‘The Goop Lab’ won’t make you well

Goop Lab
Netflix/Courtesy

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In January, Netflix rang in the decade by releasing a docuseries titled “The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow.” Perhaps we can retrospectively regard “The Goop Lab,” stylistically uncapitalized in title but capitalistic in content, to serve as a harbinger for the chaos consuming 2020.

“The Goop Lab” revolves around Goop, Paltrow’s modern lifestyle brand. Paltrow created Goop in 2008, the year she debuted as Pepper Potts in Marvel’s “Iron Man” franchise. Goop began as an online newsletter divulging Paltrow’s lavish travel and shopping recommendations to a noncelebrity readership. Since its conception, Goop has grown to include a website, podcast, pop-up stores and now, a TV show. The company represents an interesting player in the larger wellness industry, which capitalizes on the promise of a more fulfilling life.

In recent years, Goop gained notoriety for selling outrageously expensive products and endorsing questionable health practices. In 2018, Goop entered a $145,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit challenging three unfounded health claims on the company’s website, including a rose quartz egg for vaginal insertion to “balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.” The company holds a controversial reputation as it often inflates the benefits of its products and ignores scientific evidence to the contrary. Goop often responds to backlash by claiming the company’s attention does not amount to an endorsement: “The opinions expressed by the experts and companies we profile do not necessarily represent the views of goop,” the company announced in a 2017 statement to Vanity Fair. “Our content is meant to highlight unique products and offerings, find open-minded alternatives, and encourage conversation.”

A similar disclaimer contextualizes “The Goop Lab.” The infotainment plasters the statement, “The following series is designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice,” at the beginning of each episode. But does it matter? Does this perfunctory warning counterbalance Goop’s prolific platforms and Paltrow’s celebrity influence?

One might assume “The Goop Lab” would interrogate Goop as a company or illuminate the rationale behind its most viral products, such as Paltrow’s vagina-scented candle, which sold out in mere hours. Instead, “The Goop Lab” broadens the wellness narrative beyond its corporate eponym. The series dedicates each of the six episodes to a different topic within the bounds of wellness but outside the conventions of medicine, tasking Goop staffers to try alternative wellness practices. For instance, Goop sends seven employees to Jamaica to undergo “psychedelic psychotherapy,” which the episode description admits essentially entails taking “magic mushrooms” under supervision. And that’s just the first episode.

The fringe wellness practices depicted in the show range from controlled hyperventilation in cold therapy to aura restoration. Even some staffers admit they are skeptics. Yet, “The Goop Lab” waters down its shock value with predictability. It neuters the central question of wondering whether these practices will work by consistently persuading the cynics and validating the believers by the end of every episode.

“The Goop Lab” attempts to inspire trust in Paltrow as a wellness guru. She reigns as the empress of the company and the star of the show, spending most of it as a charming spectator and commentator. Even when Paltrow admits she has endured “traumatic experiences,” she keeps the intimate details to herself, allowing the series to maintain a cool detachment. She remains seemingly untouchable and mythicized, an aspirational ideal. Glued to her side is Elise Loehnen, Goop’s chief content officer. Paltrow and Loehnen’s rapport feels impersonal in its professionalism and awkward in its performance of nonchalance.

In one particularly tone-deaf conversation, Loehnen asserts that everyone at Goop carries a “tremendous amount of pain and loss.” She turns to Paltrow and sarcastically asks: “What could possibly be wrong with you? You have everything. You’re beautiful. You’re wealthy. You’re famous. Like, shut up. You know? But I think that is the perfect example of how our lack of understanding … ” Loehnen trails off until Paltrow completes the thought with a hollow complaint that there is a “systemic cultural lack of connection.” With this exchange, Loehnen unintentionally reveals the series’s glaring failure to acknowledge privilege and inequality. “The Goop Lab” validates all forms of trauma on a sweeping scale, seemingly casting the doctrine of “wellness” into a fantastical world unencumbered by marginalization. This rosy, incomplete and problematic portrait of wellness effectively erases the contours of an individual’s trauma.

“The Goop Lab” grapples with important and complex topics, including shame, anxiety, disconnection and repression. It attempts to provide alternative means to deal with legitimate problems. The episode “Are You Intuit?” invites medium Laura Lynne Jackson to teach Goop staffers about the psychic ability to read energy that has left a physical body. Superficially, the episode orbits around mediumship, but at its core, it is about grief. “Are You Intuit?” addresses closure and death, acknowledging the difficulty to emotionally unpack loss. The unabashedly unconventional practices on “The Goop Lab” actually boil down to reasonable advice: It is important to be vulnerable, and it is important to untangle the impacts of trauma.

Nonetheless, the series stumbles in its own ignorance and artifice. “The Goop Lab” projects consumerism under the guise of wellness. In aiming to validate these alternative health methodologies, “The Goop Lab” feels like embellished advertisements from its often contested titular corporation. It is a documentary only in moniker. The series more accurately resembles Goop propaganda, with its message of wellness seemingly fashioning a fantasy of privilege and freedom.

As stay-at-home orders remain in place, it is natural to turn to Netflix for solace or a way to pass the time. This show, however, is ridiculous, hollow and frivolous. Don’t let yourself be duped by “The Goop Lab.”

Contact Maya Thompson at [email protected].