Why Emily in Paris is 2020’s Ultimate Hate Watch
Too many berets, not enough struggle. But enough pretty to numb out.
I recently bought a tub of corn nuts from the local IGA. Once in a while, I love corn nuts. They’re fried, but I pretend they’re healthy because…I don’t know why. These corn nuts had a particular nasty flavor. Maybe from palm oil? It makes everything taste like fake butter, like scratch ’n’ sniff popcorn would taste if it were scratch ’n’ lick. I was going to throw them out, but instead I decided to eat them because they were there, and soon polished them off.
That’s my Emily in Paris experience in a (corn) nutshell.
I despised the first fifteen minutes. I was going to call it a day after half an episode, but a friend was able to talk in so much more detail about why the show sucks (“Did you see the spontaneous singing scene? OMG cringe”), I started feeling legitimate imposter syndrome. I wanted to hate it with more authority, so I hit RESUME on episode 1 and pushed on through.
It didn’t get better, but it grew on me until I found myself addicted.
Like a twelve-year-old, I watched it on my iPhone in the car, and whined “DAMMIT!” when it froze and buffered as we lost cell service on the road.
My husband: “I thought you hated that show,”
“I do! I’m hate-watching it. Fuck the service out here.”
If ever there was a right moment for a so-so show, it’s this one for Emily in Paris.
All anyone wants is to turn away from the shit show that is 2020 and look at some pretty. Emily in Paris is a mental bubble bath. A tepid one, but it does the trick. It’s a tub of corn nuts with an aftertaste that fades because you’re that desperate for something to shove in your mouth.
OK, we get it! You’re in France! The show is as heavy-handed about taking place in France as “The L Word” was about lesbians. In every episode of that show, someone would say, “Well, you know how it is with us lesbians!”
As for gripes about it being logistically unrealistic, I expect and accept that any Darren Star show will ask us to suspend disbelief. Carrie’s apartment on “Sex and the City”: on a journalist’s salary? Please. “Younger”’s 40-year-old Liza passing for 26 by getting highlights and wearing plaid? I mean…
But fine, it’s not life. It’s TV.
So I’ll forgive the outlandish insta-arc of “Oh, my boss is pregnant so I’m taking her place in Paris at an impossibly cool marketing job that comes with a sweet apartment overlooking the charms of the city and no construction or rats.”
So what made Emily in Paris a hate watch for me?
Some people said they liked Emily in Paris “for all the wrong reasons.” I suppose I dislike it for the wrong ones.
I’m probably supposed to cheer that the main character is so cocksure and capable. Très feminist! But I hate that about her.
I don’t want Emily to be plucky and resilient. I want her to be spineless, conflicted, afraid, weak-willed. I want her to be insecure and maybe have an eating disorder. I want her to be a flawed human, and by that I mean flawed like me. I don’t want to watch someone who would say in a job interview (if anyone had bothered to interview her), “My greatest failing is that I refuse to fail, and when I do I turn it into a win!”
Gag me. Gag-é moi.
Here are just a few things I wanted to be different about the show:
From the very start. I want Emily to almost not go to France at all because she’s too obsessed with her douche Chicago boyfriend. Think Lauren Conrad on the reality show “The Hills” when she’s offered a dream internship in Paris. When we cut to the plane, expecting to see Lauren, her colleague Whitney Port is on it. Cut back to Lauren, loading luggage into scumbag boyfriend Jason’s car to move in with him. It’s only soft-scripted, but *that* is good writing.
I want Emily to be mortified that she doesn’t speak French, not all, “Oh, I tried Rosetta Stone on the plane but nope.” I want her to have at least rehearsed “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French” in French, and — to her great humiliation — mangle even that. Her lack of shame reminded me that we have the ultimate Ugly American ruling our country. I don’t want to think about him! I’m watching a TV show!
Her cultural attitude
Her arrogance, if done right (with some real comeuppance) could have been an interesting fatal flaw. But telling Europeans that counting the first flight up as the first floor doesn’t make sense, just doesn’t make sense. We all know America’s measurement systems are ridiculous. Fahrenheit is stupid. Having a twelve o’clock twice a day instead of counting up to 24:00 is stupid. Counting the ground floor as “1”: stupid. The reaction should be, “Oh wow! Why don’t we do it that way in the States?”
Her social media
I want to see Emily fumbling for a good caption when she posts a picture. Not, Oh whoops I typed something cheeky about vaginas while barely looking, hit enter, and got retweeted by Brigitte Macron! I want her to spend way too long brainstorming and overthinking and deleting and retyping a cute hashtag. I want her to think that it’s going to go viral, and then panic when it gets one lone like in the first fifteen minutes. I want her to quit out of the app and restart it to see if that fixes the problem. I want her to wonder if she should take the post down because the lack of engagement is embarrassing. I want her to struggle to build a following and realize you have to do more than be pretty on a bridge with a baguette.
I know that the Patricia Field styling is a Darren Star trademark. But I want Emily to know she’s wearing all the wrong things, and cry about it. If she does have an eye for fashion, I want her to eye it through the windows of stores she can’t afford. Maybe we can see an episode of her shoplifting and going to French jail, where she must learn the French words for “lawyer” and “shiv.”
If she’s going to wear stilettos on the cobblestones, I want her to attempt these stupid stunt shoes only on the first day and then switch to an orthopedic boot because she has promptly sprained her ankle or broken her foot.
Her body image
Must she be so effortlessly thin? People are going to say I’m “body shaming.” I am. I grew up with body shame. It’s wrong of me to want this in a show, but It’s what I know. I bought a pamphlet called “Thin Thighs in Thirty Days” from Woolworths at age 10. I went on Weight Watchers at 12 and counted out my grapes. I spent a summer in Italy after Junior year of college in a program that gave us restaurant meal tickets, which I gave away to the other students while sticking to a regimen of one scoop of gelato for lunch and a tin of spinach from a takeaway place for dinner. So this is on me: I can’t relate to a twenty-something lass waltzing around Paris with zero body fat and zero food-and-body issues. If they’d cast someone with a physique that never looks quite right in all the French lewks because her boobs strain the buttons and make the fabric buckle when she sits, or who needs to wear bike shorts under her skirt to prevent chub rub, I’d be so there for it.
Also, who ends a run with a croissant? I mean, literally, finishes running while eating it? Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to wait till later in the day to have that “I burned at least this many calories on my run” reward, and pretend she’s just going to eat the ends of it but then also peel off the top layer, and then hide its floppy carcass from herself in a file drawer because she’s done but not really done? That’s what you do at work with a muffin. I’m sure a croissant’s not that different.
Way too easy. I want her to realize she’s over the Chicago boyfriend and not know how to tell him not to come to Paris, and for him to get there and for his very presence make her sick. I want her to leave him in the apartment to fend for himself (“I bought you some delicious bread and cheese to snack on”) while she goes out to “mandatory work events” and guiltily flirts with someone way more interesting to her.
Her love life
I want her to think the French men are attracted to her and be humiliated when she turns them down because they are not. Or, if they are going to fall all over her, I want some of them to be gross and for her to give a BJ to the most vile of them in a doorway at 3am because she doesn’t know how to establish boundaries and say “I’m not interested” in any language, never mind French.
Or, I want her to fall in love with a man who has zero interest. Someone in the office. I want her to plan her outfits around (also planned) run-ins with him.
If we must have the important married client whose mistress is her boss be legitimately into her, then I want her to become consumed with him and end up in an affair — the sort we know will last through her best years and lead to her in her mid-thirties, still crying to him that he promised to leave his wife.
Or, sure, keep the thing with the hot-chef boyfriend of her best friend. This twist, I liked. Maybe the best friend can suggest a three-way because she sees that her hot-chef boyfriend is interested in Emily and she wants to keep him happy…but when the boyfriend initiates the menage one night, kissing Emily while rubbing the thigh of his girlfriend, the girlfriend starts to cry and the whole thing must be called off. Emily, losing all sense of Girl Code, is driven to see this through and secretly stalks the hot chef even after he has lost interest. (We’ve all been there, right? Asking for a friend.)
Of the friends she makes instantly, I want at least one to turn out like most best friends you make that fast in your adulthood: a psycho.
I want Sylvie, her older, female boss, who’s probably my age, to be right about most things — not merely to think she’s right and then be proven wrong and out of touch when Emily’s outlandish marketing ploys actually work. I want her to be vindicated now and then. Must she always be the youth-culture-hating sourpuss? Come on, Darren Star, throw us “mature” women a bone.
Her male coworkers
OK, I like these guys. They can stay. Though rolling all the diversity into one Black, gay work friend is so pre-2020.
Stop ending the scene just when things get uncomfortable. There’s a very Darren Star acting quirk in this, which we can trace back to Brenda, Kelly and Donna in 90210. I can’t do it true justice without making the sound, but here’s the best I can do:
CHARACTER 1: “Oh no! What do we do now?”
CHARACTER 2: Smiles uncomfortably, makes voiceless air-laugh/grunt sound.
Cut to: next scene
What’s to root for? Where’s the struggle? I want Emily’s character to be the rival, not the main character. The chick who’s skinny, pretty, with a long neck and slender ankles who can wear anything and any lip color and who dares sit on the top-boss’s desk to pitch some ideas and who doesn’t even speak French and doesn’t apologize for it? Everything Emily is and does makes her the villain, not the heroine. She should be the main character’s nemesis. To cite “The Hills” franchise once again, think rich, pretty, cocky, can’t-lose Olivia Palermo on “The City.”
I’m not sorry I watched this show. I was down for some bad TV.
It gave me the bare minimum: a break from “everything going on,” as we now call this year. I wanted to numb out for ten episodes, and I did. It was pretty.
I can’t complain that it was a waste of time, because that’s what I wanted. Merci!
PS — is there a French term for “hate watch,” or do they not take pleasure (a very French value, according to the show) in wasting their time?