I was fully prepared to hate The Goop Lab. I fired up my screeners of the Netflix docuseries, inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website/mega-enterprise, with my gloves off, my knives out, and my poison pen inked up and ready to go. I didn’t need a poison pen since I was typing my review on a laptop, so that part was really a waste of time. But you get the point. I was fully prepped for a six-episode hate watch.
I regret to inform everyone on the internet, where it’s become a competitive sport to vocally loathe Paltrow and her website that sells vagina-scented candles for $75, that The Goop Lab isn’t particularly hateable. Some of the episodes are even helpful. Is Paltrow portrayed in the shiniest of lights at all times, both literally (she looks magnificent always) and figuratively (whenever she must compete against her co-workers, she always wins)? Of course. But the half-hour installments, which each focus on a specific wellness topic and recruit Goop employees to try out various treatments and therapies, are actually interesting and informative. My chief complaint about The Goop Lab, believe it or not, is that its episodes need to be a little longer. I just wrote that sentence and meant it. I know: It’s unbelievable to me, too!
Goop, the website, has been called out before for pushing pseudoscience, and Netflix seems quite aware of that. Every episode is preceded by a disclaimer that says, “The following series is designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice.” The truth is that none of the episodes seems to be trying to provide medical advice, really. And for the most part, the ideas they explore aren’t super-woo-woo as much as they are a bit experimental. If you’re the kind of person who thinks traditional thinking and standard Western medicine don’t always adequately address every ailment that afflicts humans — and a great many rational individuals feel this way — a lot of what’s in The Goop Lab won’t seem completely out there.
Each half-hour focuses on a different topic, features an interview with experts on that topic — usually conducted by Paltrow and Goop’s chief content officer, Elise Loehnen — and follows Goop staffers as they work with various coaches and wellness gurus to try new approaches to self-improvement. The first episode, titled “The Healing Trip,” sends several members of the Goop team to an island in Jamaica to take magic mushrooms in the presence of guides, who help them through their psychedelic experiences as a way to access and manage trauma or anxiety. (By the way, every Goop Lab episode cries out for a much more fun title. This one, for example, really should be called “White People Be Trippin’.”)
In another, Paltrow, Loehnen, and Goop’s senior vice-president of marketing, Wendy Lauria, discuss the difference between chronological and biological age with two specialists in that field, then attempt three different diets to determine how it affects their own biological ages. You’ll never guess who shaves the most years off of her life, but I’ll give you a hint: She’s the only one of the three who won an Academy Award.
In what may be the most valuable installment of this initial season, sex educator Betsy Dodson talks to Paltrow and Loehnen about her sex workshops, which help women understand more about their own anatomies and how they can achieve orgasms. Dosdon notes that many women she encounters feel shame about their bodies and, specifically, sexual organs. To counter those feelings, the episode even shows images of a variety of vulva — there’s a new NSFW tongue twister for you! — that demonstrate that every body is indeed built differently “down there” and that that’s okay. The whole episode performs a wonderful public service that I personally have never seen another television show even attempt. (This episode is called “The Pleasure is Ours,” but in my head it’s, “Vaginas: Not Just the Inspiration for Scented Candles!”)
For those wondering whether The Goop Lab functions like the site’s newsletter, which hawks products that often cost a ludicrous amount of money, there’s no outright shilling other than the promotion of the Goop brand itself. There are moments when the show can come across like an extended Goop recruitment video, but to the credit of the staffers — who, despite my joke above, are not all white — many of them enter their reality-TV experiments with a healthy dose of skepticism. In an episode about psychic mediums, Ana, an associate food editor at Goop, enters a workshop with medium Laura Lynne Jackson not believing in the idea of mediums at all. By the end of the episode, which is one of the more “out there” ones of the bunch, she’s more open to the notion of psychic energy, but hasn’t entirely changed her mind about the legitimacy of the practice. The Goop Lab has allowed her, and its audiences, to try ideas on for size, and it implies that anyone watching can take those ideas or leave them.
I mentioned earlier that The Goop Lab episodes could stand to be longer, something I pretty much never say about Netflix shows, but here I do think some additional context would give viewers a fuller understanding of the issues being discussed. In the biological aging episode, Morgan Levine of Yale University explains that she looks at nine elements in a standard blood test to determine what someone’s biological age is, but we’re never told what those elements are, nor do we hear about other ways of determining biological age. I understand that, per the disclaimer, The Goop Lab’s chief mission is to “entertain and inform,” but I also think it could play a more active role in educating its viewers more fully.
Surely some viewers will watch The Goop Lab entirely for the purpose of engaging in Gwyneth-nalysis, and there is no shortage of material to serve that function. We get to watch Paltrow suffer through a five-day cleanse and appear in one home video in which she’s interviewed by her daughter, Apple. We observe her getting a vampire facial and undergoing a body- and energy-flow session. We find out that once, during a trip to Mexico, she did MDMA and got very emotional. If you’re bound and determined to find reasons to roll your eyes at the Gwyneth of it all, yes, you can.
But on a series determined to open minds, The Goop Lab’s greatest accomplishment may be its ability to open minds with regard to Paltrow and her company. To a far greater extent than I imagined, The Goop Lab actually makes it possible to be slightly less cynical about Goop. Life, man. It can still surprise you.