Who among us is not tempted, in these apocalyptic times, to wonder what our world would be like if some critical event had played out differently? What if John Laurens had survived the American Revolution and lived to fight for the abolition of slavery at our nation’s founding? What if, decades ago, our elected officials had heeded the clear, dire warnings of climate scientists? And then there’s the question that has surely plagued you more than any other: What if Lauren Conrad had gone to Paris?
This is the alternate history imagined by our fair program, Emily in Paris, which, as both the title and trailer would suggest, is not really “about” anything beyond its almost parodically basic wish-fulfillment premise: What if YOU (in this scenario, we are all Emily) could be in PARIS (in this universe, Paris is the only interesting, exciting, romantic, sexy, worthy, etc., etc., etc., place on the face of this otherwise decrepit and pathetic world)???? Seeing as American travelers are personae non gratae (Latin, not French … sorry) in Europe for who knows how long, one can only dream, and watch this new Netflix show.
In order to fully appreciate how thrilling Paris is, we must begin in a decidedly not glamorous place, so Emily is from Chicago. Apologies to Chicago! I guess they figured she wouldn’t be quite so starry-eyed about Paris if she were from New York or L.A.? We first see Emily (Lily Collins) going for a run in this oversize jacket in Cher Horowitz yellow-black plaid. She is 18 seconds faster than yesterday because her life is about to CHANGE.
In the office, Emily is doing a brisk walk-and-talk with her boss (Kate Walsh), who has the very on-theme name of Madeline and has been dreaming of moving to Paris forEVER because men there will date older women. Exhibit A: Emmanuel Macron and his teacher-bride, Brigitte. Exhibit B: She has no other examples. On the eve of this extraordinary career opportunity — the fulfillment of an entire life’s fantasies! The reason she got a master’s in French! — Madeline vomits into a trash can at the slightest whiff of a perfume that Emily knowingly declares “smells like poetry.” In accordance with my Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine, which states that any woman over the age of 14 who vomits is pregnant, Madeline is unexpectedly expecting.
I feel like now is a good time to note that I understand this is a Darren Star production, that I find Younger very charming, and that I do know the point of this show is not to “make sense.” Yet, in these recaps, we will be questioning just how far the nonsense can stretch before it loops back in on itself and/or makes us all lose our already loose grip on what we call reality. And I do think it matters that our inciting incident, the thing that gets our girl on a plane, even remotely tracks, no? Here’s what happens: Madeline has been preparing for this job her entire life, she gets pregnant by accident — by whom? She doesn’t know, it’s all very Mamma Mia! And honestly, God bless her for that social life, but it’s all a little sketchy to me. Like, did she WANT a baby?
Also, and more to the point: Seeing as she’s not in a relationship with the father of this kid, why is her pregnancy derailing her plans? What exactly is keeping her in the United States: our shameful and appalling maternal mortality rates, the wildly expensive cost of being pregnant and giving birth here, or our nonexistent maternity leave? Flee to France, Madeline! Have a destination pregnancy where there’s universal health care!
I dwell on this not because it’s SO critical to the show (although, I mean, it kind of is, seeing as, if you don’t buy into this, it’s hard to buy into Emily going to Paris at all) but because it’s sort of lazy, sexist writing for a series that, I assume, wants to fit into a kind of you-go-girl feminism in that Bold Type vein. It’s like they couldn’t think of anything else to do to sideline Madeline but get her pregnant — and getting pregnant in this scenario would not have to sideline her at all!
But back to our heroine, for Madeline is pregnant and therefore dead to us all forevermore: Emily is wearing a Pepto-Bismol-pink coat over a pink dress to a Cubs bar where everyone else is a BOY wearing BLUE, as if the theme of the evening is “gender-reveal party.” Here, she explains the whole situation to Human Plot Device: the Chicago Boyfriend. She has made a spreadsheet of when they can visit each other, because she does not yet realize that their relationship will not survive this move.
It is here we learn something that made me actually shout “Wait, WHAT?” at my screen: Emily doesn’t speak French. We spent very little time at the office so I can’t say this for a fact, but I have to believe that all her coworkers are losing their MINDS at the fact that Emily, who, we will soon discover, also has zero expertise re: the brands she’ll be working with and the field she has been assigned, is just … getting her boss’s amazing promotion and job … based on proximity to the boss? While being hilariously underqualified? I mean, mayyyybe if she were a white guy, but as a woman, I feel like … that’s not a thing. But okay!
Emily gazes out of all the windows as she arrives in Paris and goes to her fifth-floor walk-up, which is really on the sixth floor because of how Parisians do flights, because CHARM. Strong Barefoot in the Park energy here. A young Gaston-looking man shows her to her room and tells her, “You’ve got all of Paris at your feet,” as people in Paris are wont to say. He talks to her for .02 seconds before hitting on her, at which point she blabs about the American boyfriend who WE know will not last the season (how many episodes do you give him? Three, max?), and he’s all, “So you don’t have a French boyfriend,” and leaves her with his phone number. Then she updates her Instagram handle to @EmilyinParis, I assume to make all her friends talk shit about her on a group thread from which she has been excluded (“just because you’re not here, and it’s mostly logistics and stuff”).
Not only does Emily know zero French but she didn’t attempt to learn any French before arriving. Her boss, Sylvie, dressed in a fabulous jumpsuit, is appropriately underwhelmed by the loss of Madeline (adult, fluent in French, hypercompetent) for Emily (child, helpless). I genuinely cannot tell if we’re supposed to be rooting for Emily or if the entire show is an elaborate joke about how she is insufferable and nobody knows it but her. Please leave your theories in the comments!
It’s also unclear to me how old Emily is supposed to be. I have to believe this isn’t her first job out of college, because Madeline was all, “You’ve earned this,” which would suggest she has been putting in the work for a hot minute, and because, in real life, Lily Collins is 31 years old. But if Emily is, in fact, 31 years old, why is she still so tactless and clueless about office culture and workplace norms and having normal conversations with people? Does she really think it’s a good idea to just blurt out — in English! — all her ideas about social-media strategies in her very first meeting, totally unsolicited, before she even knows who anyone is? Anyway, in this meeting we learn that Patricia, who stormed out when she found Emily couldn’t speak a lick of French, is currently running social media but that Emily is here to provide “an American perspective,” which — I just can’t believe they are putting her up in Paris for a year to tell people how to Instagram! AND, okay, if Emily is supposed to be a social-media savant, whyyyyy does she have only 200 followers?
Emily’s experience lies in pharmaceuticals and geriatric products, not in luxury brands. This is a bit confusing given the whole wannabe-fashion-plate looks she throws together for work every day, but sure. Behind her back, her superiors lament that one of the terms of the sale that brought these companies together is that they have to keep her “until she decides to leave.” And so a plot hatches in the Über-boss’s mind, presumably to torment Emily into hightailing it back to the Midwest.
Upon her return to her walk-up, Emily goes to the wrong apartment because she has already forgotten one of the only things about French culture she could be bothered to learn. Naturally, this apartment belongs to a cute French guy named Gabriel (Lucas Bravo). He says he’s from Normandy, and she literally says that she “only knows Normandy from Saving Private Ryan.” And then, when he looks at her like she’s a moron, she follows up with, “D-Day?” EMILY, I’M PRETTY SURE THE GUY FROM NORMANDY KNOWS ABOUT D-DAY. Can you IMAGINE this conversation happening in the reverse? Gabriel meets a cute Hawaiian girl. He says, “Oh, I only know that from the movie Pearl Harbor.” She looks at him like he is a psycho. He clarifies, “… World War II?”
For her next day at the office, Emily wears a great outfit — bright, breezy yellow dress, black leather belt, obviously ridiculous shoes, but I’ll take it. Again, her obliviousness about the language is so not adorable, and I am not sure to whom it would be cute that this adult woman can’t get her mouth around a merci, but here we are! She is two hours early to work because in PARIS people know how to LIVE, which means late nights drinking wine and mornings sleeping until a sane, double-digit hour. I endorse this. Also it seems like a very basic fact of the workplace that Emily could have learned if she hadn’t spent her entire first day telling everyone else how to do their job.
Of course, everyone in the office is eating lunch without her, I guess so we will pity her, so Emily finds herself at a park staring at a fountain, wondering if she has made a horrible mistake. But a potential friend walks up to her and says, “Are you from Indiana?” Okay, I’m sorry, but WHO would just assume Lily Collins is from Indiana? I’m not saying you have to be from a place to look like you’re from there — Taylor Tomlinson, California native, has a great bit about how everybody always assumes she’s from the Midwest based on her appearance. (“I get it, my face is just very wholesome, round, and white, like a chore wheel with eyes.”) But Lily Collins is from [checks Wikipedia] Surrey and was raised in Los Angeles and 10,000 percent looks like someone with said biography! Who would look at her and think Bloomington? I hate to say this so early on, but it does appear they may have miscast Emily.
Back to the new girl: Her name is Mindy, and she’s nannying for two little blond children to whom she is teaching Mandarin. For someone who speaks three languages fluently, she is remarkably unbothered by Emily’s non-proficiency in the local tongue. Sensing the profound loneliness in this American comrade, she offers herself up as Emily’s friend. Upon returning to the office, Emily learns that her coworkers have taken to calling her la plouc, which means “the hick.”
Emily takes her loneliness where we all do: to social media, where her super-basic captions are not exactly convincing me that she ought to be in charge of anyone’s social media in a professional capacity. Luc, an older man from her office, sees her pouting and tells her that the REAL reason everyone in the office is bullying her is not that she’s obnoxious and doesn’t deserve to be there but because her ideas are “modern, maybe they are better.” WHAT? Show me literally one good idea she has had this entire episode!
Emily insists that work makes her happy, because she has not yet figured out that capitalism is a prison. Perhaps this is the real emotional journey she will be taking this season. So far, I like Luc the best because he’s the only one to say to Emily’s face that showing up in Paris without speaking any French was “arrogant.”
When Emily updates her Instagram caption to something remotely genuine (about feeling lonely, not romantic), 30 people immediately follow her. Godspeed, brunette Caroline Calloway. At home, her dopey American boyfriend, who cannot tell time, calls her at 3 a.m. Paris time for the least sexy sexy FaceTime I’ve ever seen — not to encourage gratuitous female nudity on television, but it is ridiculous that he’s getting off to her with her comforter pulled up to her shoulders. And then, of course, their reception gets all fuzzy, and the call drops. Emily reaches for a vibrator, and I write in my notes, she’s going to blow a fuse with her vibrator isn’t she because she didn’t learn about the different kinds of outlets — and then the lights go out. In the entire building. And here I thought the lights were the most magical part of the city!
This will be the part of the recap where I list the most egregious, eye-roll-inducing, come-ON-now clichés and then award each episode a special cliché rating. I am doing this because the word cliché is French, and therefore I am already using more French than Emily will ever learn. It will be very scientific, like all my ratings. Please do not question my methods.
• It’s hard to pick the cliché-est cliché of them all in this episode, but I may have to hand it to the whole tear on how all French people smoke cigarettes and all Americans are fat.
• “The entire city looks like Ratatouille.” Again, I ask, HOW OLD IS SHE SUPPOSED TO BE?
• Mindy’s pitch on why Paris is great includes the line “the lights are magical” … no.
• Luc’s deep, scathing insight about the difference between France and the United States: “Americans live to work, but French people work to live.”
Cliché rating: Pepé Le Pew carrying a baguette that’s artfully sticking out of a paper bag on his way to work at approximately 10:30 in the morning.