Emily in Paris: A Series So Cringe-worthy, and Yet Binge-worthy

Photo by Stephanie Banchu/NETFLIX

A still from Emily in Paris
By Nienke Harryvan | December 6th, 2021

[Warning: LOTS of spoilers ahead!]

Do you ever have that moment when you find yourself glued to a series and you think to yourself: why am I still watching this? It would not surprise me if Emily in Paris gave you that moment, as it did me. 

Soon after it appeared on Netflix in October 2020, the internet exploded with criticism on this show which kept making one blunder after another.  It has received more than enough critique on its arrogant American-centric portrayal of France, its stereotype-saturated writing, and its terribly self-obsessed main character, including critical reviews by the Guardian, Vox and countless video essays online. 

But boy. Oh. Boy. Indulge me please, because with this particular series, there is so much more to be said. Here are a few reasons why Emily in Paris is so cringe-worthy (and yet binge-worthy).

1. The show is as shallow as a puddle, with no more depth than a doormat. Ten thirty-minute episodes of Emily’s supposed exciting adventure in a Parisian PR firm bring us…well, not all that much: a few flings and flirts, a couple of difficult moments with clients, but in the end nothing that Emily’s brilliant “American perspective” won’t instantly fix.

The series seems to struggle with balancing light-hearted comedy and human reality, and appears to have lost character depth and plot tension in the process. The faint storyline sees little development, as does the main character Emily, who has no character arc to speak of. Worse still, she remains profoundly lacking in human relatability, making her quite unlikeable too. The side-characters don’t fare much better. Stripped of any nuance, some of them verge on plain caricature. This is a comedy series, of course, but I nevertheless wonder whether its characters were meant to feel so…inhuman. 

I will say, the series does take a few shots at engaging in serious public discourse – I’ll give them that. But the occasional failed debate on sexism or clichéd discussion about art aren’t very convincing. Especially when instigated by Emily – a character who has the astounding inability to self-reflect and ends the series with as much development as a corn-kernel on Mars.

2. It’s supposed to be a comedy…but tell me when to laugh? Emily in Paris just isn’t funny. And as a series nominated for the Golden Globes as best comedy series, it’s a bit painful. The writers clearly aimed for a series that would be light, hip, and snappy. While they succeeded with the light-hearted atmosphere, they failed with their script. This show had me snorting at the screen, but not for its hilarious puns. Honestly, some scenes were just too ridiculous. Take for example Timothee’s strange breast-grabbing seduction move (what are you doing?), or Emily’s cringy phone-sex moment with her ex-boyfriend. Now that cracked me up (…I don’t think it was supposed to). 

The show’s main sources of humor are cringy puns and Emily’s blundering in French, resulting in “funny” situations that have Emily accidentally ordering condoms at a café and exclaim she’s “horny” instead of “excited” in front of her boss. All in all, this show makes odd choices, and just tries too hard for a laugh. And for some reason, especially when it comes to sex.

3. “Sex sells,” right? Not here, it doesn’t. Emily in Paris is stocked with a plethora of sex jokes and references – all painfully bad and equally unnecessary. Not only do they have your toes cramp from curling up to your knees, they also get on your nerves. They feel like painful attempts to be funny or “spice things up,” and consistently get thrown at you in the hopes one of them might stick and snag your attention. As a result, the writing feels quite “easy,” shallow and, at times, just plain stupid.

4. It is utterly unrealistic. In a city of millions, Emily’s few friends coincidentally appear and reappear behind every street corner, park bench, lamp post, and trash can. Meanwhile, Paris is as clean and tidied as a scene on the Truman Show. All Emily’s problems are solved by her supposed fantastic ideas. Every non-colleague male Emily meets falls in love with her (I wish this was an exaggeration). And the deepest heartache the series urges us to sympathize with is Emily’s romantic interest in Gabriel. It’s one of the show’s few honest attempts at a more heartfelt relationship – were it not that this Gabriel is the characterless handsome neighbor she’s had about five – maybe six – ten-minute conversations with. Sigh.

All in all, the show flounders. Yet somehow, it’s still enjoyable. It’s strange, but despite all these abhorrences, the show is fun to watch. Though I found the writing ridiculous, the characters characterless, and the plot…well, absent, I still enjoyed it. While I mostly watched to cringe-binge, I definitely appreciated the show’s bubblegum colors, beautiful scenes of Paris, and overall pleasing aesthetics. The easygoing atmosphere makes it a relaxing show, perfect for when you’re done with thinking and want to give your brain a break. With all its blinders and blunders, Emily in Paris is a show that’s quite cringe-worthy, but nevertheless binge-worthy. 

Watch it, and let me know what you think! Also watch out for December 22 – season 2 is coming…