"The following series is designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice."
The Goop Lab
● Starring Gwyneth Paltrow
● Streaming now on Netflix
★ out of five
That’s the legal disclaimer that accompanies The Goop Lab, the new Netflix docuseries from actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s "modern lifestyle brand."
It’s understandable that they’d want to work the "this is just for entertainment" angle. Goop, which began its life as a newsletter in 2008 and has exploded into a wellness giant, has often been a lightning rod for controversy and criticism, particularly by actual doctors, for providing a massive platform for predatory, pseudoscience-peddling grifters looking to make a buck off women who just want to feel better.
Who could forget Goop’s $66 jade egg, said to do everything from improve orgasms to correct hormonal imbalances?
But The Goop Lab is neither entertaining nor informative. For a show in which someone claims to have had an exorcism during "energy work" in the trailer, most of it is mind-numbingly boring.
The Goop Lab is a space as light and airy as its mastermind herself, featuring lots of blush upholstery and blond wood. Goop staffers are almost unanimously supportive of whatever they’re doing, whether it’s going on a psychedelic mushroom retreat in Jamaica or participating in an "energy healing" session. There is a lot of nodding. When they do attempt to offer insights, their observations about their experiences are often superficial or banal.
For example, in the psychedelics episode, we see the participants go on a journey that’s clearly emotional for some of them, but the only insight we get is one of them feels "more open."
One can watch the entire energy-healing episode — in which people writhe around on a massage table while John Amaral, a "somatic energy practitioner," waves his arms above them and occasionally snaps his fingers — and still not know what energy healing is.
Paltrow herself, meanwhile, is charismatic and often funny, making it immediately apparent why she’s the successful snake-oil saleswoman she is. Many critics have likened The Goop Lab to a glossy infomercial for rich ladies.
Unlike the Goop website, The Goop Lab isn’t selling a specific product. But make no mistake: The Goop Lab is absolutely trying to sell us on Goop, the brand. It positions Goop as a fun, adventurous and curious gal pal, unafraid to get weird and ask questions — even though it does neither.
That said, there’s exactly one good episode in the series, The Pleasure Is Ours, and that’s because of the credibility lent by Betty Dodson, the punk-rock 90-year-old sex educator who should really be the one with her own Netflix series.
For women who struggle to communicate their desires to their partners, reach orgasm or feel shame about how their vulvas look, this episode is worth watching. The slideshow of different labia is also pretty groundbreaking for a series that mostly treads spa water.
Dodson is almost jarringly no-nonsense in a sea of much nonsense, and immediately schools Paltrow on the difference between a vagina and a vulva. There’s nothing inherently shameful about not knowing the difference; many women don’t, thanks to the cultural shame educators such as Dodson work to combat. But then, lots of women aren’t also selling jade eggs to shove up your vagina, or extolling the virtues of steaming your vagina, or retailing a candle called "this smells like my vagina" for $75. (The candle is sold out because we live in the darkest timeline.)
Paltrow is not an expert, as she makes embarrassingly clear. So why do so many people look to her as one?
The rest of the series oscillates between eye-rolling and potentially dangerous. Take the Wim Hof Method, for example. Hof, a.k.a. the Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete and practitioner of extreme cold therapy. Through controlled hyperventilation, he claims he can control his nervous system. The Goop participants do "snowga" and jump into Lake Tahoe, and one says the experience was so transformative, she’s easing off her anti-anxiety medication. No one questions his claims, nor is there any mention that the Wim Hof Method has been linked to deaths.
In another episode, Paltrow and two of her staffers undergo gruelling diets and expensive facial treatments in the name of lowering their "biological age," ostensibly to live longer but really to look younger. Paltrow does a five-day "fast-mimicking" diet in which she subsists on packets of soup and tea. She looks near-death the entire time.
"I had an amazing experience doing it," Paltrow later says, even though we have just watched her have an objectively terrible time doing it.
It should be reassuring, perhaps, that even Gwyneth Paltrow, the high priestess of aspirational wellness, feels like garbage sometimes. But that revelation only underscores the fact that this Sisyphean striving in the pursuit of "wellness" is endless — and therefore, endlessly profitable.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.