The Game Changers

How two of the top television shows of 2020, The Queen’s Gambit and Emily in Paris, changed the game…

by: Erica Reid

I believe I am not alone in that I spent a lot of time watching television in 2020. The lack of cinema releases paired with the bounty of quality offerings streaming (not to mention that staying home was the safest place to be), led to viewing audiences around the globe watching sixty-three percent more television than they did in 2019. For decades, the study of popular culture has highlighted how entertainment and news affect us and change the way in which we view and live in the world, so I found myself pondering: How has the television of 2020 changed us? If you binged a show about a 1950’s chess player and then hopped online to to buy a chess set, or spent hours planning your next trip to Paris thanks to a certain Emily, then you won’t be surprised by the impact television can have on a person.

The Queen’s Gambit

Starring the stunning Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit came out of nowhere and landed on Netflix with a splash that could be heard across continents. Although the concept of the show was fairly simple — a chess prodigy chases her dreams — it struck a chord with millions of viewers. The filming style was gorgeous, and it managed to make chess, not usually the most exciting spectator sport in the world, into something a lot more sensual, glamorous, and exciting. It took only twenty-eight days from release for The Queen’s Gambit to become the single most-watched television show in the history of Netflix, and it was watched in around sixty-two million homes in less than a month. Not only did it quickly become the eight most Googled series, but it also caused Google searches for “chess” to go up by eighty-eight percent. has seen a five hundred percent increase in the number of people playing, and even the betting site Betway has an article about it. With this in mind, there is no denying that The Queen’s Gambit changed the way that people look at chess, and drew hordes of curious television enthusiasts to the game.

Emily in Paris

It might be lighthearted fun, but the fascinating jaunt abroad that is Emily in Paris quickly became the world’s most binged television show in its release week. It outpaced The Queen’s Gambit to become the sixth most searched series on Google, and the fashion-related searches inspired by the show went up by a profoundly. Did you Google “bucket hat” or “beret” after watching Emily? If so, you are not alone. The word “beret” saw a Google increase of forty-one percent, while ‘bucket hat‘ saw a whopping three hundred and forty-two percent increase. It even affected the kinds of music that many listened to in 2020. Streams of Edith Piaf’s “je Ne Regrette Rien” took the song to the number one spot in Billboard Magazine’s Top television rankings, while “Moon” by Kid Francescoli took the number four spot. While there has been a lot of online discussion about whether the title character was actually a terrible person, the fact is that Emily in Paris became one of the most important shows of recent years, and if it encouraged even one person to start learning French, then it can’t be looked at as all bad.

It’s easy to dismiss television shows as mindless entertainment that helps viewers pass the time. But the truth is that we are invariably affected by the entertainment that we watch. From The Crown and the way that we view the British royal family, to the way that the film series Twilight led to a dramatic increase in the number of people reading Wuthering Heights, pop culture affects our habits, opinions, and interests. With the success of Emily in Paris and The Queen’s Gambit, we can all expect to see a lot more French-speaking chess players wherever we go in 2021.

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