‘Emily in Paris’ Loses Its Camp Magic in Messy Third Season
“Everyone likes watching a story about two people trying to fight off their natural attraction to each other,” declares the dashing Chef Gabriel (Lucas Bravo) while strolling after dark with Emily (Lily Collins) in the new season of Emily in Paris.
Gabriel and Emily have just left a very uncomfortable outdoor screening of the French classic How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and the two — whose will-they-won’t-they energy has fueled basically the entire series — are strolling down the boulevard, exchanging glances but nothing else. And it’s true: their chemistry is practically dripping from the walls of the bubblegum-pink Instagram installation where they end up. But what once felt like a fun drift through a magical alternate universe, by Season Three, has come to feel like a stagnant decision that no one is willing to make.
This frustrating indecisiveness is spread across almost every aspect of the third season of Darren Star’s series, which was released in its entirety today on Netflix. When we last left Emily and the Savoir crew at the end of Season Two, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) had just quit her marketing firm along with the rest of her employees, a radical and (as we see this season) somewhat short-sighted show of loyalty for designer Pierre Cadault (Jean-Christophe Bouvet). Emily, feeling dejected by the colleagues with whom she’s become so close, is overjoyed to find out that they want her to come, too.
Warning: Minor spoilers follow
Yet, as usual, Emily feels ambivalent. When we open on Season Three, she still hasn’t chosen whether she wants to work for her Chicago-based boss Madeline Weaver (Kate Walsh) at the new Savoir, or Sylvie at her yet-unnamed company. Instead, she lies and works for them both — a non-decision. At the same time, she wants to commit to hunky British banker Alfie (Lucien Laviscount), but keeps finding herself distracted by Gabriel. “Are you just trying to have it all?” quips Sylvie at one point. “That is so American.”
Camille (Camille Razat) and Mindy (Ashley Park), Emily’s closest female friends, are also given passive love interests — people who they seem to be attracted to, but are reluctant to pursue. For Camille, it’s the Greek artist Sofia (Melia Kreiling) who comes on to her in a confessional doubling as an art installation. For Mindy, it’s Nicolas de Leon (Paul Forman), scion of the powerful JVMA luxury conglomerate — someone who, unlike her previous boyfriend, understands the pressures of being a very wealthy heir. Sylvie — Emily’s unquestionably sexy French boss — wears her age and experience as a badge of honor, so it’s frustrating to see her take a similarly laissez-faire approach to her love life, doing little to stop her young photographer boyfriend from taking off, then quickly falling back into bed with her semi-estranged husband.
The most frustrating part of the new season, however, is that even when a character is pushed to make a decision, it is both predictable and free from consequences. Madeline — the ur-American with jacked-up tits and a grating French accent, despite allegedly minoring in the language — decides to go back to Chicago and confronts Emily, saying she’s booked a ticket as well. Emily, finally making an active choice, says she wants to continue her Parisian adventure — “running toward something,” as she puts it. Madeline appears on the brink of fury — is Emily in Chicago not far on the horizon? — only to embrace her young charge and tell her to have a lovely time. Similarly, when Emily, Sylvie, and the rest of the French team cause an uproar at one of Cadault’s shows, the wrath she receives from Nicolas, now heading Cadault’s company, quickly dissipates. He’s angry for half an episode, then everything goes back to normal for Emily. When Mindy gets mad at Emily for putting her in the middle of the work drama, the anger doesn’t even last for half of un café.
Perhaps the only people to show any real agency are the men in the show, and only when they’re fighting for professional gains. Cadault, the aging designer who signs away his company, and his longtime rival Gregory Dupree (Jeremy O. Harris), spar for creative control of the fashion house. Gabriel fights so hard for a Michelin Star that he puts a friend’s relationship on the line. (Emily, for her part, continues to be a workaholic — “You’re so good at your job,” her friends keep telling her, as she shuns French decorum to make every outing a business meeting — but without any actual goals other than bringing the brands she cares about to the world.) Sylvie, as strong a character as she is, spends the season fending off offers that she doesn’t want, resorting to possible blackmail, if that’s what it takes.
Part of what made the last two seasons of Emily in Paris compelling was the show’s willingness to adopt off-beat humor and larger-than-life fashions. This one’s allowed everyone to succumb to normalcy. This season should have leaned into the show’s situational absurdity, in both demeanor and sense of style. By the time the finale brings together the characters for the first real conflict of the season, it’s too late — the momentum of the show’s been lost, and even the cliffhanger feels like a last-ditch attempt at drama. “Not choosing is still a choice,” Alfie says in the first episode, scolding Emily for not picking him over her work. Star, by not choosing to go harder on his characters, lets them ambivalently coast through their world: still technicolor, still camp, but without the sense of adventure that made the show such a delight to begin with.