Unpopular opinion: (Or is it popular? I can't tell. That show is everywhere, although I agree whole-heartedly with the spoiler-y Guardian review that calls it "excruciating".) Well, I promise no spoilers, but I also did not enjoy "Emily in Paris". Yes, I binged the whole season in one weekend, but, towards the end of the season, I started hating myself for letting Netflix automatically foist another episode on me. That's because Emily is the worst. She's awful to her friends for one. Emily is selfish and back-stabbing, and while she calls one of her date's a snob, she's the worst kind of snob herself-- the provincial American faced with another culture. Emily isn't so much in Paris as indifferent to it, using it merely to frame herself for more clicks on IG.
But yes, I still watched it, because Darren Star knows how to put together a damn watchable show. If you don't know, "Younger" is another of his shows, and, if you haven't, you should watch that one instead. It's great. "Younger" stars Broadway vet Sutton Foster, and it's fantastic. Then there's "Sex in the City", problematic in so many ways not to mention weirdly white overall-- has Darren Star BEEN to NYC? But also arguably revolutionary for its time in some other ways as well and also... fun. The fashion. The friends. The silly drama. The women having the power.Those beats are there in "Emily in Paris", but for me the naked imperialism in Emily's steely, capitalism-will-always-save-the-day gaze annoyed me more than Carrie's inexplicable spending habits. Not to mention, it's now 2020. Can we please expect a little more from our heroines?
I feel like other people have covered the problematic stuff in SATC better than I have, so I'll stick to critiquing Darren Star's overall cultural tone deafness. Too many examples for one short blog post but did you ever notice in SATC how every time Carrie is face to face with a foreign culture, she, or let's blame the show, it manages to discredit the foreigner? And usually for Carrie's same failings?! GAH. Take the Eurotrash episode: Carrie might be an irredeemably materialistic snob who lives for Manolos but somehow that's better than materialistic hedonist snobs from Europe, because Carrie believe in things. Amurrrrican things! The last time I rewatched the series I was also struck by what a raw deal "the Russian" as she calls him gets. Poor Carrie. An all-expense paid trip to Paris, but she has to amuse herself for like a week or two? Isn't she a writer? Hasn't Star at the least shown in EiP that an American observing Paris is a trope we all enjoy. And I did enjoy EiP despite my quibbles. It was just... ugh, it could have been so much better.
Speaking of cultural tone deafness, as a poet, I have to say Carrie's reaction to Baryshnikov reading a poem is a lower point for me than her treatment of Aidan, who's kind of asking for it if you ask me. I mean, she tells me who she is, and he doesn't listen. He thinks he can change her! That's not cool of him, either, to say the least. But back to the poem Baryshnikov reads to Carrie in the episode titled "The Ick Factor": did you know that poem was written by Barry's real-life pal Joseph Brodsky? They used to talk every day until the poet died in '96. Knowing that, the scene is even more poignant. In fact, in 2016, Barry did a one-man show about the poet that I wish I'd known about four years ago. Baryshnikov said this of Brodsky, and his off-hand words conjured up more of my own real, living, multi-dimensional New York than a thousand crass SATC jokes, "We talked about mundane things. He liked to walk. From Morton Street where he lived up the Hudson or East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the East Village. He was fascinated by the light and proximity to the water." And that's the poet, Carrie dismisses as ick. Ugh.
I could go on, but this is a blog post, and if you're still reading, know that I love you and please say hi below or, if I missed anything, please add some recs to this list. With all that said, here are five French shows with more light and fun and life and dimension than all the Darren Star's many, many painful puns combined.
1. Call My Agent
This show tops my list for two reasons: it's one of my all-time favorite shows and it's also a VASTLY superior show about a Paris agency. "Call My Agent" isn't set in a marketing agency but rather an acting agency that caters only to the stars, different but with a lot of the same set-up--Make clients happy no matter what! Hustle!-- even up to and including, featuring a bunch of the same actors from EiP like the steely-eyed Sylvie, who's equally formidable in French. It's kind of "Mad Men" meets "Entourage" but with more women in leading roles and, of course, set in Paris. A Paris I'd actually like to visit one day. I'll give Emily's Paris a strong pass, as EiP's Paris feels like the inside of an empty Instagram post, just waiting for an influencer to fill it. That's said by someone who has a slow fashion diary on IG that I hope you will please go follow!
One of the best things about "Call My Agent" or "Dix Pour Cent" is that each episode features a different French celebrity playing a tongue-in-cheek version of themselves. It's witty, hilarious, the characters feel so real you'll be heartbroken when season 3 ends, so much so that you'll maybe restart it from the beginning. I have. Four times already! And I might again. After all, season 4 is supposed to drop any day now, and I have to prep.
2. The Hook-Up Plan
Another light-hearted show set in Paris. If you watched "Emily in Paris" because you wanted some escapist fluff, an urge I can completely relate to, you'll love "The Hook-Up Plan". Or "Plan Coeur" in French, which is a bit of a sweeter title and more reflective of the show's kind-hearted ethos. I couldn't really get into the second season, but I thoroughly enjoyed the actors' silly antics in the first one. It's kind of "Friends" meets ...hmmm, are there any spirited American shows featuring prostitutes? I'm coming up blank here. French is a much more sex positive culture, so this is definitely a French show. One of the leads moonlights as a gigolo and yet, it's still wholesome. That's quite a premise, but, if unlike Carrie or Emily, you can keep an open mind, the gigolo will seduce you. Er. You know what I mean. You'll be rooting for his character. I promise.
Switching genres and streaming services here-- the two above are available on Netflix but "Spiral" is streaming free on Amazon Prime-- "Spiral" is maybe one of the best procedurals ever. Comparisons to "The Wire" abound. It is also just as brilliantly written and acted as my favorite French series, "Call My Agent", but the show is based on real cases and so it's far, far, far grittier and more gruesome. If you can close your eyes a lot and not miss the plot line, then I'd still recommend it. If graphic depictions of violence bother you, I might skip this one. However, fans of "The Killing" will love this brilliantly written and acted police drama. Here's what the Grey Lady has to say about it, "Like “The Killing,” this series is centered on a solitary, intuitive and fiercely dedicated heroine, the homicide detective Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust). Laure is caustic, spirited and obsessed with her work, and she is not nearly as successful or professionally blessed as Pierre Clément (Grégory Fitoussi), who at least at the beginning is an up-and-coming prosecutor. " Here's a link to a few more French shows from that piece that I haven't seen, but that I'm equally intrigued by.
4. Family Business
Ryan and I are still in the middle of season 2, but so far I'm loving the show just as much as I did when we binged the first season last year. Which now feels like a lifetime ago. Some of the greats of the French theater are in this show, not to mention Liliane Revère, who was once upon a time Chet Baker's lover! And one of the reasons I loved "Call My Agent". It's not a glitzy or glam Paris that the show depicts, but felt the most like the "real" Paris I remember experiencing when I'd visit my older half-sister, who's one of those cool, sophisticated Parisians American girls all adore. The show isn't about It girls, though. It's about real Parisians trying to get by, and in this case their way of getting by is by starting a "family business" growing and distributing marijuana. It's also weirdly funny and wholesome despite the subject matter. It's unique. It's wonderful. If they remade it, they couldn't do this show justice in America. Although... never mind. I loved "Weeds". Well, this one is great, too. Go watch it!
5. Hors de Prix
This one isn't technically a series. Okay, it's not a series at all, but it's clever and escapist fluff, which I'm assuming you like me are jonesing for if you streamed "Emily in Paris", and this one stars Audrey Tautou playing the kind of naughty heroine Emily aspires to be but can't pull off. It also stars Gad Elmaleh, who's a huge star in France and only recently beginning to make a splash over here. At any rate, it's a great rom com to have in your arsenal, and we all need more of those in 2020!
Did I miss anything? Do you completely disagree with me, or did you love "Emily in Paris"? Don't worry! I won't bite your head off if you did. I get it. We're stuck inside, and even an Instagrammy-theme park Paris is better than staring at our same four walls. Plus, my own French dad loved the show as much as I hated it. Feel free to agree or disagree!
P.S. See below for a pic of me at my most awkward phase, visiting my glam big sister in Paris! I'd watch that show, actually!