We gave it a B
Watching Girlboss is a fairly awkward experience given the real life events surrounding its subject. Based on Sophia Amoruso’s memoir of the same, Netflix’s very salty new half-hour series chronicles the inception of the online retailer Nasty Gal, which has recently fallen on hard times. In 2016, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Amoruso stepped down as CEO, and UK’s Boohoo acquired the site’s assets in February. But even before the company’s financial problems, it hadn’t received the best press with employees calling it a “toxic” place to work. Regardless, Girlboss creator Kay Cannon (the screenwriter of Pitch Perfect) doesn’t let that stop her from milking Amoruso’s story for all of the entertainment that’s to be had.
The frenetic Girlboss is a frustrating but occasionally fun show that might be too enamored with its subject. Britt Robertson (A Dog’s Purpose) stars as the caustic and frequently delinquent Sophia Marlowe, who is struggling to live in San Francisco circa 2006. She’s dumpster diving for bagels and sleeping on rugs she stole from a street vendor. Desperate for cash, Sophia decides to sell a vintage leather jacket on eBay that she snagged for pennies. That sale goes so well that she creates her own eBay store called Nasty Gal where she basically flips vintage clothes the way one would a house.
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From there, the show chronicles the trials and tribulations of Sophia’s attempts to build and run a company, while also dealing with the drama of her personal life. I’ll be honest, I found myself way more interested in the former than the latter, mostly because Sophia’s boyfriend Shane (Johnny Simmons) is pretty bland. In fact, the show is at its best when the plot is driven by the fashion side of things. The fourth episode examines the clash between Sophia’s laissez-faire attitude and the fact that running a business means you’re accountable to customers when she finds herself rushing to deliver a wedding dress on time. However, the seventh and tenth episodes are the strongest. In seven, Sophia spends an evening with Gail (Melanie Lynskey), a lonely vintage fashion collector who hopes to teach Sophia about online etiquette in this world. The tenth ep explores Gail’s online vintage fashion forum and finds a clever way to portray the wild world of commenting, which feels very reminiscent of a device used in Sherlock‘s “The Sign of Three.” This episode, especially, offers a clear example of what makes Sophia’s story so interesting: Like The Social Network or Halt and Catch Fire, it offers another perspective on how the internet came to be what it is today. (Let’s be clear, Girlboss is not as brilliant as either one of those properties.) (PSA: You need to watch Halt and Catch Fire).
Unfortunately, Girlboss sometimes over-indulges Sophia’s punk rock antics. There are very few obstacles she can’t overcome by just turning up the badass yet another level. Someone — Shane or her best friend Annie (Ellie Reed) — will call her out on her selfishness; there will be a big fight, and then it will be quickly resolved with the #Girlboss status quo still in tact, because the show low-key believes Sophia wasn’t all that much at fault. All of this diminishes the show’s dramatic tension and makes it somewhat frustrating. And it doesn’t help that the 13-episode series feels bloated, which is an ailment that’s common in all Netflix shows.
Even though I frequently found myself frustrated, I kept watching the series because of its charming cast. Robertson gives a totally committed performance and really shines in the few moments when the show slows to examine her character’s vulnerability. Lynskey is phenomenal in the role of Gail and might be the most developed and empathetic character, even though she’s only in two episodes. RuPaul steals every scene he’s in as Sophia’s sassy and hilarious neighbor. Finally, there’s Ellie Reed, who brings some enthusiasm as Sophia’s best friend Annie. Part of the reason the tenth episode is so fun is because it steps back from the show’s protagonist and focuses on Annie’s point-of-view, which feels refreshing.
Girlboss has the unfortunate luck of premiering in April, a month that’s bursting at the seams with the premieres of either great returning shows (The Leftovers, Fargo) or exciting newcomers (American Gods <The Handmaid's Tale, Dear White People). Given the competition, Girlboss isn’t necessarily a must-watch TV show. However, if you do find yourself with a free weekend, some extra patience, and a need for a low commitment show, you could do much worse than Girlboss.
The entire first season debuts Friday, April 21 on Netflix.