Gwyneth Paltrow is such a lightning rod she’s even shaped like one: tall and thin, ready to absorb your anxieties about celebrity, wellness, aspiration, the marriage-industrial complex, the divorce-industrial complex, capitalism, beauty standards, and/or social media. Hers is the face that launched ten thousand think pieces, a recent Harper’s Bazaar cover, a seminal New York Times profile, and an equally seminal New York Times profile of Paltrow disciple Amanda Chantal Bacon. And it’s about to launch ten thousand more (including this one), because Paltrow’s Goop empire is now more than just a website, e-commerce hub, clothing manufacturer, and lifestyle brand. It’s also a TV show—specifically, a six-part docuseries on Netflix called The Goop Lab.
Paltrow’s foray onto the small screen fascinates and enrages for all the reasons you would expect it to. Every episode begins with a legally necessary disclaimer clarifying what follows does not constitute actual medical advice. Then a crew of Goop staffers—directed, though typically not joined, by “G.P.,” as their boss is universally known—tries out a wellness fad in a rather untraditional kind of offsite. Ostensibly, these experiments are staged for the benefit of viewers who may not share the participants’ resources, courage, or inclination to believe dunking yourself in cold water every day can give you the ability to ward off E. coli through sheer force of will. Paltrow watches over it all, her glowing appearance and serene bearing the unspoken end goal of every treatment, diet, and regimen.
The episodes are sequenced to ease the audience into the deep end of the Goop pool, starting with the relatively uncontroversial (psychedelics) and gradually ramping up to a full eyebrow raise (psychics). (Magic mushrooms are familiar as a recreational drug, if not a psychiatric healing aid—a medium who claims to ferry messages from “the other side” is a steeper hill to climb.) Everything is presented with Goop’s signature tone, crafted for maximum plausible deniability: curiosity, not endorsement; open-mindedness, not outright advocacy. Goop is built on a foundation of savvy PR moves, and placing a chapter on clean eating before another on “energy work” is only the latest. The Goop Lab knows better than to go from zero to jade yoni egg.
There is very little to be said about Goop’s maybe-irresponsible, definitely genius fusion of hippie eclecticism with conspicuous consumption that has not been already discussed, at great length and consideration. Whatever your feelings about Gwyneth Paltrow the person, they’ve long since been formed, and The Goop Lab will only confirm them. What the show ultimately reveals is Gwyneth Paltrow the magnate.
Paltrow is the obvious template for an entire subset of female celebrities who have cut out the middleman, using their fame to sell their own wares in lieu of others’: Reese Witherspoon and Draper James; Jessica Alba and The Honest Company; Kate Hudson and Fabletics. But she’s also the model for a slightly different species—the charismatic female founder, a millennial archetype that owes quite a bit to a certain Gen Xer. There are traces of Paltrow in The Wing’s Audrey Gelman, Glossier’s Emily Weiss, and Outdoor Voices’ Ty Haney. Like these women, Paltrow is both executive and advertisement, and The Goop Lab portrays her entire company as an extension of her ethos. She’s the proto-Girlboss.
Not all of The Goop Lab’s willing lab rats are as public-facing as Elise Loehnen, de facto host of the show and chief content officer of the site responsible for nearly as much of its tone as her more high-profile partner. (“You’re Goop-ier than I am!” Paltrow gushes in the energy episode.) Loehnen, a pixie-cut 40-year-old who shares Paltrow’s taste for flowy linens, is flanked by a revolving crew of staffers, racially diverse but uniformly thin, beautiful, and clear-skinned. A few are editors, accustomed to some sort of byline; more are software engineers, assistants, and project managers who spend their time away from the spotlight, though The Goop Lab implies they are always camera-ready, simply waiting to be plucked from their desks in Santa Monica and whisked away to Jamaica or Lake Tahoe.
“This is not a typical workplace experience,” Loehnen admits after ingesting psilocybin with three of her colleagues. “Although I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t be incredibly therapeutic for workplace teams, if you felt really safe and wanted to become even more intimate and connected with the people you spend a majority of your day with.” To which the viewer at home might respond: intimate? With your coworkers? Such relationships aren’t exactly a universal goal, though as that “even more” suggests, at Goop—or rather, The Goop Lab’s projection of Goop—they’re already the status quo, and they should be yours, too. “At the end of the day,” Loehnen continues, “the idea that ... it’s not appropriate to be vulnerable in front of other people is one of the paralyzing things going on in our society.”
Over the ensuing episodes, The Goop Lab builds an institutional portrait of Goop through offhand references and artfully staged tableaux. “Goop has been such a safe environment for me to explore my sexual wellness,” gushes accountant Lexi Zhu of her salaried nine-to-five. (Part of Goop’s slippery slope is placing unimpeachable ideas like destigmatizing women’s sexuality next to more fraught ones like a cleanse that mimics starvation.) A filmed editorial meeting gets almost casually raw when participants start to open up about their fears around aging. “Just another day at the office!” Loehnen trills while having blood drawn to determine her “biological age,” a clip that’s repurposed for The Goop Lab’s introduction sequence. She’s only half-joking; on the show, Goop’s airy, light-filled headquarters are both a place of business and an ongoing science experiment with a host of happy subjects. “This is definitely the most insane thing I’ve been asked to do for Goop,” a staffer says, the operative word being “most.”
All of television, including and especially “reality” television, is a performance. Goop itself is a performance of a leisurely yet rigorously maintained prosperity, both material and spiritual. The Goop Lab is therefore a performance of a performance, neither an unvarnished account of the inner workings of Paltrow’s empire nor trying all that hard to pass as one. The specific employees who appear in the show are no doubt carefully chosen and thoroughly vetted; the meetings, conspicuously lacking in numbers talk or jargon terms like “SEO,” are no doubt tangential at best to actual decision-making. But like all performances, this one sends a message: You too can toggle easily between hyperproductivity and radical honesty at the office if you live your life according to Goop’s monetized playbook.
The thesis statement of Paltrow’s Times profile declares “The minute the phrase ‘having it all’ lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces.” What The Goop Lab presupposes is that having it all—excelling at both one’s career and one’s home life—is now a part of wellness. Seen one way, it’s a new ideal to work toward; seen another, it’s another impossible goal to never meet, though not before you buy what the goal-setter is selling. As with everything Paltrow, there will never be consensus. What there will be is content.