The reboot of the iconic Sex and the City, called Emily in Paris, was awaited with great enthusiasm from the fashion crowd. Everyone expected Patricia Fields, the legendary costumer from the original show, to grace us with a new set of flamboyantly brilliant outfits. As a French national, I was particularly thrilled that the show was set in my home country.
This article was therefore originally intended to be a review of the show’s fashion but, after having laboriously watched the entire first season, I had to address the numerous issues that made the show so painful to watch.
While the show’s original intent is to debunk sexist stereotypes and be ‘woke’ amidst the ‘#MeToo’ movement, it still manages to be insanely offensive as it is based on a number of false and/or outdated stereotypes about France and French people.
As you may have figured out from its title, the show is set in Paris. Emily is unexpectedly sent there to help transition a French marketing firm that was acquired by her company. While the French are generally not the best at second languages, Emily just assumes that everyone should speak English, while she can barely say ‘Bonjour’. She comes in, doesn’t attempt to understand the language or the customs, and decides that she MUST know better because “Americans invented social media”. The French certainly have a lot of room for progress but Emily establishes herself as someone bearing the ‘White Man’s Burden’ within the first ten minutes of the series.
The show keeps playing on the stereotype that French people are rude. But this is not an American high school and I highly doubt that people would start calling the new girl in the office ‘la plouc’ (which, by the way, is a word nobody uses anymore) or draw a penis on her paperwork.
The romantic subplot also revolves around the fact that there is no ‘ground floor’ in France and that what Americans call the first floor is in fact the second floor, but French people do, in fact, have a word for ground-floor. It is ‘Rez-de-chaussé’, for the record, and we count floors in the ‘normal way’. They should have considered basing the show in Russia if they wanted to use Emily constantly trying to open her (dashingly handsome, of course) neighbour’s door as the original spark in their relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, Lily Collins is a beautiful woman, but why is every man she meets obsessed with her? That is not how real life works, but let’s move on!
I am pretty sure that Emily thought Paris was Chicago with good croissants. She complains that the city is “cut-out in a circle just as if it was designed to confuse us” – for your information, it is actually built on a snail shape, but who’s fact checking at this point?
My favourite line of the entire show is when her new American friend talks about “the irony of how a French fry can make you feel so at home”. Not only do I feel sorry for Americans – is that really what home feels like to them? – but the scene also insinuates that the French have not yet discovered cheeseburgers, as if it’s not on every other restaurant’s menu. No, we MUST go to Ralph Lauren’s restaurant to taste it.
While Sex and the City was praised for its liberating perspective on women’s sexuality, it crucially lacked diversity in both size and race. One would think the reboot would aim to amend that but, as it turns out, it doesn’t. Out of all the characters only two recurring ones are POC: the sidekick and a guy at the office who gloriously gets to say the line “Bonjour Emily” every morning when she comes in.
Everyone is pretty much sample size. Emma Specter wrote an excellent piece about the fatphobia in the show by showcasing that the plot would be unfeasible, had the main character been plus-size.
Furthermore, Emily is horrified that the word ‘vagina’ in French is masculine and decides that she, Emily the Great, will reform the French language. Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that French is a sexist language. If there are 30 women in one room and a single man the party will be referred to as “Ils” (masculine ‘they’) rather than Elles (the feminine equivalent). Still, I haven’t heard Emmanuel Macron proudly boast “Grab them by the p*ssy”, so Emily could perhaps concentrate on the blatant sexism happening back home before getting outraged in France…
All in all, I am willing to bet on the fact that there was no French person under the age of 50 and that currently lives in France on the writing team of this show. While it was truly painful to watch because of the terrible research, it was ultimately the colonial, racist, sexist, and fatphobic values that transcend in the writing that really bothered me. It’s one thing to trash a culture for entertainment, it’s another to completely fail to be appropriate in the 21st century.