Unpopular Opinion: Emily in Paris Is Actually a Work of Literary Genius
I’ve loved Emily in Paris since season one dropped on Netflix in late-2020, but, back then, I put it down to needing some light, sparkly television. I mean, who didn’t want to see a stylish girl get whimsically lost in Paris during the world’s longest lockdown?
Apparently, a lot of people.
While I was engrossed in the series — yes, I binged it all in one day — the haters were coming for this Darren Starr creation all over the internet. Many thought the portrayal of Parisians was one-sided; showing them as a bunch of rude people in berets who frequently engage in affairs.
Despite a few of my favourite things about Paris being the berets, the “forward” people, their shamelessly romantic view on love and vocal way they talk about sex, I did see that the critics had a point.
But season two was a different story.
It was a feast for the senses. We got a dual-gender drag performance, a gorey blood scene involving an actual sabre and a bottle of champagne, a seductive Moroccan spa, an impeccable Christian Dior vesper and, lest we forget, a boundary breaking fashion show at Versailles, reminiscent of a Yorgos Lanthimos film.
I mean, it was a true work of literary genius, with sprinklings of Kafkaesque writing paired with a visual feast for the eyes and full to the brim of educated references… we even get direct references from an iconic cult French film, Jules and Jim (1962), directed by François Truffaut.
Basically ,I’m saying that if you think Emily in Paris is low-brow television, then you need to open your mind and perhaps educate yourself on some literary history.
You could start your education by simply re-watching the Sex and the City series, also created by Starr, which received horrible reviews for critics far and wide, mostly pertaining to it being nothing more than, according to a review published in the Washington Post in 1998, “four female friends (who) are supposed to be smart, successful, modern women, but all they talk about is seducing men, landing men, attracting men, pleasing men or getting revenge on men”.
Most critical reviews at the time that Sex and the City aired — almost all written by men — were of the same shade of distaste, only to later be proven wrong by winning multiple awards, running for six successful seasons and being one of the most-watched shows of all time.
It’s now, also, one of the shows we most often reference in pop culture, for being a leader in the female protagonist, sex positivity and fashion being more than just an expensive, superficial purchase. Sure, not all of SATC has aged well, but we’ve got to leave some room for growth, don’t we?
My point is, we’re quick to pick on something that is new and something that revolves around the story of a woman.
Although some of the commentary surrounding Emily in Paris‘s cultural stereotyping was warranted, and actually great critical feedback for the creators of the show, its reputation as a low-brow choice of viewing is just downright wrong — especially after watching season 2.
For those of you who aren’t literature nerds (like me), let me explain why its Kafkaesque writing dubs it one of the literary works of this generation.
Franz Kafka was one of the major literary figures of the 20th century. His short story The Metamorphosis and novels The Trial and The Castle are considered groundbreaking in the style of Modernism, and are often used as teaching texts. He is mostly known for his visions and perspective, which were integral in the evolution of modernist writing.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Kafka’s work, otherwise coined “Kafkaesque” is “characterised by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority”. Therefore, when we use the term “Kafkaesque” to describe a style of writing, it basically means any “bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening”.
I mean, that’s the entirety of Emily in Paris season two.
Emily (played by Lily Collins), is constantly bouncing around from situation to situation that she doesn’t know how to handle nor have any control over, and the whole experience is frustrating and unnerving in the most captivating way.
Even her most intimate moments with Gabriel (played by everyone’s boyfriend Lucas Bravo) feel impersonal, as though her feelings are being blocked by a situation that overwhelms her and renders her powerless.
You are constantly wanting to scream at Emily, to tell her what is going on and how she could be going about it different, and better, but the messy, chaotic and downright picturesque way that she continues to somehow land on her feet is nothing short of a miracle, and a titillating journey for us as the viewers to be on.
Through season two, we are able to learn more about the characters. For example, Camille’s dark side emerges, after she finds out that Emily and Gabriel slept together, she literally becomes a different person. Sure, a negative reaction is understandable, but there’s a new darkness to Camille that is extremely unsettling and kind of hot? She becomes this Jane Austen-style of character; overly pleasant on the surface, conniving underneath.
Then, we have the intriguing marriage of Emily’s manager Sylvie, who Emily finds out is actually still married — and seemingly still having sex with her husband — while also carrying out her own independent romantic life in Paris. We see a new side to Sylvie, a soft and sensual side, which is executed extremely well and deals with the topic of ageism in an empowering and honest way. Sylvie’s sex scenes are the horniest of season two hands down.
I mean, I could do on forever. The offbeat comedic choices, the blatant greed wrapped up in consumerist-heavy dialogue, the random moments of musical heaven with devastatingly beautiful Paris backdrops… this show is a work of art.
And I’m not the only one with this opinion, as the series has just been renewed for season three and four.
Look, if I haven’t got you onside after all this rambling, it’s okay — everyone has their opinion. I’d just recommend that before you snub Emily in Paris, you give it another watch, and look beyond the surface storyline.