Last December, Peyton Manning appeared on Saturday Night Live, ostensibly to talk to ‘Weekend Update’ about football—only for the legendary quarterback to reveal that he had missed recent games because he was too busy watching Emily in Paris. Every attempt to steer the conversation back to the NFL diverged into a tangent about Emily in Paris. The sketch was funny because Peyton Manning is funny and Peyton Manning in a little red beret talking about one of the most saccharine television shows of all time is even funnier.
But all around you, there are men who actually do love Emily in Paris with that fervor. You might even be one of them.
For the uninitiated, Emily in Paris is a Netflix series that comes from the twisted mind of Darren Star, the creator of Sex and the City and Younger. As with his other output, Star deploys his highly specific setup—a white woman lead character with sassy friends, constant romantic troubles, career woes, and the most insane fashion sense you’ve ever seen—resulting in an MKUltra level product that activates the frontal lobe of viewers, locking them in a binge-watching prison. In this case, Lily Collins plays the titular character, a plucky marketing professional from Chicago who gets the opportunity to work in Paris for the year. She falls in love with Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a hot French chef. She attracts the ire of her extremely mean and chic French Boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu). She has a wacky and fun best friend named Mindy (Ashley Park) who loves to sing and a French frenemy named Camille (Camille Razat).
It is against this backdrop that Emily proceeds to commit a series of ongoing cultural crimes against the Gallic people in 30-minute increments.
Though the marketing is almost laughably targeted towards female viewers, it does have its ardent male fans. Chris Black, 40, a creative consultant and co-host of the podcast How Long Gone is one of the most vocal.
“Television, for me, is I want to watch something that’s sweet like candy. I don’t want it to push me in any way. I think Emily in Paris is the perfect form of modern entertainment,” he told me. “It’s not someone theorizing on what’s going to happen the next episode and trying to unpack symbolism. It’s just like, ‘She wears bad clothes and has sex and it’s in Paris, and there’s career ambitions.’”
“Her clothes are crazy,” Black added. “Emily wearing Hood By Air is fucking crazy.”
It appealed to him not just because of the rote simplicity but because it provided respite from the current discourse around television that surrounds shows like Succession and The White Lotus. “I don’t want to see everybody thinking they’re an Emmy voter,” he said.
Eugene Lardy, 29, who runs a style blog and watches the show ironically, says he also believes Emily In Paris is more knowing than one would initially believe it to be. “I think the ridiculousness of the show, especially with Emily’s outfits, is borderline comedy,” he told me. “It serves both sides. People who are actually watching the show are like, ‘Yes, this is exactly how I would do Paris as well, if I had the chance to live in Paris from abroad.’ And it’s perfect for people who kind of understand the irony right away.” (A hate watch is still a watch!)
Part of the reason why the show unexpectedly broke through with so many men had to do with each season dropping in full during the winter, the past two of which have coincided with Covid surges. Reporter Matthew Zeitlin, 32, was drawn in this way. “Winter is very depressing, and I get some mild seasonal affective disorder and typically get gloomy in the winter. This is such a counterpoint in every way,” he told me. That it was unchallenging was all the better. “I have a pretty simple relationship with the show. It’s 30 minutes long, so you’re in and out. There’s no complicated plot machinations that you have to keep track of. It’s usually pretty basic,” Zeitlin added. “You need that as part of your TV diet, I firmly believe.”
Timmy Ngo, 27, who works in entertainment and watched both seasons in one sitting also opted for a nutrition metaphor: “It’s like junk food. It’s just so easy to watch.”
Many more echoed the appeal of the smooth-brained simplicity. Dylan Baldie, 31, the lead singer of the band Cloud Nothing told me that “in other shows, you’re really supposed to feel like you care about these things. And this show doesn’t have that. It doesn’t feel like it matters. It feels like you’re just watching someone’s funny Instagram video or something for a long time.” Indeed, Emily in Paris is less a sitcom with traditional plots that propel it forward than a constantly moving moodboard. “With Younger, you can kind of squint at the TV screen and see some semblance of a plot,” a female friend told me, “but with Emily in Paris, it’s like they just kind of gave up and decided to just put her in different situations.”
If the substance separates it from the television shows that are discoursed to death then so does the style. For dudes desperately cranking up the brightness during House of the Dragon, it can provide a welcome respite. Kyle Chayka, 33, author of The New Yorker article “Emily in Paris and the Rise of Ambient TV” and Emily in Paris fan, pointed to the visuals as part of the appeal. “Aesthetically the show is super fun,” he said. “It’s very brightly colored and energetic and the cinematography is pretty nice, which sets it apart from the kind of dark horror fantasy genre that also seems to be doing very well right now.”
For others still, it can provide a way to connect with the feminine world. Take Stephan Koleff, 29, a project manager. “To be honest, I like to watch shows that most people would feel are directed towards a female audience just because I feel like, as a straight male, there’s a lot to learn from these types of shows,” he said. “That’s why I watched a show like Sex and the City. I was a watcher of Gossip Girl. You inevitably learn a little bit more about women that you maybe wouldn’t normally have known.”
It’s also a show you can watch with your romantic partner. “When it actually launched, I was in Paris, staying with a girl who I was dating. So we watched it together and got hooked pretty quickly,” Daniel Zarick, 33, the owner of a software company, told me. He now watches it with his current girlfriend.
And sometimes, life really does imitate art—or at least, the Peyton Manning SNL sketch. As hockey beat reporter Danny Austin, 38, told me: “My friend Brett, he’s a former professional snowboarder. We will just spend full nights texting about Emily in Paris eight months after the show debuted.”
“I canceled my Netflix six months ago, and I’m getting it back for season three,” he added.