How we shop has changed a lot since 1956. Online shopping has made it convenient to never step foot in a store again, and while undoubtedly shops like Ladies’ Paradise still exist, as far as the typical department store goes, they don’t look or feel like Paradise.
The Ladies’ Paradise (or Il Paradiso Delle Signore) is an Italian version of Émile Zola’s novel, Au Bonheur des Dames (a British adaptation exists, starring Joanna Vanderham). Set in Milan, the show follows Teresa Iorio (Giusy Buscemi), a young woman who moves to the city from Sicily after ending her engagement. Convincing her family to let her stay in the city takes some doing but from the moment you meet Teresa, it’s clear she can handle a move. When her fiancé is unfaithful, she pantses him in front of his friends. Her temper won’t let anyone off easy.
Seeing as she walks into a love triangle right out the gate, her temper is put to good use. Between the attentions of Paradise owner, Pietro Mori (Giuseppe Zeno), and PR man, Vittorio Conti (Alessandro Tersigni), she’s able to get a job as a Paradise salesgirl, where she’s always being pulled aside for special projects, while the other girls have storylines of their own.
The basic premise of running a store hasn’t changed – sell your product – but the gimmicks Paradise uses are unprecedented for the times. There’s a Mad Men appeal to Conti’s strategies for attracting customers. Two storylines are spent figuring out where to put bikinis in the store and it’s gripping, insider’s logic.
Unlike Don Draper, Conti isn’t self-destructive. While he’s known for being fond of women, he’s not married or abusive. Elsa (Claudia Vismara) is a member of his staff without any fuss, and if there’s anything to roll your eyes at, it’s that while Conti treats his coworkers equally, the show never lets them come up with anything on their own.
Pietro is the show’s blind spot, and while he’s always solving problems, too, his methods are never as noble. For some reason (could it be his looks?) his behavior never meets the same scrutiny and the show’s capacity to forgive him gets mindboggling after a while.
Season one runs for ten episodes but is, deceivingly, really twenty (each episode doubles up). To sustain that length, Ladies’ Paradise goes through almost every cliché: blackmail, pregnancy, violence. You’re already hooked on the show, but there’s an obvious price paid in characters losing their resolve as the season goes on (and one cliché in particular shouldn’t have been used so casually). Fan fiction writers will have a field day reading into the different friendships and about the only storyline the show doesn’t mine for drama is when they dangle the possibility of Miss Mantovani (Christiane Filangieri) moving in with Teresa (Miss Mantovani is in charge of the ladies at Paradise and this would’ve been a wonderful arrangement).
The Ladies’ Paradise is one of those shows that’s nice to get lost in. The advertising and cultural content, with Teresa being a southerner, holds your attention and the flirting gets addictive, if not always wise. Conti is like an Italian version of Jane the Virgin‘s Raphael and if you don’t find yourself humming Ladyvette’s “Papparadiso” by the end, that just means you haven’t listened through the closing credits.
The Ladies Paradise, Season 1 is currently streaming on Acorn TV. Season 2 starts streaming June 18th.