In my recap of the series premiere of Emily in Paris, I raised a concern. It wasn’t even a question yet. It was simply an observation, innocuous and small. As I wrote, “It’s … unclear to me how old Emily is supposed to be.”
Well. WELL. I was much younger then. (Though still, I think, older than Emily is supposed to be.) There was so much I did not know then, even things I didn’t know I didn’t want to know, like for instance how Jeffrey Toobin occupies himself during meetings. This was late September, and I was still young enough to believe that Emily in Paris would get around to making any sense at all and that Emily’s age would become clear in time. But instead things only got murkier, and the inscrutability of Emily’s age endured.
My early note regarding the ambiguity of Emily’s age has, in my mind, become the stuff of lore — like a meet-cute, but for a reporter and a mystery. It is time for me to put on my investigative journalist hat (NOT to be confused with a bucket hat, which I do not own and will not be acquiring) and dig into this, the great unanswered query of our time.
What do we even really know about Emily? Very little, it turns out! Yet we will work with what we have and unearth what we can. Using the limited biographical information we’ve been given, combined with the sum total of Emily’s incoherent and deeply frustrating choices, actions, mannerisms, and outfits, I will do my damndest to triangulate what year Emily Cooper entered this burning world. Assisting — though also sometimes obfuscating — this effort will be extratextual intel provided by Lily Collins and (in my opinion) some very telling nonresponses from Darren Star and Netflix. OFF WE GO.
Begin at the beginning, grounded in reality: Lily Collins is 31 years old.
Without any information to the contrary, one assumes we are to believe that actress and character are the same age, non? From the jump, Emily appears to be a classic middle millennial: someone who remembers dial-up internet but not rotary phones, is active on (an extremely, aggressively lame, implausible that it could be the work of a social-media professional) Instagram but has no TikTok.
Aiding this suspicion is her relationship with the Human Plot Device: the Chicago Boyfriend. (“Doug.”) Their situation is apparently serious enough that, when she’s supposed to move to Paris, she assumes they will make it work long distance. Also at one point she says they are “engaged to be engaged” which … is not a thing, but feels like the kind of made-up mantra a delusional 31-year-old, who has been in a dead-end relationship for some considerable and borderline-embarrassing length of time, might have to say to herself to create the perception that she did not waste years of her life on someone who will never actually marry her.
During the premiere, it seemed unlikely that this marketing gig was Emily’s first job out of college, because Madeline, her much older and wiser and more experienced boss, insisted that Emily had done the requisite work and dues-paying to deserve this (hilarious, so beyond her, honestly can you EVEN) promotion. Without anything else to justify why this marketing firm would send Emily to Paris in Madeline’s stead, we have to assume that Emily is not a recent college graduate who hasn’t even made it through her first performance review. Plus, at one point Emily mentions having a master’s in marketing, which would, at minimum, put her in her mid-20s.
We leave reality and enter the “Paris” of the show’s title, where Emily’s behavior would suggest she is … 24? Fifteen? Thirty-one, but with blunt head trauma?
Emily’s conduct is so consistently juvenile that it pains me to believe she and I (and Lily Collins) are intended to be peers. See: Her complete cluelessness re: how to conduct herself in a professional setting; how easily she is scandalized by not-actually-that-scandalous dating and marital practices; the naïveté of bursting into a workplace with zero regard for its culture, norms, or language and expecting everyone to just be super-happy to hear all your (rude) ideas; every other dopey thing she does that made me, in my more forgiving moments, believe it was entirely possible that our (anti-)heroine had experienced blunt head trauma shortly before our series began.
For some reason her number-one point of reference for Paris is Ratatouille (2007).
Probably they thought it would be too wink-wink to have her talking about Carrie Bradshaw in Paris, but what adult is like, “When I think of Paris, I think of a Pixar movie for children that was released in 2007”? If Emily is 31, she was a high-school senior when Ratatouille came out. Obviously, a true middle millennial would gush about living that Mary-Kate and Ashley Passport to Paris fantasy, so either she is an extremely emotionally stunted 31-year-old, or she is supposed to be much younger than that.
Let’s say we are supposed to believe, based on her devotion to Ratatouille, that she was a child when the movie was released in theaters and it is to her what, say, The Lion King is to the average 31-year-old. If she was 10 years old in 2007, she’d be 22 years old in 2019 — this, I believe, is the absolute youngest we can believe her to be, given her aforementioned master’s, and even that is pushing it.
However, even in the event Emily Cooper was born in 1998, I still don’t believe that she would be talking about Ratatouille this much and that she wouldn’t have other, more sophisticated and/or relevant references to draw on for this journey. Did she not tell Pierre that she and her friends were obsessed with Gossip Girl? So wouldn’t she at least be seeing herself as Blair galavanting about Paris, instead of a cartoon kitchen rat? Also to make matters more confusing, Gossip Girl premiered in 2007 … which makes sense if Emily is 31 but way less sense if she is 22 … though of course she could have binged it at a later date … the mind reels, the timeline collapses in on itself, the center cannot hold.
For now let us cling to the possibility that we have figured it out, that the case is cracked like Emily’s fragile brain may have been before our series began: We can estimate that Emily is approximately 22 years old.
The strongest case in favor of Emily being 22: How she feels about Gabriel.
For me, the most “I don’t know about you, but you could be 22” tell is that, when Emily found out Gabriel had a girlfriend that he hadn’t told her about, she did not IMMEDIATELY clock that he was a fuckboy who was unworthy of her time or energy, but instead rationalized his lie by omission (it just never came up! Super innocent!) and his incessant flirtation (okay, wow, guys and girls can be JUST FRIENDS) and his kissing her back when she kissed him before she knew about the girlfriend (it’s just being POLITE, who among us doesn’t accidentally kiss people back when we’re in committed monogamous relationships with other people??) and his continued emotional and sometimes physical pursuit of her even after she and Camille met and became friends (it’s fine, we’re all friends here!!! This is how they do things in PARIS), and how, when he unceremoniously broke up with Camille and made this enormous career decision without even consulting his longtime serious girlfriend, he shrugged it all off like, oh well, guess there was nothing we could do to make it work, may as well have sex with the American neighbor I have been hitting on for months.
I know that these are all very human mistakes that one could make at any time, but back-to-back-to-back like that, I want to believe that these are the foibles of a just-out-of-college child, not a 31-year-old woman.
I have exhausted my own resources. Time to consult an expert!
Let’s invite Lily Collins, star of the show, to weigh in. In an interview with British Vogue, she said (emphasis added):
“I don’t believe we’ve ever given her a specific ‘number’ for her age, but I believe that she’s pretty fresh out of college. Maybe this is her first year after graduation. I want to say she’s like, 22-ish. She’s had enough experience at her company in Chicago to have earned the respect of her boss. She’s a smart cookie and really innovative – and this is not her first rodeo doing what she does. She’s gone to school for this, and she’s completed internships. However, she’s not the person who travelled during college. She was really, really focused on her jobs in the Midwest, and I don’t think she’s been abroad. Basically, she’s always kind of been a big fish in a small pond – and then suddenly in Paris she’s a fish out of water. If she had gone to a different company in Chicago, she would have been taken seriously – but in Paris, she’s not prepared for the cultural shift that she experiences at Savoir. Her only real experience of Europe is through movies and TV.”
This feels like as good a place as any to note that the age of the main character is an EXTREMELY basic detail, critical to the entire series making any sort of coherent sense, and it is embarrassing for all parties involved that when asked point-blank about Emily’s age, the person who is tasked with bringing said character to life can offer little more than a guess that starts with “like” and ends in “-ish,” which is to say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. To just sort of wave your hands about vaguely in the direction of an actress and say she could be anywhere from 22 to 31 is criminally lazy writing. We are talking about two completely different life stages! Literally, a 22-year-old is in a different generation (Gen Z) from a 31-year-old (millennial, no longer a synonym for “kids these days”).
Some Vulture recap readers felt I was being too hard on a show that was just trying to be Sex and the City lite, but I think this standard unfairly maligns Sex and the City, which was, in fact, an excellent television show — I’ll let Emily Nussbaum take that point from here — and even when its characters were obnoxious or wore absurd outfits or made bad romantic choices, all of those choices came from clearly defined characters whose behavior (mostly) tracked! Their actions observed the laws of physics within the show’s internal universe. Also, we knew how old everyone was supposed to be. Also also, on Younger (which is great) we know how old everyone is, for obvious reasons.
Speaking of experts, I also reached out to Netflix for comment
… but they have not gotten back to me. Presumably I have endeared myself to Netflix with my adoring coverage of this series. I trust they will return my emails soon!
Hang on, Lily Collins would like to issue a clarification:
Within a day of the British Vogue story going live, Collins posted an Instagram story walking her assertion back: “Emily looking at me when I get her age wrong,” she wrote with a screenshot from the show in which, I guess, it’s supposed to look like Emily is giving a condescending, sassy look? But most of Emily’s facial expressions look the same! It’s really just “smiling with teeth” and “beautiful yet impassive, mouth closed, no teeth.” Anyway, Collins goes on to say: “Sorry girl. You might not be 22, but I gotta say – you do act like it sometimes!!!”
Okay, cool fine awesome, but … LITERALLY HOW OLD IS SHE THEN? Collins has denied that Emily is 22 but she has not confirmed that Emily is … whatever age she is?!
We go forth knowing nothing, understanding less.
Here is what I believe: It is impossible to discern for sure how old Emily is supposed to be, because Emily is not “supposed” to be any age, because nobody involved in the writing or production of this show ever bothered to give her an age around which a significant part of her identity, perspective, and voice could be built. We are seeking an answer that does not exist.
This introduces a NEW mystery, which is: Who told Lily Collins she had to “correct” the record, and if they were going to be so adamant about that … why didn’t they tell her what age to state publicly instead? Again, I maintain this is because there IS no age, that Emily is untethered from the time-space continuum as we know it. And I assume this is because the Emily in Paris powers that be (mistakenly) think that if Emily is no age then Emily is all ages, and viewers who are 22 and 31 and everything in between will be able to see themselves in Emily. Of course, this is a bad idea because that kind of universality only arises out of specificity, so instead of getting a character to whom any human could relate we just get this vague idea of a girl/woman, wearing crop tops to the office. Will this question be answered when season two rolls around? As Emily would never say because she still cannot speak a single syllable of French: qui vivra verra!