Emily In Paris Review: Great Fashion Can't Solve This Show's Problems

The second season of Netflix "Emily in Paris" is as light as a bite of choux à la crème, but not nearly as delicious. The series' popular but maligned first season is perhaps most noteworthy for its cliche-riddled approach to French-American relations, along with the fact that unqualified social media strategist Emily (Lily Collins) seems to be constantly failing upwards.

The sophomore season, which debuts December 22, course-corrects some of the first season's problems while inventing others. The result is an escapist rom-com that's very watchable, but increasingly frustrating.

Here's Where We Left Off

"Emily in Paris" has never claimed to be doing Shakespeare. The series is made by "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star, and at times reads like a European-set, Millennial spin on that show. When we last left Emily, her biggest dilemma was that she had too many love interests. Despite her constant naivety about everything from nipple piercings to the concept of a mistress (sensibilities the show oddly and repeatedly codes as "American"; clearly Emily hasn't been to San Francisco), French guys fall over themselves to get a chance to date her.

This season, Emily remains caught between several suitors. Most notable is Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), the hot chef-next-door who the second season suddenly wants us to believe Emily is in love with. This is one of several ways in which the show tries to cram itself into a familiar romantic comedy framework despite not quite fitting. Last season, Gabriel was simply one of several attractive, charming guys who caught her eye. Now, he's suddenly being written as The One.

Here's Where We Pick Up

Of course, Gabriel is also not-so-suddenly in a committed relationship with Emily's friend, Camille (Camille Razat). The dynamic between all three characters remains tense throughout the season and is perhaps its weakest point. If "Emily in Paris" wants to be the next "Sex and the City," it needs to scrap some of that show's outdated hangups, but it seems incapable of doing so. French characters who were initially presented as free-spirited lovers are now uptight and in a perpetual state of betrayal, because the love triangle wouldn't work otherwise.

Emily's job with French marketing firm Savoir is set to expire after a year, putting a ticking clock on every choice she makes in the second season. Aside from managing the central love triangle, she also makes a new friend in her French class, cultural-exchange-averse Brit Alfie (Lucien Laviscount). Emily is also still working to get her campaign for spray-able champagne off the ground; this subplot results in one of the season's only truly surprising moments, a darkly hilarious bit that hints at an underlying comedic strangeness the show could harness if it tried.

A Fashionable High Point

If "Emily in Paris" improves in one area this season, it's the costume design. Emily is supposed to be a stylish, clever marketing strategist, but the first season saw her dashing off artless, one-take photos that somehow went viral. This season, there's a slight bump in realism, as Emily's paychecks are coming through and she now has the jaw-dropping wardrobe of a real influencer. The woman might be inexplicably unaware of the existence of selfie sticks, but she has her look together.

Still, it might not be a good sign that Emily's extravagant dresses, breathtaking blazers, and fashionable heels made me feel more than any actual plot points in the show did. There's a place in the pop-cultural landscape for fashion porn, but it's not enough to build a show on. "Sex and the City" stood out because its frank attitudes about sex were novel; "Emily in Paris" has no such defining trait. There will always be room for addictive trifles on television, but this one hasn't proven it has much staying power.

The Show Has A Protagonist Problem

The problem might be right there in the title. Despite Lily Collins' best efforts with the material she's given, the series never seems to know if Emily is meant to be insufferable or admirable. Aside from her infidelity, she's also often obnoxious; the type of person who loudly asks questions during theatrical screenings of Truffaut films. But the show also clearly positions her as a figure to root for. Writers set up small victories for Emily that often feel forced and out of touch, as when she stands up against dangerous fad diets during a pitch meeting, or when she steals a company Vespa for no clear reason besides the #aesthetic.

Often, whether or not "Emily in Paris" is enjoyable comes down to if we believe the show is actually smarter than Emily is. Does Emily exist as a commentary on white feminism or American exceptionalism? Cheap girlboss moments and a tired love triangle make me think the show isn't all that clever. 

"Emily in Paris" is the type of easily digestible series that could effortlessly take up an afternoon without a second thought, but it's also a confection that doesn't fill you up.