I came late to Gwyneth Paltrow's Netflix series, receiving the preview episodes just the night before their official release. Other journalists had been tucking in for at least a week. So that left me out of the Goop. It also obliged me to take a deep dive into the Gwynnieverse, with little time to come up for air or reflect deeply on the wonders that awaited. And it ruined my evening, as I'd planned to watch an HP Lovecraft movie instead.
But was I replacing one cosmic horror with another? In The Goop Lab, Paltrow – founder, figurehead and (potentially immortal) embodiment of the world’s most derided lifestyle brand – must undertake a variety of gruelling tasks. She has to jump into a freezing lake, egged on by a Dutch gentleman in alarming sports shorts. And she travels to a hippy plantation in the Caribbean to sip a magic-mushroom brew in a setting that reminds us what we’ll all be missing now that Body & Soul is into longer involved in Electric Picnic.
I’m joking! Magic-mushroom cuppas are indeed quaffed. And, yes, the chap in the sports shorts is as real and difficult to get out of your head as that Witcher song. Paltrow, though, experiences these challenges at one remove and instead dispatches her minions at Goop – her Gooplings, if you will – to do the heavy lifting.
Each of the six episodes of The Goop Lab begins with the qualification that the show is intended as entertainment, not as a replacement for medical advice
Goop has been widely mocked as an extension of Paltrow's Hollywood ego. There have also been more serious criticisms, however, and in 2017 the company was fined for making "deceptive health claims" for 51 of its (very pricey) products. There was also a "vagina steaming" controversy that I won't go into, suffice to say that no good can come of a controversy that begins with "vagina steaming".
Netflix obviously doesn’t want to get tangled up in all of that. So each of the six episodes of The Goop Lab begins with the qualification that the show is intended as entertainment, not as a replacement for medical advice. And once you get past the dystopian soft furnishings – I know it’s rather cliched to compare everything to Black Mirror, but Goop HQ truly does look as if it were wrenched from Charlie Brooker’s imagination – it is in some ways a conventional lifestyle docuseries.
A grittier documentary might have waded in deeper in the one where the posse of Goop employees fly to the Caribbean to experiment with hallucinogenics and thus connect with their inner lost child. One of the volunteers is still coming to terms with the suicide, five years ago, of her father. Another, who grew up without a dad, wrestles with trust and father-figure issues.
Alas, with a running time of little more than 30 minutes, The Goop Lab isn't equipped to properly scrutinise their problems. So we're soon back with Gwyneth on our couch, talking to a hallucinogenics expert who, a bit unhelpfully, I would imagine, is a dead ringer for the horror movie doyen David Cronenberg.
Paltrow does come across as sincere in her desire to expand the mind of the viewer. It's just that the price of entry is taking her at face value as a lifestyle guru
Paltrow, to be fair, does get off the sofa in later instalments and participate more fully, such as when doing press-ups for the Dutch chilly dipper. Oh, and there’s an episode about unlocking the deeper mysteries of the vulva, which I didn’t have time to watch. My parents are visiting this weekend, so I’ll probably put it on then.
Paltrow does come across as sincere in her desire to expand the mind of the viewer. The dispatch about female sexuality features the veteran educator Betty Dodson, who talks passionately about the importance of women becoming comfortable with their own bodies.
And there are moving interviews during the investigation into mind-altering substances. One woman recounts how "microdosing" magic mushrooms helped her overcome suicidal feelings. Unless you have found yourself in her situation you're in no position to judge, she says. Later, a sufferer of PTSD explains that taking MDMA in a controlled environment set him on the path to recovery. So there are moments worth staying with. It's just that the price of entry is taking Gwyneth Paltrow at face value as a lifestyle guru.
The Goop Lab streams on Netflix from today