Halfway through Season 2 of “Emily in Paris,” Emily (Lily Collins) is trying to convince Alfie (Lucien Laviscount), her handsome British classmate in her French immersion class, about the magic and awe of living in the City, when Alfie confesses: “I don’t hate it, I just don’t buy into the hype. Paris is built on a fantasy and I just happen to be able to see right through it.” Alfie’s statement doubles as a tidy summary of the latest offering from the highly popular Netflix series.
The brainchild of producer/writer Darren Star (“Sex and The City,” “Younger”), “Emily in Paris” chronicles the professional and personal misadventures of Emily Cooper, an ambitious marketing executive on the rise who is dispatched to Savoir, a small but prestigious French agency, when Emily’s boss, Madeline Wheeler (Kate Walsh) bows out due to a surprise pregnancy. The folks at Savoir are none too pleased to have Emily in their midst, especially her new boss, Sylvie Grateau (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) who quickly picks up on Emily’s “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to her position, like the fact that Emily doesn’t speak or write French.
While Emily struggles to find favor at work, her personal life is on the upswing. On her first day at the office, she befriends Mindy Chen (Ashley Park), an aspiring singer and nanny to a wealthy French family with a secret of her own: Mindy’s father is “The Zipper King,” a billionaire based in Shanghai. Emily also meets Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), her handsome downstairs neighbor, who works as a chef at a nearby bistro. Her attraction to Gabriel becomes complicated when she unwittingly befriends his girlfriend, Camille (Camille Razat). When Gabriel and Camille break up, Emily finds herself unable to resist Gabriel’s good looks and charms and sleeps with him in the Season 1 finale.
Season 2 picks up in the aftermath of Emily and Gabriel’s night together, but how Emily chooses to deal with the emotional fall-out of sleeping with her friend’s ex-boyfriend is one of the glaring weaknesses of “Emily in Paris.” Throughout the series, Emily is told several times by Sylvie and others that Paris is the place to fall in love and make mistakes, and indeed while our twenties serve as the scratch pad of our lives, true growth comes out of being accountable of those mistakes and making amends. Unfortunately for the audience, the writers of “Emily in Paris” aren’t the least bit interested in delving into any thoughtful analysis of their protagonist and her motives. The way Emily goes about trying to hide her night with Gabriel from Camille while continuing the friendship is truly cringeworthy. While “Emily in Paris” clumsily acknowledges the difference in sexual mores between Americans and the French, I think we can all agree that sleeping with your bestie’s ex and then lying to her about it is just a bad look, whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on.
This kind of recklessness also follows Emily in her professional life. While her working relationship with Sylvie has improved, she quickly blows any goodwill with her boss when she very nearly costs Savoir one of its most high-profile clients — temperamental fashion designer Andre Cadault — with a poorly thought-out Instagram post.
To distract herself from the entanglement of her love triangle with Gabriel and Camille, Emily finds a new love interest in the form of Alfie. Laviscount and Collins share a sweet and easy on-screen chemistry, but viewers will know better than to invest in this pairing since Emily still has eyes for Gabriel.
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There are some bright spots to this season, like added screen time for Emily’s BFF, Mindy. When Mindy is fired from her nanny gig, she decides to pursue her singing career full-time and is recruited to join a band. Park, who scored a Tony nomination in the 2018 Broadway production of “Mean Girls,” not only provides some of the show’s comic relief but has an amazing singing voice, which episodes wisely showcase.
There is also more of a storyline for Sylvie, who is given more nuance after being disappointingly relegated to the “older woman dragon lady boss” trope in Season 1. While American TV and film tend to fail at portraying the sexuality of women over 50, Sylvie is allowed to have a thriving love life and more importantly is not penalized for her sexual agency because of her age. There’s also a nicely written scene in Episode 3, where Sylvie schools Andre Cadault on beauty and aging in the fashion industry.
There is also further exploration of the American work culture in “Emily in Paris,” which has even more resonance in light of a global pandemic and stay-at-home mandates that have forced us to re-evaluate our relationships to work/life balance. While Season 1 found Emily’s high-strung personality at odds with what she perceives to be a laid back corporate culture at Savoir, Emily starts to see the merits of rest and relaxation that the French value and how it actually improves both her personal and professional lives.
Season 2 of “Emily in Paris” delivers when it comes to the lush cinematography of Steven Fierberg, who shoots Paris so beautifully it will feed your inner wanderlust, and the fantastical costume design of Marilyn Fitoussi. If you meet “Emily in Paris” where it’s at — as pure escapism — it’s a bearable viewing experience. But don’t look for anything deeper.
“Emily in Paris” Season 2 premieres Wednesday, December 22 on Netflix.