doofus of a character and her tyrannical narcissism.
The show’s much more appealing supporting cast is given more to do this go around. Sure, they’re all still caricatures of what Americans assume the French would be like. The effect is an aspiring Carrie Bradshaw surrounded by a bunch of Lumieres from Beauty and the Beast. On a base level, that’s arguably enjoyable.
There are still copious issues. For how stunning so much of the cinematography and scenery is, and considering that this is a romantic comedy at its core, it’s confusingly unromantic. I think people are wrong to assume that this is some sort of millennial successor to Sex and the City. It’s all the fantasy without any of the real talk, which is what Sex and the City had in spades. And, honestly, And Just Like That, too.
That said, the Hot French Chef is somehow even hotter. Emily’s outfits have become even more outrageous and embarrassing, which is a delight to see. There are running jokes at the French’s expense that will be humorous for us, if hateful for them. There’s one refrain about it being illegal for the French to work on the weekend, and how Emily can’t wrap her head around it. I laughed a lot, as I watched five hours of screeners over the weekend so that I could write this piece.
This show may still be my nemesis, but that’s a good thing. I often argue that the greatest thing a show can be is the best version of itself. Too many series don’t even know what they’re trying to be, let alone what tone to achieve or how to execute it. That was the big miss of Emily in Paris’ first season. It was a lot of frills that amounted to nothing. This season has reconfigured itself as a “friends hanging out in Paris” glossy soap opera. It’s immensely watchable, even in its badness.
And so, voilà, here we are admitting the incomprehensible: Oui, I recommend Emily in Paris season two.