Emily Cooper’s life is a mess. To be fair, the main character’s life in Netflix’s Emily In Paris has always been a mess, as the series’ two previous seasons followed an American transplant (played by Lily Collins) as she takes on a marketing job in Paris; finds her footing in the City of Love; adapts (poorly) to a new culture, language, and dating scene; and often ending up on wobbly footing (or with her foot firmly in her mouth). Season three is no different. In the first episode alone, the bereft Emily tries to manage working two jobs at the same time, running around Paris working for her former boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) as she tries to create her own luxury marketing agency and her former-former boss Madeline Wheeler (Kate Walsh), who attempts to rehire a fully French staff (all whilst heavily pregnant). As can be expected with anything Emily does, it doesn’t go to plan, ending up with our messy heroine atop the Eiffel Tower fired from not one, but two jobs. So, needless to say, we shouldn’t be surprised.
But the thing is that season three does feel different. Previous years have seen the main character deal with some very specific outlandish mishaps (think accidentally filming your friend’s dad chopping off his own finger with a sword while opening a bottle of champagne). And while the throughline of frivolity does continue, it also feels a lot more realistic, as does Emily’s issues. Because at the heart of Emily’s dilemma is the very real uncertainty and fear around making the right career decision.
And career isn’t the only area of her life Emily is working to figure out. She’s at a crossroads in pretty much every aspect, making big choices that’ll impact her trajectory going forward in some pretty impactful ways. Whether it’s in her romantic relationships, choosing between Team Alfie (Lucien Laviscount) and Team Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), deciding where she wants her career to take her, figuring out how to navigate and maintain friendships when exterior relationships get involved, and essentially figuring out who she is as a person.
They’re decisions that are so stressful, they literally drive Emily to cut herself a full fringe in the middle of the night (all while telling herself — and those around her — that they’re just bangs!). And that’s relatable, especially for people who are in their late 20s and early 30s (FYI, Emily Cooper is 29). The “quarter-life crisis,” for many young people, can be a time of uncertainty, self-doubt, and unhappiness. A 2018 study in the International Psychogeriatrics journal found that people’s most lonely times happen at three crucial ages: their late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s.
For those surveyed in their late 20s, this sense of isolation is in large part due to stress, brought on by the need to make major life-changing decisions, including where to live, where to work, and whether or not to have children. It feels like any one decision will make or break your entire future. The weight of this is clear in the first few moments of the third season, when Emily is so debilitated by the weight of making these decisions, that she has a nightmare where she falls off the Eiffel Tower after being cornered by her bosses, telling her to finally “think for yourself” and “you have to choose.”
The inevitable stomach-in-your-throat, somersaulting feeling Emily must have felt as she hurtled toward the ground in her nightmare is one I can relate to IRL as a, like Emily, almost 30-year-old. It comes up whenever I think about next steps in my career (or God forbid, try to make a five-year-plan), grips my throat when I start thinking about getting back into dating after a recent breakup, completely terrorises me when I calculate the likelihood — and cost — of trying to freeze my eggs or working in time to you know, raise children, and causes panic when I attempt to define myself outside of my career (my main questions: Am I only interesting because of my job? Unclear. And do I have any interests outside of my job? Also, unclear). There’s something about the future and my sense of self that feels incredibly daunting and unsure right now.
“It definitely is relatable to me,” says Lily Collins, who is 33. For Collins, her true period of uncertainty came right around the time she was cast in the show in 2019, meaning that she’s gone through a lot of change alongside her character. “Weirdly, on my 30th birthday, [EIP creator] Darren [Star] called me to say that I was Emily,” Collins tells Refinery29. “It was a very different period of my life. I was always very driven towards what was next, but I didn't always know what that next was going to be.”
What came next was professional success (Collins and the show were nominated for Golden Globes in 2021), her now-husband, Charlie McDowell, and an IRL friendship with her co-stars Ashley Park and Camille Razat. “The best gift of this job has truly been meeting these incredible women and these people along the way that have helped guide me through that process,” Collins says. And it’s not over yet. “I definitely feel like I'm continuing to find new sides of myself, but I feel like I found a real sense of comfort in knowing that who I am is enough,” Collins adds. “And that's a lesson that I don't think you learn very early on because you're figuring out what enough even is.”
Which is exactly what Emily herself is on a quest to do throughout this season. When, in episode three, she decides to embrace the unknown (and unemployment), leaving Savoir and a move back to Chicago and deciding that the life she wanted, whatever that may look like, whoever that may be with, is in Paris. And, that decision is enough, at least for now. As she tells Madeline: “I’m not running away. I’m running towards the life I want.”
And perhaps it’s this facet of Emily that I find so comforting this season. Stripping away the bad berets and the even worse mixing of prints, it’s reassuring to see someone struggling and worrying in the same way I am — albeit a continent away and with some differing privileges — and slowly making strides to create the life she wants. Part of making a decision when it comes to your life and the different aspects of it is just that: making a decision. And watching Emily struggle, spiral, and eventually start to take steps to find herself, her identity, and what she wants in life, is not only reassuring, but also kind of inspiring. And yes, you can find that even in a kind-of-cheesy Netflix show.
We may not all be trying to figure out a jetset life in Paris or coming onto a hit Netflix show as we enter our 30s, but the sentiment of finding yourself as you age stands, and maybe the lesson is that we should be taking this period of time, and our eventual growth, as something to look forward to. Because, like Emily Cooper, we’ll eventually figure it out, and end up right where we’re supposed to be. Will that be Paris? Will it be with our dream career or with our dream romantic connection? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Season 3 of Emily In Paris is now streaming on Netflix.