A few friends from the states–and our friend David here in Paris–have mentioned the Netflix series Emily in Paris. Initially, I could stomach only the first episode, so predictable was the writing. But with the encouragement of an American friend here in the neighborhood, I buckled down for more, eventually watching the entire series with a combination of shock, amusement, and laughter.
Shocked at the American-centeredness of it all. Amused by the truth of some elements of the show. Laughing at the sheer unbelievable-ness of most of it.
The series was, in the end, a mixed bag of sugar-coated fantasy thumb-tacked with the occasional twinge of real life. I rationalize these things by saying, Well, I’m sure Netflix has their audience for this kind of series. And, as Season 2 is already in the works, it seems they do.
It has been said that stereotypes contain a certain amount of truth. The difference is between a stereotype and a cliche is, I guess, the rub of this series. It’s a small planet today. The internet has connected all of us, like it or not, and so I’m not sure that cardboard cut-outs of people from another country serve us well, even in the lightest of entertainments.
Not that the writers didn’t take well-aimed shots at the American-ness of Emily. We are, as a nation, so certain and so optimistic and so eager…even when we have no reason to be so. We come unprepared, as Emily did, without knowing the culture or language, confident that we know best. Or can figure it out on the fly.
The last thing we think about is our behavior as guests in another country.
My nagging question is, did American audiences pick up on that part of the humor? Did they see themselves in Emily’s faux pas? In her simple, self-centered, fairytale view of the world?
I hope we did. For all that has been written and said about the differences between the Anglo culture and French culture, the simplest thing to say is that the two are very different. Experiencing both, appreciating both, and trying to understand both is an enriching and sometimes exhausting journey that is never complete. (See the link below for another writer’s experience.)
And if any of the writers of the show are reading this, we could use a little nuance, a little subtly in Season 2, with an original character or two, more ambiguity in the narrative, and deeper themes to ponder.
This is, after all, Paris. The city is full of all of those, and more. As writers, it’s your job to find them.