Remind me, is “Gwyneth Paltrow” the name of the host body or the entity that has possessed her?
I'm watching The Goop Lab on Netflix, a six-part infomercial about Paltrow's adventures in the post-fact snake-oil business, and I'm trying to get my names straight.
Which of the people onscreen discussing pseudoscientific woo-woo is the eponymous “Goop”? Perhaps the dead-eyed psychic in episode six is Goop. Perhaps the mushroom-addled staffers in episode one are Goop. Or perhaps it’s the constantly smiling short-haired woman who is always sitting beside “Gwyneth Paltrow”, looking occasionally as though she wishes to chop her head off in order to become the new “Gwyneth Paltrow”. (That’s how it works.)
Trick question! They are all Goop. You are Goop. I am Goop. Goop is a state of mind. And Goop is the name of Gwyneth Paltrow’s bizarre potions and quackery company. Goop is also what my brain is made of after three hours of this programme.
Yes, the actor Gwyneth Paltrow has taken what the acting world has taught her and gleefully funnelled it into the production of industrial-strength wellness bollocks.
What is "wellness"? You know when the air stewardess calls out, "Is anyone on board a 'doctor'?" and she does the air-quotes thing when she says "doctor" and a man with a grey ponytail stands up and says "I am a 'doctor'" and he does the air-quotes thing as well and then the plane is diverted so he can do some energy healing on someone who has a medically undetectable intolerance to wheat and a slight rash? That's wellness.
Don’t get “wellness” mixed up with anything as boring as “healthcare”. Wellness is not based on clinical trials but anecdotes about something that happened to your uncle’s colleague’s daughter’s friend.
Consequently, each episode of The Goop Lab begins with a text card that reads: "The following series is designed to entertain and inform – not to provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start any treatment, you big feckin' eejit."
The “you big feckin’ eejit” at the end is actually just implied. For full effectiveness I feel this whole disclaimer should probably also be stencilled on the forehead of everyone who opens their mouth on this show.
Gwyneth doesn't partake because she's already high on the most psychedelic mushroom of them all: being Gwyneth Paltrow
In fairness, Gwyneth sometimes wields an ironic, sceptical smile herself as if to gently indicate that this may be a massive troll and that she’s in on the joke. The people toiling in her wellness mines, however, are true believers. They sit in an airy bright office staring at her in adoration and nodding in consistent agreement.
They regularly tell Gwyneth that she is amazing, which Gwyneth takes as her due. Having smoke blown up her arse is just another offbeat therapy that Gwyneth favours. You can, no doubt, order “arse smoke” on the Goop website.
The aforementioned short-haired woman is Goop's Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen. There's something eerily calm about Elise. It feels like she has long ago made peace with her role in the universe/Goop. Whenever there is any sort of task with an element of competition in it, Gwyneth suspiciously wins. Elise can't do any more press ups, she tells us in one episode, when she can clearly do more press ups if she tries. Then Gwyneth wins at press ups.
I feel that Elise is living her life ironically. At one point when Gwyneth is lamenting that strangers think her life is perfect, Elise echoes her for dramatic effect: “What could possibly be wrong with you? You have everything, you’re beautiful, you’re wealthy, you’re famous, shut up!” It feels here like Elise is even doing her sarcasm sarcastically. And, if you know your emotional grammar, a double sarcasm is a sincerity.
So read that quote from Elise again and it’s the thesis statement for this whole programme. Read it backwards into a mirror and Gwyneth appears and smothers you in arse smoke.
The structure of the show is simple. Gwyneth and Elise sit in brightly coloured frocks being serene but sweary with “experts” (they swear regularly to evoke folksy charm) before dispatching their human guinea pigs to be wellnessed by cranks.
In episode one, Gwyneth says: "I would personally love to know a little bit about the trajectory of using psychedelics as a healing modality" which, if you don't speak PowerPoint presentation, means, "I want my employees off their faces on hallucinogens!" They send four Goopers to take magic mushrooms in Jamaica "where their use isn't regulated" including two who have specific traumas to process.
Elise also goes, though her reasons are vaguer. I suspect it’s just that her regular supply has run out. Gwyneth doesn’t partake because she’s already high on the most psychedelic mushroom of them all: being Gwyneth Paltrow.
Now, there is genuine evidence that psychedelics can be useful in a therapeutic environment, although if I want to watch people weeping while unregulated hippies cradle them I'll just go down to the Irish Times HR department the day after the election. (Goop, I'm pretty certain, has no HR department). There is also some basis to the healing claims of Dutch extreme temperature pioneer Wim Hof in episode two, even if he's been criticised for overstating them.
And the episode in which the vulva is celebrated and people's sexual hang-ups are lifted and veteran sex educator Betty Dodson guides a woman to orgasm is, to my mind, after 44 years living with Catholic repression, actively wholesome.
Series two will undoubtedly begin with Gwyneth getting an energy cleanse from Bigfoot
Things go a bit strange in the fourth episode on ageing, when Gwyneth gets her own blood injected into her face, although I do feel thankful that this will keep her sated and our children safe until the next full moon (Let’s say it aloud: at least it’s her own blood).
Most people here mean well. Many of the staff members and case studies are touchingly open about their traumas and ailments. Furthermore, a kindly voiced stranger can be a comfort when you're feeling low, even if their underlying "therapy" is, and I'm going to use a scientific term here: bollocks.
Speaking of which, the fifth episode focuses on an energy healer. He is essentially an avant-garde mime artist who owns but does not understand a book on quantum physics. He waggles his arms dramatically through the air around the prone bodies of Goop employees which causes them to weep and writhe. There is no scientific basis for any of this. Until there is, if anyone tries to heal you with invisible energy, pay them with invisible money.
Yes, the programmes do get steadily wackier as they go along. Series two will undoubtedly begin with Gwyneth getting an energy cleanse from Bigfoot. In the final episode of this series, we are introduced to a glossy-haired psychic who preys on the unresolved grief of the Goopers.
She says things like: “I’m seeing an elderly person who is now dead” and a Gooper says, “Holy smokes! I know of an elderly person who is dead” and the psychic says “I thought you did!” And everyone weeps.
Gwyneth stops just short of rolling her eyes in this episode but it's also clearly the instalment that clinched the series for Netflix. "It will make you look completely mad!" I imagine them saying. "That is my brand now," I imagine Gwyneth saying. Even though she's not mad at all. She's just Goopy.
The Goop Lab streams on Netflix from tomorrow