Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3/5
Hollywood has a big Mary Sue problem. We’ve seen this a lot with recent blockbusters, including Rey in Star Wars, Mulan (the rebooted 2020 version) and even Captain Marvel. The problem with a flawless heroine is a sheer lack of tension or struggle, making any obstacles meaningless as we know our heroine will overcome them with ease. Despite a strong start, Emily In Paris embraces the Mary Sue model with open arms, leading to a disappointingly average and indifferent series.
To be fair, the first episode actually sets things up to be quite promising. Plucky and enthusiastic marketing executive Emily is flown across to Paris for the job of a lifetime. Unable to speak the language and with a less-than-enthused boyfriend back home, Emily finds herself struggling to fit in and get her voice heard.
There’s some lovely plays on the language and a couple of genuine laugh out loud moments that feel primed to take full advantage of Emily’s linguistic woes. She’s forced to look up the meaning of “La Plouc” online, she gets her pronunciation wrong constantly and her French words are lost in translation to prospective clients.
By the end of episode 3, it’s immediately apparent that Emily In Paris is more like Emily In America 2.0. The language sub-plot is completely dropped after making a big statement about feminine and masculine words. Instead, the show starts to double down on its fashion and marketing schemes which is where Mary Sue arrives.
For the rest of the season, Emily In Paris presents episodic problems for our protagonist Emily to deal with. While seemingly difficult, they’re all but resolved with ease across the same episode and with little consequence for Emily’s actions.
At one point Emily kisses her neighbour Gabriel on the lips only to find out he’s actually got a girlfriend. There’s a tease of something consequential coming from this but nothing ever does. There’s also some tensions between Emily’s boss Sylvie and Emily herself but aside from a couple of spats at the office, she brushes off any issues with ease.
In fact, there’s no big fights or dramatic elements to really speak of. Emily doesn’t learn from any of her mistakes and by the end, looks set to engage in brand new ones – even breaking her own house rules at the office. There’s a lot of deus ex machina here too – usually in the form of a big DM, like or influencer getting in touch just as things look set to take a turn for the worst.
The result is a show that constantly feels like it’s about to explode into a messy burst of melodrama but never pulls the trigger. Throughout the 10 episodes this series is always on the verge of becoming good but it never steps out of forgettable mediocrity long enough to embrace what made the early episodes so enjoyable.
It’s particularly problematic because Emily In Paris actually has some compelling elements. Shot entirely in France, this beautiful city is shown off in all its glory. The beautiful backdrop of the Eiffel Tower at night, the Seine river boat rides and even the sweeping establishing shots of the city help to authenticate the setting.
Emily’s budding friendship with Mindy is great too, and there’s some solid moments where Emily helps her friend ascend to the same heights she reaches.
Unfortunately all of this is undermined by everyone speaking fluent English by the midway point of the show. It’s even more baffling because early on that’s not the case at all. Emily has to translate a lot of her conversations and she finds herself alone in this big city.
When this sub-plot is abandoned, so too is any hope of this show dabbling in a compelling and relatable struggle for our protagonist who can do no wrong.
This brings the whole conversation back to the earlier point about Mary Sues. Having a strong female protagonist right now is certainly a plus but this is not the right way to do it. As we’ve seen from Buffy Summers, Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor in the past, you can make an interesting, memorable and empowering character with plenty of flaws.
This polished and perfect Emily is an example of everything wrong with this new wave of female characters. Much like the glossy façade of Paris, it may be beautiful and polished but it also hides the ugly side which is always obsfucated from view.
Emily In Paris could have been great. It could have been a show about a hopeless woman empowering herself to learn a new language and make a fresh start in life. Instead, the show gets lost in its own translation, too busy arguing with itself over masculine and feminine words to see what made the early episodes so special.
Emily In Paris drops on Netflix worldwide on the 2nd October 2020