November 25th, 2021

Emily in Paris: A Lesson in Bad TV

Escapist bad tv needs a hook. Either the situation or the characters must be utterly original to milk soapy plotline after soapy plotline from. Gossip Girl had the extreme wealth of its characters. Pretty Little Liars stemmed from a genuinely interesting mystery. Hell, even The Vampire Diaries figured out a way to make and unmake the rules of its magical world to keep that ball rolling for eight seasons and a spinoff show. Golden Globe winner, Emily in Paris' hook, the very thing that is meant to be milked to hell is the city of Paris, and I don't think the show likes Paris very much to begin with. The milk in this strange and over milked metaphor is countless jokes about how horrible any country that isn't America is, how backwards the people are, how bad everyone is at their jobs, until oh me oh my here comes to ambiguously wealthy Emily with the Bojack Horseman of tv writing pulling her strings.

Darren Star It's not the 90s anymore

Emily in Paris is a 2020 comedy created by Darren Star that follows Emily, a 20 something, American who travels to Paris for her job at a marketing firm. In Paris, she launches into an 'I don't think we're in Kansas anymore' arc, has sex, and starts a burgeoning instagram page that doubles as a blog. By the end of the season, she's only broken up one long term couple and changed the company she works at for the better as well as the entire climate of Paris culture. Because no American has ever traveled overseas apparently. This later won a Golden Globe, to which everyone profusely clapped. See, the thing with this show being so critically acclaimed in a traditional way is that it's not very good. And funny enough, that's not even the biggest problem with it. If you're familiar with the name Darren Star, then you've most likely heard of or watched Sex and the City. They were both created by the same person around 20 years apart.

Sex and the City follows a different concept and setting but a remarkably similar trajectory of working white girl womanhood, financial independence, and unimaginable ignorance and numbness to the world outside of shoes. As a working white girl with an affinity for shoes, Mr. Star, my dispute is in the mail. The show is the epitome of postfeminism with a few too many sprinkles of bigotry. Who can forget iconic lines such as “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists” and the many renditions of this statement parroted out by the girls over their overpriced brunch. Who else felt empowered as a woman when Samantha threw water at a trans sex worker. But Sex and the City was revolutionary back in the day for better or for worse. To pass it off as a mere chick flick is to ignore the genuine strides it did make in its time, despite its many shortcomings and problematic writing. The only question is, why are we making the same unneeded strides 20 years later with the same exact shortcomings and problematic writing. Why is this getting awarded?

People Don't Change

I'm going to throw a curveball here and say that I did actually like Emily in Paris to an extent. I liked it in the same way that I like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars and Bridgerton. Except the more you look into Emily in Paris, the worse it gets. Because in Gossip Girl, an argument can even be made for the first season: that amidst the unfathomable wealth and privilege, it handled issues of classism (sort of), bulimia (sort of), drug abuse (sort of), and rape culture (sort of).. And Bridgerton accepts its soap opera status, while still providing opportunities for BIPOC actors to occupy roles in a period drama that were previously exclusive to white actors. These are objectively not good shows that I still believe deserve their iconic status in pop culture. They are truly products of their time periods. Emily in Paris, on the other hand, not only is an objectively not good show, not even trying to provide any nuance or depth to its characters or story and instead deciding to make up for it by spicing it up with some much unneeded 90s nostalgia of racism, xenophobia, and general ignorance. It is the creator of the show trying to recapture the magic of his original hit, failing miserably, and still getting rewarded for it.

The 90s were a weird time, and from it all came the Cosmo Girl: perfectly portrayed in Sex and the City. The financially independent, working woman who's achieved equality and all the career success she's ever wanted, and now all she has to do is fill the gaping hole in her heart with the perfect partner. Sound familiar? So here we have the 2020 version of the Cosmo Girl: Emily. She's a working woman: glamorous as her predecessors. She's achieved all she can in her career, and now the plot can be about what it was always destined to become: her many romance affairs and wacky social life. Of course, now she's evolved to suit the social climate of her time period. She flipped off a comically sexist French dude in Givenchy! Male readers better pay attention; this is feminism at its finest! But dear Mr. Star never really learned his lesson or figured out how to evolve his writing to fix the shortcomings of Sex and the City. He still doesn't understand that BIPOC and LGBT characters are not mere plot segways or the punchlines of jokes. This is where excusably bad tv turns into something to genuinely take issue with. Serious problems of representation and treatment of BIPOC and LGBT characters that started with Sex and the City have only been neutralized to hide behind the curtain of "delusional cancel culture". People don't change. They simply get better at hiding their bigotry and then get a Golden Globe for their good behavior on not making (at least upfront) a thoroughly problematic piece of work. At least, he's still dressing his female protagonists equally tacky.

Emily in Paris is not the worst show or the most problematic show of today's age. But it is important to remember bad tv and problematic tv need to be treated as separate labels, and this show wears both. Just because the world of today is more socially conscious does not automatically make every person today who creates multimedia a poster child for progressiveness. Like the inaccurate idealism of postfeminism, tv today is not exempt from critique of being problematic because it does the bare minimum of inclusivity. We are not living in an age post race or class or anything. Seemingly little remarks deserve the scrutiny they get because we are not back in the 90s, and the expectation of accountability has rightfully increased to reflect that. Darren Star is just one of many examples of mass producing only loosely hidden remakes without any genuine thought into the impact it'll have. Not every movie or tv show is going to be good or even okay, but an effort is required, and these half-baked shows that echo problematic standards from 20, even 10 years ago cannot be the ones awarded Golden Globes or Emmy's or whatever and marketed as the ideals of television. Until season 2 then.