The American video streaming service Netflix has just released the third season of its Emily in Paris opus, a product specially designed to make little hearts in love with romance and pretty postcard landscapes beat all around the world.
For those who haven’t followed the episodes that tell the story of her first adventures, Emily Cooper is a young, smiling American woman who arrives from her native Chicago to work in marketing in the capital of love and fashion. And there (via TV miracle) she bursts in, like Mary Poppins frolicking happily in the middle of a pastel-coloured drawing on the pavement, into a city full of chic and charm—in brief, a capital such as Parisians have not seen for a very long time.
A clean city. No tags, no bins, no rubbish on the pavements, no empty kebab wrappers spilling their leftover harissa-ketchup sauce on the tarmac, and above all, no rats.
A safe city. No muggings at dawn or dusk, no wallets swiped by gangs of grubby Roma at the turnstile of the metro, no crazy scooters or electric bikes that could take off an arm, a leg, or both at every corner.
A beautiful, sparkling city. A city where the delightful Emily strolls along avenues lined with impeccable Haussmann buildings, shining with the pretty blonde stone of Paris, or with charming little houses that seem to have escaped from the time of Molière and Marivaux.
An amiable city. A city full of French people who look like French people, and where all Parisian women are elegantly perched on pretty heels and proudly wear silk scarves, and where all Parisian men have charming smiles.
In a word: Paris.
A Paris like no other … But a Paris so irresistible that everyone dreams of only one thing: moving there. According to a British real estate specialist, online searches for Paris have jumped by 1.416% to move to the French capital since the third season of the series aired.
Yet TV spectators could legitimately complain to Netflix about false advertising. Ask the Parisians; they are painfully aware of the other side of the coin.
“When the girl sings on the Pont des Arts, they must not have filmed the floor because you can’t see the rotten planks,” says Véronique Chartier, vice-president of the Union Parisienne Association. “What I regret is that even these ‘signature’ places, which were also the pride of Parisians like the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars, the Trocadero, the Buttes-Chaumont, no longer look like what they used to be and what we see in Emily in Paris,” adds @panamepropre, creator of the hashtag #SaccageParis. “It’s quite certain that before shooting a scene, they clean the streets,” adds Valérie Montandon, a Republican member of the urban planning commission. For this opposition politician, Emily in Paris shows the traditional image of Paris, one shaped by history and embellished by its Second Empire street furniture—Wallace fountains, Davioud benches, Morris columns—in short, everything that the current mayor’s office is trying to replace with cheap, ugly, and soulless recycled materials.
It is most certain that Madame Anne Hidalgo, the august mayor of the city of light, was not asked to be the series’ aesthetic advisor. Indeed, the series does not do justice to her constant and relentless work to destroy the French capital for eight years now. The poor Netflix subscriber is shielded from one of her more sensational creations, the famous ‘coronapistes’ born during the coronavirus pandemic— bicycle paths lined with concrete blocks and yellow plastic skittles.
Neither can viewers count the swarms of bright red no-go signs on the screen, delimiting the car-free sectors. No doubt Anne Hidalgo will judge that Emily in Paris is furiously lacking in loud primary colours.
The truth is, and we can’t blame them, Netflix teams preferred to skip over Hidalgo’s Paris in order to better sell the dream. The ecological and sustainable work of the socialist clique in power is not the focus of fantasy among the international community. As Netflix knows, success is guaranteed by staging the Paris that everyone loves, expects, and hopes for, just like the Paris of Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina.
Of course, there are a few mistakes that make Parisians bristle. Like when Emily admires the Eiffel Tower from the Parc de la Villette, on the other side of the city: strictly impossible, even with bending your neck to the extreme limits of its capacities. Or when we see the Pont-Neuf in the background—the Pont-Neuf of Toulouse, not of Paris. Or when Emily moves into a pretty 35-square-metre chambre de bonne: in Paris, maid’s rooms, or former servants’ quarters, are under the roof, are 9 square metres in size, and generally have shared bathroom facilities on the landing. But seen from Los Gatos, California, these are fairly insignificant details.
Some may accuse Netflix of indulging in cliché. But so what? In our gloomy world, there is something reassuring about clichés. Through their consistency and harmony, they do the soul good. But they also entice, at least on screen, toward a prospect that if the elected officials of Paris put a little bit of themselves into it, they could give this poor, battered capital back all its beauty, and make it shine brightly throughout the world.