The six-episode Netflix docuseries, an extension of Paltrow's "lifestyle brand," has moments of humanity, but generally plays like brazen self-satire.

By Darren Franich and Kristen Baldwin
January 17, 2020 at 03:01 AM EST
Adam Rose/Netflix

The Goop Lab

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On January 24, Netflix unveils The Goop Lab With Gwyneth Paltrow, the televised expansion of the Oscar winner’s aspirational-controversial lifestyle brand. Because Entertainment Weekly critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich are always trying to become their authentic selves, they watched the series and discussed its implications.

DARREN: Well, look. Gwyneth Paltrow has built a successful company peddling open-minded connectivity alongside expensive anti-factual nonsense. It’s possible to admire the intentions while deploring the methodologies, and if you know about Goop then you probably have an extreme opinion about Goop.

In The Goop Lab, Paltrow’s employees set off on adventures to the outer reaches of wellness, while Paltrow herself sits on a glossy couch interviewing guest experts wearing admirable necklaces. Episodes open with a disclaimer assuring viewers that the series is meant to “entertain and inform, not provide medical advice,” which feels like some very careful lawyering. At times, the material edges brazenly toward self-satire. Employees go to Jamaica to experiment with psychedelics; inevitably, the only people they meet in Jamaica are white people wearing athleisure.

That said: There’s the occasional burst of worthwhile purpose in this guileless, sunbaked infomercial. One of the experts is Betty Dodson, the sex-positivity pioneer who guides women away from body-shame toward sensual wellness. Dodson’s blunt cheerfulness immediately justifies her own Netflix series — and that’s the only episode that really takes the viewer on a journey, unpacking gendered lies about sexuality with straightforward humor and some unexpected “Are they really going there?” twists.

I’m fascinated to know what you thought of that episode, Kristen. Did The Goop Lab beam positive energy in your direction?

KRISTEN: It’s almost impressive how aggressively obnoxious the first episode is, in that it’s a bunch of white people going to a resort in Jamaica where other white people help them work through their “personal trauma” by taking psychedelic drugs. I’m a white, liberal WASP from New England and this was even too bougie for me. But Paltrow is nothing if not a savvy businesswoman, and she knows that a big part of Goop’s success is its ability to inspire ridicule and mockery in the Twitterverse and beyond. This oughtta do it.

But whenever the show moves away from the Goopers and focuses on actual humans — each episode features “case studies” with everyday folk who have tried the “alternative” treatment being discussed — it’s hard not to be drawn in on a more genuine level. In the psychedelics episode, for example, we met Todd, a 42-year-old soldier who turned to MDMA therapy to help cope with his PTSD. Before his treatment, he says, “every second of every day my brain told me to kill myself.” Now, using MDMA therapeutically has “allowed me to live my life rather than merely exist.” It’s hard not to be moved by something like that.

Netflix absolutely should give Betty Dodson her own series. Call it The Vulva Whisperer! That episode of Goop Lab was, on its surface, about female pleasure, but what I found fascinating was how it spent more time on the way a woman’s pleasure is often hindered by shame and embarrassment about her own body. There’s a very graphic sequence in the middle of the episode that goes beyond mere shock value — I recoiled from the screen involuntarily, and then realized by doing so, I had proven Betty Dodson’s point.

The other compelling figure on Goop Lab is Elise Loehnen, the company’s practical and tightly-wound Chief Content Officer. Much of her job on the show involves sitting next to Paltrow and nodding, but Elise also emits such powerful stress vibrations you can’t help but worry about her off-camera workload. She occasionally reveals a sinister sense of humor — “It would have been amazing to take the Goop staff and shoot them full of endotoxins, but Netflix legal said no,” she notes during the episode on cold therapy — and I really enjoyed the moment she dismissively called Paltrow “princess” to her face. What’s your take on Team Goop, Darren? And did any of the episodes make you emotional (or was that just me)?

DARREN: Loehnen is definitely the meme waiting to happen. In the couch sessions, she has to play the role of Default Everyperson in a room full of entrepreneur-preachers and Paltrow’s helplessly shimmery celebrity. A couple of her quotes sound like mission statements for privileged self-regard: “You look at the team at Goop. Everyone here, on some level, is a successful person. Right? And yet, they are all carrying tremendous pain and loss.” She turns to Paltrow, parroting the kind of critique they know they will receive: “You, for example. What could possibly be wrong with you? You have everything. You’re beautiful, you’re wealthy, you’re famous. Like, shut up.”

I would never tell anyone to shut up about their pain just because they happen to be beautiful, wealthy, or famous. We are all so broken and we need somebody to put us back together, as Kathie Lee Gifford once said. And to answer your question, I did get emotional during the Vulva episode. Dodson just wants women to feel comfortable with themselves. Almost twenty years after Kristin Davis’ Charlotte finally held that mirror down to her private parts on Sex and the City, there’s still so much basic misinformation handed down about simple facts of anatomy — not to mention the ongoing effects of bro-centric pop culture, which has lately crept past clueless misogyny into clued-in misogyny. That episode explicitly wants to push the conversation about female pleasure forward. Kudos!

One big problem with most of Goop Lab, though: It’s boring. The camera cuts to someone sensitively nodding often enough to suggest an Eric Andre-ish running joke. Those case studies you mention felt to me like pharmaceutical commercials: “Valacyclovir worked for me!” but for LSD. The soundtrack is reality junk. The general vibe suggests a late-night infomercial for a spiritualist SoCal matriarchy, and infomercials are dumb even when their product isn’t.

And sometimes the products are dumb. One episode advertises a Paltrow-approved psychic. The medium bats away all scientific criticisms, declaring: “Ultimately, we have to honor our own truth.” Kristen, I consider myself an open-minded person. I know there are energies swirling around us we will never really understand. I have seen infinity in a blade of grass, and I believe walking on the beach is a sacrament.

But my own truth, also known as “the verifiable truth,” is that pretty much every medium not played by Patricia Arquette is a bulls— artist. Dedicating an dreamy half-hour to that sorrowbait pseudo-science is morally disgusting. And that “honor our own truth” line is the worst possible message to send in dark days of anti-evidence faux-expertise. Am I being too harsh on a show designed only to “Entertain” and “Inform,” Kristen? Does it matter that The Goop Lab barely does either?

KRISTEN: Allow me to quote Apostolos Lekkos, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine: “Just because something isn’t proven, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.” He was talking about energy healing (episode 5), but it really could serve as a thesis for the entire Goop Lab season. This isn’t to say that I’m siding with “psychic medium” Laura Lynne Jackson, but you’ve gotta hand it to Goop Lab for that narrative fake-out in the episode on the clairvoyant arts. Over the course of the half-hour, we watch as a Goop staffer, Anna, struggles with her skepticism about psychics — and just when you think she’s going to have some kind of “I believe” breakthrough, there’s a final-act twist that would make the writers of Ghost Whisperer jealous.

You keep using the word “infomercial,” Darren, and I’m going to have to take issue with that characterization — at least in the strictest sense of the word. All six episodes were remarkably devoid of product placement. I was expecting to see Goop merchandise — like the “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle ($75) or the “Gold Sculpting Bar” ($195) — placed prominently throughout the office. But the desks are just cluttered with the usual workplace detritus: Coffee cups, stainless steel water bottles, pens and Post-Its.

There’s for sure an aspirational, self-help Nirvana aspect to how Goop HQ is portrayed — all those airy rooms drenched with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the in-office yoga classes (complete with Goop-branded mats!), the pristine and stylish couches scattered carefully throughout. But as I mentioned before, Paltrow knows that people love to hate her, and The Goop Lab never loses sight of that either. If you really want to revel in Paltrovian schadenfreude, check out episode 4, in which Gwyneth suffers through a five-day “fast mimicking” diet. “I feel terrible,” moans the star, her usually luminous skin looking almost, dare I say it, sallow. It may not be as entertaining as watching Elise pump the Goop staff full of endotoxins in the name of pseudoscience, but it’s something. Critics’ Grade: C

The Goop Lab premieres Friday, Jan. 24 on Netflix

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The Goop Lab

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