As the holidays come to a close, Netflix wanted to make sure to deliver a gift of its own: A new season of the undeniably addictive Emily in Paris.
Last year, the silly-yet-bubbly series proved incredibly divisive. For some, the show’s overt cheesiness was a much-needed respite from the hellscape of living through a pandemic. Others branded it a love-to-hate viewing experience, which didn’t win the show any favors when it reportedly schmoozed its way to two Golden Globe nominations.
The show’s leading lady Emily (played by Lily Collins) stumbles her way through the City of Love, both romantically and professionally. Her earnestness and pep at the luxury marketing firm Savoir somehow translates into her being a campaign guru for her remarkably run-of-the-mill ideas. For example, to promote her friend’s family champagne brand, her pitch was not to sell the (bad) bottles of bubbly for toasting but to be tackily sprayed at nightclubs.
The eye-rolls continued over the show’s touristy depiction of Paris and Emily’s highly unrealistic life—a Carrie Bradshaw living in a spacious Upper East Side apartment and splurging on designer shoes while initially living off a meager newspaper columnist’s salary kind of fantasyland. (But that’s probably owing to the show’s executive producer Darren Star, who also served as executive producer for Sex and the City.)
But the latest season has raised fresh complaints from viewers, and not just over Emily’s questionable wardrobe choices; rather, for the near-constant scenes of Emily’s best friend Mindy Chen (played by actress and Broadway star Ashley Park) belting out random ballads and pop songs in a bid to launch a music career—and perhaps one off-screen as well.
Before Emily in Paris, Park carved out an impressive career in the theater world, starring in The King and I, Mamma Mia!, and even earned a coveted Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 2018 for her portrayal of Toaster Strudel heiress Gretchen Wieners in the production of Mean Girls. She also featured in Tina Fey’s NBC comedy series about a girl group, Girls5eva.
Star had witnessed Park’s singing chops on the stage and called her up about playing Mindy. Originally the character wasn’t supposed to sing, Park explained in a recent W Magazine interview, but after the first few table readings, Star wanted to incorporate Park’s talents in a much bigger way.
“We talked about how we would want it to be story-driven and not just singing for the singing,” she told Vulture. “So a lot of that backstory developed after the casting and is still in development, you know? The thing that was written from the beginning is that Mindy is an heiress, and to be the only child of a very wealthy family in any country, from any culture, is a lot of pressure.”
It made Park slightly apprehensive, worried that she was being pigeonholed into another singing character, she explained to Harper’s Bazaar. “I love singing, but my first thing was, ‘Literally, Darren, anything you want me to do I will do. If you want me to amputate a pinky, I’ll think about it.’ But with the singing, the one thing I said was, I didn’t want it to feel like, ‘Oh, they cast this Broadway girl, because she sings and she’s going to sing at the karaoke bar.’”
Park’s fears were eventually calmed and her singing in season 1 was limited, as viewers learned the heiress-turned-nanny had moved to Paris for a fresh start after butchering Sia’s “Chandelier” on China’s popular singing competition Popstar, leaving behind her family’s fortune. Park’s character Mindy comes clean about her past and confesses her dreams to Emily by singing Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” on a park bench.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Where is the recording of this? Why can’t we download it,’” Park told Vanity Fair. “I was like, ‘Well, it is a one-minute a cappella version that she’s just singing in a park. I don’t think you would want a recording of that.’”
She ended up releasing a streaming version of the song and an accompanying music video last year, which was directed by Emily in Paris producer Shihan Fé Blanca.
After some positive responses to Mindy’s singing, Star decided to make it a much larger part of the storyline for season 2.
Unfortunately, the result is cringe-inducing and feels as though it’s being forced down viewers’ throats, as Park’s character breaks into song at every possible turn, performing six times in the season’s 10 episodes. The performances are couched in the plotline that Mindy has ditched nannying to focus on making it big in France.
In the first episode, she performs a full version of BTS’ smash hit “Dynamite” at a drag bar, and later is recruited by a couple of buskers to be their lead singer. (Park said she couldn’t believe production was able to get the rights to the song for the show, as she’s a massive K-Pop fan.) Later came a dramatic rendition of “All By Myself” (the Celine Dion version) and “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, from the film Once.
The lead-ins to Park’s singing are clunky, as in a busk-off with a Parisian mime; other times, Collins’ character Emily has the (somewhat unprofessional) habit of employing her close friends for professional matters, including hiring Mindy’s trio to perform “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” at a luxury product launch party.
In the finale, Park even got to debut an original song for the show, “Mon Soleil,” which is now available to stream on various platforms. “Darren had come up to me and said, ‘I think we should do an original song,’” Park explained to British Vogue.
“I was like, ‘Great. I don’t read music though.’ Luckily, my friend Freddy Wexler (who had just won a Grammy and wrote the song ‘Stuck with You’ for Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande), was available to collaborate… It’s Stevie Wonder vibes, but French, romantic and very pop.”
Park’s vocal prowess is undeniable (she’s been nominated for a Tony, after all), but the constant interruptions in the action to accommodate the next karaoke number is more annoyingly diverting than it is charming. While the series will almost certainly be renewed after ending on that cliffhanger, hopefully season 3 will have more clever lines—and a more engaging story arc—for Park rather than just lyrics.