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Last week, Goop — Gwyneth Paltrow’s 12-year-old purveyor of $1,400 sweaters and “everlasting love” in a bottle — made headlines with a more modest but no less absurd product. The internet, ever ready to pounce on the latest Goop gimcrack, was torn this time, unsure which part of the “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle was the most worthy of outrage: its $75 price tag, its sold-out status or Paltrow’s seeming determination to turn every last aspect of herself into a humblebrag. A few observers, like New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, celebrated the actress turned influencer’s jokey, self-aware play on her public image as a smug elitist who enjoys the smell of her own macro-balanced farts. Would that self-awareness extend to Paltrow’s new Netflix show, The Goop Lab?
The answer is a resolute no. The six-part Goop Lab is everything that wellness skeptics feared it would be: a fancy infomercial for Paltrow’s company, with high production values, unconvincing generalizations about women’s experiences, a sinister suspicion of “conventional doctors” and a dizzying array of opportunities to part women from their money under the guise of feminism and health. It’s QVC for one-percenters. (If you have to ask how much the services advertised on the show cost, you probably can’t afford it.)
AIR DATE Jan 24, 2020
Shot largely at Goop’s minimalist, Instagram-ready Santa Monica office, The Goop Lab alternates between interviews with the guru du jour (conducted by Paltrow and her right-hand woman, Elise Loehnen) and scenes of various Goop staffers trying out psychedelics, energy healing, ESP training and the like. If you think there might be an inherent conflict of interest in employees of a company giving testimonials about the efficacy of the products and services that company endorses, well, yeah.
The Goop Lab isn’t entirely nonsense. The third episode, featuring sex educator Betty Dodson, actually fulfills the show’s mission to improve the lives of women through honest conversations and individual responses to societal plagues (in this case, the neglect of female orgasms and the increasingly unrealistic representations of vulvas in pornography, which explains the dramatic rise of cosmetic labiaplasty in recent years, especially among teenage girls and young women).
But that episode is followed immediately by one in which Paltrow goes on a 500-calorie diet (sorry, “dietary protocol”) to reduce her “biological age” (versus her “chronological” one), then another in which a pair of energy healers wave their hands around their prone clients. The Goop Lab claims “our consciousness can change our physical reality,” which begs the question why these supposed miracle workers are expending their time and expertise on wealthy actresses (including guest Julianne Hough) rather than countering climate change or solving world hunger. “You can’t measure this stuff,” says the “doctor.” You don’t say.
I’ll admit, I’m not totally immune to the wellness industry’s promises. I found myself searching for Groupons for facial acupuncture watching Loehnen undergo it, in part because the 100 needles that she had put in her face is one of the more accessible treatments on offer. (By the way, it’s basically bunk.) And then I remembered the distant relative who, at family gatherings, always tries to sell me on the canine-cancer-prevention pills that only she knows about. The Goop Lab‘s biggest triumph is its glamorization of gullibility. Strip it of its celebrity veneer, and you’re just left with that clammy conversation with some proselytizing weirdo about astrology or crystals or magic beans you desperately hope to avoid at every party.
Once in a while, Paltrow’s charisma shines through, by which I mean her sarcastic-princess deadpan. But she can also be counted on to say some patently ridiculous things (“Being the person that people perceive me to be is inherently traumatic”). Goop gawkers can find the truly wackadoo treatments in the latter half of the season.
But most of the criticisms above aren’t particular to Goop’s TV arm. Here’s one that is: Its depictions of “healing” are so brisk and visually dramatic that they in turn promote unrealistic expectations for wellness. Leaps into 40-degree lakes, crying jags during mushroom trips and muscle spasms during energy healing make for arresting spectacles but essentially amount to catharsis porn. Emotional outpourings, however urgent or salutary in the moment, don’t necessarily lead to long-term improvement, and real cures don’t always make for riveting TV.
There are few surprises in The Goop Lab: The show is as silly and grating as expected, and Paltrow doubles down on the polarizing persona she’s cultivated for the last decade and a half as Hollywood’s most famous woo-woo peddler. The more compelling mystery — the one I might hire Goop’s favorite medium to solve — is why Netflix would provide a global platform for Paltrow’s anti-scientific claptrap.
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Elise Loehnen
Showrunner: Shauna Minoprio
Premieres Friday, Jan. 24 (Netflix)
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