Finally, Netflix Has Given Us A London-Based Emily Cooper. It's You's Joe Goldberg.
While Emily in Paris is a frothy romantic comedy and You is a psychological thriller about a serial killer, both center on two hapless, sociopathic Americans living seemingly picture-perfect lives abroad.
Lately, when I need to dissociate from reality, I’ve found myself watching a Netflix show about a hapless, sociopathic American living in Europe with an inexplicably perfect wardrobe and a circle of rich friends. This American never has any trouble getting or keeping a job — despite never seeming to work at it — and is constantly bouncing between impossibly attractive new love interests. No, I’m not talking about Emily in Paris, but about You.
Emily in Paris is a frothy romantic comedy; You is a psychological thriller about a serial killer. But in its latest season, which sees Joe relocate to London and rebrand himself as a professor named “Jonathan Moore,” the connective tissue between the two shows is now impossible to ignore. If Emily is the platonic ideal of a (now passé) aesthetic popularized by influencers on Instagram, Joe in London is the embodiment of a #BookTok fantasy — the wood-paneled university halls, the glamorous parties with intellectuals and royals, the tweed, the stacks of books everywhere regardless of whether you even find time to read them. Yes, there are murders, but I would argue that those somehow make Joe’s life even more in line with the Dark Academia aesthetic. After all, the subculture is predicated upon the fetishization of Agatha Christie novels, not to mention the most ubiquitous murder-driven Dark Academia novel of them all, The Secret History.
In a sense, You has always been about wish fulfillment. Will dating the right person save you? (Season one.) Will finding your soulmate save you? (Season two.) Will getting married and having a baby save you? (Season three.) Season four, then, is the natural next progression for those of us who long for external validation: moving to Europe. (Check my browser history; I google “should I go to grad school in England” about once every six months like clockwork and everyone I love in my life has to ask me if I’m okay.)
Yet in an even more heightened moment of wish fulfillment, Joe, or my apologies, “Jonathan,” doesn’t have to go through the rigamarole of writing application essays or begging former professors for recommendations. No, Joe gets to become a professor! Through a series of lucky coincidences, Joe crosses paths with an expensive “fixer” who gifts him a new identity, complete with enough of a paper trail to allow Joe to get a job teaching literature at an elite central London university despite having no actual degree, no references, and no published papers. One could argue the hitman forged a PhD, but there’s no way he wrote and published an essay on ‘Madness and the Queer Psyche in 20th Century New England Short Fiction’ or something.
While maddening to think about, the logic of it ultimately doesn’t matter. It’s Emily in Paris logic: Does it make sense that a massive international marketing firm would send an early-twenty-something who speaks néant French to a prestigious job in Paris because her boss is pregnant? No, of course not, but she’s there. And, of course, she’s thriving.
Emily’s first friends are a down-on-her-luck billionaire heiress, the scion of a champagne company, and a Michelin-starred chef. Joe, by just breathing, gets invited along into the inner circle of British nobility. And of course, Emily also gets a company apartment. Never mind that she remains in the apartment even after she leaves the company — a beautiful place to live is the birthright of a beautiful American living abroad. Naturally, Joe, too, has his London equivalent: an elegantly appointed flat with a fireplace and built-in bookshelves in South Kensington, one of London’s most expensive neighborhoods. Which professor’s salary permits that, I wonder?
Clothes are perhaps the most important element of a wish fulfillment fantasy. It’s the dream to always have a closet full of already-dry-cleaned clothes perfectly suited for the temperature and activity. Emily in Emily in Paris is outfitted in couture, a seemingly never-repeating wardrobe of bright colors, berets, and impractical shoes. They verge on madness, but hey, this is a fantasy. Joe’s wardrobe similarly defies logic. Upon becoming a professor, “Jonathan Moore” transforms into a #DarkAcademia mood board, with a wardrobe consisting exclusively of tweed blazers and button downs. When did he have time to do all of this shopping? Where did he get the money? Does “Jonathan Moore” have a credit card? A bank account? The show doesn’t ask, because it isn’t interested in the answer. This is a fantasy (minus the, you know, dead bodies) and so the details of practicality are gone.
We never need to see Joe struggle (or even read any of the books or short stories he assigns in class). He never needs to apply for grants or write academic articles until his eyes are bloodshot from the blue light of his laptop screen. He is never grading papers or struggling financially. And while I know that if Joe met Emily Cooper, he would despise her — possibly to the point of murder — take a look around, Joe. You are living in a Tumblr mood board circa 2021.
One more similarity between Emily in Paris and You: I devour each new season in pretty much a single day. It’s unhealthy, the amount of screen time I will get when the seasons drop. My loved ones worry about me. But that’s the thing about a fantasy: you want to stay inside it. All the better if it’s dressed up as a crime-thriller that forces you to click ahead to the next episode to find out what happens before you have time to realize that nothing actually makes sense. I’m not watching for sense. I’m watching because I’m not going to actually upend my life by moving to Europe, but I can at least imagine: what if?