How bad serials can become cult shows

There was so much girl talk — on various WhatsApp groups, especially the women-only ones — on how watchable it is that I got gaslit


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 13 Jan 2022, 7:04 PM

I am amazed how bad serials can become cult ones. There’s one well on its way to attaining cult status: it’s called Emily In Paris, and it’s streaming on Netflix. Okay, so disclaimer right off the bat: I binged my way through both seasons; the second one released recently, and I’d not seen the first, but there was so much girl talk — on various WhatsApp groups, especially the women-only ones — on how watchable it is that I got gaslit. I thought I’d do a review of Emily In Paris on the Webbed Tales page in this magazine. Alas, I can’t — because I cannot be recommending a bad serial, even though I have to say Paris has been airbrushed to the extent Bombay was in Four More Shots… (where they managed to make even the potholed streets of the home of Bollywood appear haute cobbled), and it looks magical… I mean way more magical than it actually is (I’m one of those odd ones who thinks the je t’aime French capital is slightly underwhelming — especially if you’ve just gotten off a love boat… give me the south of France any day).

But the point I’m about to make is not how silly the serial is and how exasperating the lead actress (the one who plays Emily — the American in Paris) is. I am curious to know why the Ukrainian culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko went up in arms about the portrayal of a Ukrainian character, a woman named Petra, “from Kyiv”, who wears too much makeup, speaks with a heavy accent and is a “shoplifter”.

So, I was so curious when I saw trending news toplining the matter that I decided to continue bingeing and, seamlessly, moved to Season 2 — that I may not have watched otherwise because nothing, absolutely nothing happens in Season 1 other than every single cast member slipping into new collections of designer clothes at the drop of a (French) beret cap.

“The portrayal of Petra as a shoplifting immigrant fearful of deportation was a caricature of a Ukrainian woman,” Tkachenko said in a post on the Telegram platform, calling it “unacceptable” and “offensive”, The Washington Post reported. “Will Ukrainians be seen as such abroad?” he added (in that same post). “That should not be the case.” And then he’s gone on to send a note to Netflix. Another compatriot of his named Oriana Pawlyk (who has a ticked account) has tweeted, “I don’t watch Emily In Paris but there’s some controversy brewing about Kyiv-born Petra playing into Eastern European stereotypes too heavily and then making her a criminal. First off that name?? Second, what year is it again? Do better, @netflix.” Yet another irate commentator said “The way you treated the image of Ukrainians in your second season, 4th episode is such a low cost trick, absolute scandal and a shame” — this time on Instagram (and there were media follow up stories on how many Likes this one has garnered so far — 75,000 and counting as we go to press).

Right, I thought, this Petra person must be a character of a certain heft, as I settled down to push the play button on my remote. Imagine my surprise when it turned out she has a blink-and-you-miss-it role.

That apart, why does an individual personality quirk (as it turns out, the shoplifting sequence is supposed to be “funny” because Petra believes the irritatingly incomprehensible Emily has given her a free pass and she doesn’t need to pay at a departmental store) — have to be representative of a national streak? I mean, seriously, why is everyone so offended? They were showing a bunch of Chinese women addressing each other as “b****es” for a longer stretch of time than the entire time Petra held on to her part.

I think it’s the French who’ve had to take the maximum beating in the serial. Uptight Americans are summarily ordered to get it on with their best friends’ boyfriends — in the name of Parisian love that sets itself no “limits”. Foppish French employees saunter in to work at 11.30am and then immediately go out for extended, alcohol-hazed lunches.

Worse, French middle-aged men (or at least one French middle-aged man — but then, there’s only one Petra who seems to be representing the whole of Ukraine) lounge around in the buff in front of guests without a care in the world.

I wonder why fully-clothed French ministers haven’t yet complained to Netflix.

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