“How much CBD is Gwyneth Paltrow on?” was a question that came to mind many times while watching Netflix’s new show the goop lab. The show builds on the actor-turned-lifestyle guru’s multi-million dollar empire of the same name, a docuseries of sorts where employees are thrown into Goop-y experiences, like well-groomed lab rats in luxury cashmere. They take shrooms as therapy, practice yoga in arctic temperatures, and learn to ask for a better orgasm by getting a hand massage. Tears stream almost instantly down the cheeks of gorgeous Goop employee after employee, from IT managers to food editors, as they unearth a wide variety of trauma and feelings from these seemingly benign activities: an instruction to breathe differently, a hand gliding just an inch above someone’s back.
But through it all, Paltrow, speaking to different teachers and experts on the wellness practices showcased, is placid as a mannequin; none of this phases her. Taking in the eccentric assortment of activities assigned to her employees, she is chill to the point of seeming bored. But I guess that’s not surprising considering all of this—the energy healing sessions, psychic readings, and other chaotic endorsements of the Goop empire—is the architecture of her well-curated life. “My kids are going to bum out,” Paltrow says at one point before being subjected to an 800-calorie a day, pre-packaged, five-day cleanse. “Every time I do a cleanse they’re like, oh no, you get all grumpy.”
While the goop lab might present itself, at least aesthetically, as a documentary about newbies approaching different areas of the wellness sphere with skepticism and curiosity, these newbies are actually the ones creating this wellness sphere to begin with: employees of Goop, in a show executive produced by Paltrow. The show is one long extended infomercial for the Goop brand, toting out different gurus and healers to show off their flimsy talents on Goop employees like a QVC guest might demonstrate a product on a smiling model. It’s the kind of thinly veiled advertisement you might stumble upon on television at 3 a.m., replete with teary testimonials from average folks talking about how taking psychedelics cured their anxiety, except this time with prettier cinematography and a designer clothing budget.
“Wellness” is a nebulous industry, to begin with. Depending on how deep you wade into its waters, you might never make it past activities and concepts like yoga and vitamin supplements. But the deeper you go, the weirder the requirements for a “healthy” life become, and the more extremist ideologies you’ll brush up against. Suddenly, essential oils aren’t just for making your home smell nice, but a replacement for chemotherapy. Birth control is making us sick, and fasting for days at a time will somehow make us healthier. Wellness has dovetailed with an increased paranoia and mistrust in medicine in America, a state that’s given rise to the normalization of anti-vax rhetoric, and it needs harsh regulation and interrogation, not a shrug from those who think it’s all cold-pressed juices and crystals, and certainly not a Netflix show that takes this all in with earnest wonder.
Goop sells designer wellness, which is why having the company as a guide through this industry is pointless if not dangerous. Paltrow’s celebrity has undoubtedly glamorized and normalized harmful advice from the darker corners of this space, and the goop lab contributes to the company’s mythology that they’re somehow mapping the future of health and wellbeing. In 2018, the company was ordered to pay $145,000 in a settlement for claims regarding products like their Jade and Rose Quartz Egg, the latter of which was said to help aid symptoms of depression. That same year, it was reported that a woman died while undergoing the same bee-sting therapy promoted by Paltrow. Industry watchdog groups have called out Goop for claiming many of its products can treat or cure a wide variety of ailments. The company’s reputation is so horrific that it had to hire a lawyer to vet the site’s claims.
Aside from a medical advice disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, there’s little effort made to debunk or dispute any of the methods in the show. Even the label of a “lab” implies that some greater scientific work is being done within the company as if to obscure the fact that Goop is an e-commerce site with an editorial arm. There’s no mention, for example, in the episode about the Wim Hof method, where employees cry doing deep breathing exercises and plunge into freezing water in their bikinis, that people have actually died while practicing these methods.
But in addition to being potentially dangerous, the goop lab is also just boring television. There’s a good TV show to be made about the widespread proliferation of kooky wellness products and practices (and frankly, there already is in podcast form with former Jezebel editor Jane Marie’s second season of The Dream) but you need a journalist, not an actor, to guide viewers through it. Is it really so exciting to watch someone like Paltrow who has done many, many cleanses do yet another one for television. For her, it appears to be just another day at work, no matter how much she yearns for a burrito. Show me a real person doing any of this, please, I wanted to scream.
For the most part, employees are extremely open and willing to accept the terms of these so-called experts, repeatedly breaking down, crying, and releasing their “trauma” across episodes. Who would have thought a bunch of Goop employees would embrace a bunch of Goop-endorsed wellness advice on a TV show their company is basically producing! The closest we get to any sort of friction and healthy, necessary skepticism is when an employee named Ana calls bullshit on a psychic medium who fails to give her an accurate reading. “It’s like Santa Claus,” she says. If only more Goop employees knew that Santa Claus is exactly what they’re selling.