Darren Star gives Paris the 'Sex and the City' treatment with new show, 'Emily in Paris'

Emily in Paris shows a sanitized view of Paris
Emily in Paris shows a sanitized view of Paris AFP - THOMAS SAMSON

When "Sex in the City" came out in 1998, perhaps no one loved the show more than the New Yorkers the series portrayed. Now Star has turned his sights to Paris, and the French capital is abuzz. 


"Emily in Paris", Star’s newest adventure, is about a young woman from Chicago who moves to Paris for a year to bring American social-media strategy to the French company her firm had newly acquired. The scenario is as clichéd as fans of Star might anticipate: she arrives a loud-talking ingenue who doesn’t speak French and wears glaringly bright clothing. Her French colleagues look down their noses at her through auras of cigarette smoke and insult her to her face in the language she doesn’t understand. Those who aren’t hitting on her, of course.

It’s as stereotypical a view of Paris as "Sex in the City" gave of New York—and the French are eating it up. "Emily in Paris" is the most viewed show on Netflix in the country and the press here can’t stop talking about it. The show has locals seeing their city in a new light and behaving like tourists—a welcome development in these Covid times, when actual tourists have a hard time getting here.

For some establishments, the attention the show has brought to them has been a lifeline in these dismal economic times. The Italian restaurant where Emily’s hot neighbor is a chef doesn’t have the same name as it does in the series, but that hasn’t stopped fans from finding it. Called “Les Deux Compères” in the show, the actual restaurant is called Terra Nera, and since the series started streaming in early October, people haven’t stopped coming to have their picture taken there, co-owner Valerio Abate told BFM TV’s business show. Whereas their previous clientele was fairly old, the new wave of diners is decidedly younger, co-owner Johann Baranes said. The two have capitalized on their newfound popularity by launching a special "Emily in Paris" menu.

The bakery next door, where Emily buys a pain au chocolat, has been similarly inundated.

This being Paris, there is, of course, the fashion. While her French colleagues might not have appreciated Emily’s sense of style, viewers did. Elle magazine—the French version—ran an article telling readers where they could buy the looks showcased in the series.

The French being renowned complainers, there has been plenty of grousing that the Paris depicted in the show is riddled with stereotypes. That is not untrue: Emily steps in dog poop, her colleagues start work at 10:30 am, her female co-workers are chic but chilly and stay slender by smoking (in their offices) instead of eating, and the men are libertine letches.

Other critics charge that Emily’s Paris is unrealistic. She lives in a “chambre de bonne,” the maid’s quarters that occupy the top floor of most buildings in Paris, but hers is unusually large, with a surprisingly lovely view. Her downstairs neighbor is a dazzling handsome man whom French women on Twitter complain is not at all representative of the male contingent that actually occupies the capital.

"Clichés all have an element of truth, otherwise they wouldn't be clichés,” Agnès Poirier, author of "Rive gauche", a work devoted to the post-war intellectual milieu, told AFP. "Compared to American cities, yes, Paris looks romantic and the French have a more tolerant attitude towards extra-marital relationships.”

Some of the criticism goes well beyond superficial quibbles. There are few hints of the reality of Paris, such as the Yellow Vest protests, or the disenfranchised minorities from former colonies. Twitter made a stab at setting the record straight by Tweeting photos of Emily in more realistic situations, such as paying a king’s ransom to a locksmith, waiting in an interminable line to get her paperwork, finding it impossible to cancel her cell phone contract, and standing nose-to-sweaty armpit on the metro, but the overall picture of the show is decidedly sanitized and rosy—as was the Manhattan in Sex in the City.

But maybe in the this most trying of years, this fluffy, over-sweetened merengue of a show is exactly what the French need to remind them of the magic of their capital city, despite the abundance of garbage and protests and rats and, yes, pandemic. And just as "Sex in the City" spurred young women to move to New York to try to find their cocktail-sipping crowd of women (and their Mr Big), "Emily in Paris" has young Americans dreaming of becoming expats in Paris, where the food is always good, the men always sexy and cobblestones never trip up a girl in stilettos.

If only the borders were open.




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