Goop’s Netflix series: It’s so much worse than I expected and I can’t unsee it

By Beth Mole

This is the exact moment in <em>the goop lab</em>'s third episode in which Gwyneth Paltrow admits she doesn't know the difference between a vagina and a vulva. She's making a hand gesture to say what she thought the "vagina" was.
Enlarge / This is the exact moment in the goop lab's third episode in which Gwyneth Paltrow admits she doesn't know the difference between a vagina and a vulva. She's making a hand gesture to say what she thought the "vagina" was.

Disclaimer: This review contains detailed information about the Netflix series the goop lab with Gwyneth Paltrow. If you plan to watch the show (please, don't) and do not wish to know details in advance, this is not the review for you. Normally, we would refer to such information as "spoilers," but in our editorial opinion, nothing in this series is spoil-able.

In the third episode of Goop's Netflix series, a female guest remarks that us women are seen as "very dangerous when we're knowledgeable." [Ep. 3, 33:35]

"Tell me about it," Gwyneth Paltrow knowingly replies amid "mm-hmms"—as if she has a first-hand understanding of this.

But after watching just a few minutes of any of the six episodes of the goop lab—or knowing pretty much anything about her pseudoscience-peddling "contextual commerce" company "Goop"—one might be skeptical that Paltrow has ever borne any such burden of knowledge in her life.

In fact, earlier in that same episode, we learn that the 47-year-old actor didn't even know what a vagina is.

"It's our favorite subject—vaginas!" Paltrow proclaims gleefully [Ep.3, 3:05]. Then the same guest, feminist sex educator Betty Dodson, corrects her: "The vagina is the birth canal—only. You want to talk about the vulva, which is the clitoris, and the inner lips, and all that good shit around it."

Paltrow giggles before responding, "The vagina is only the birth canal? Oh! See, I'm getting an anatomy lesson that I didn't—I thought that the vagina was the whole..."

"No, no, no, no," Dodson cuts her off.

To be fair, a lot of women might not be clear on this particular anatomical point. But for Paltrow, who claims to help empower women while touting dubious and dangerous products and treatments for said body part—ahem, vaginal steaming, cough, jade eggs—you'd hope she had a tight understanding of what a vagina is—or isn't in this case.

But sadly, she didn't. And throughout the rest of the series, her ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills are on full display as a parade of questionable "experts" and ridiculous claims about health and science march across the small screen unchallenged.

(To be clear, Dodson was not among the dubious guests I'm referring to here; she is knowledgeable and respectable and was probably the most interesting and informative guest on the show.)

The show overall

I'll go through each episode in more detail below, but for those who want to spare themselves from the bulk of the absurdity, I'll summarize here:

In so many ways, the goop lab with Gwyneth Paltrow is exactly what you'd expect based on what we already know about the Goop brand. The series provides a platform for junk science, gibberish, and unproven health claims from snake-oil-salesmen guests. It's a platform on which respected, trained medical experts are not considered the authorities on health and medical topics; where logic and critical thinking are enemies of open-mindedness; where anecdotes about undefined health improvements are considered evidence for specific medical treatment claims; where the subjective experiences of a few select individuals are equivalent to the results of randomized, controlled clinical trials; and where promoting unproven, potentially dangerous health claims is a means to empower women.

But, beyond all of that, the show is just, well, boring.

Each episode uses the exact same structure. Each presents one of six health topics, which are (in order): psychedelics; "iceman" Wim Hof's breathing and cold-treatment method; female pleasure; anti-aging; energy healing; and psychics.

In each episode, you see Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop's chief content officer, Elise Loehnen, interview a couple of people involved in the episode's topic. The interviews take place in an airy, stylishly decorated office at Goop's Santa Monica headquarters. Interspersed between snippets of those interviews, you see groups of Goop-employee volunteers subject themselves to some therapy or experience related to the episode's topic. The interview dialogue from Goop headquarters is used to essentially narrate the Goopers' experiences. The Goopers' results are, in turn, intended to back up whatever claims the interviewees make.

It's a tiring structure for six straight episodes, and it's often not done well. The pacing is slow at times; some of the Goopers' experiences are just not engaging and seem like filler; some of their personal stories are introduced at the start of episodes and then inexplicably abandoned at the end; the interviews at Goop headquarters can seem drawn out and dry; and there are random tangents about Gwyneth Paltrow's life and the office environment at Goop headquarters.

Even if you're interested in the topics, getting through the episodes can feel like a slog—and they're each only 30-35 minutes long.

It feels like the momentum of each episode is supposed to be driven by anticipation of how the Goopers' experiences match what the interviewees are saying. But we hardly ever get satisfying conclusions on that front—and we wouldn't be convinced even if we did. Instead, the show seems to move each episode along more by leaning on shock content that might best appeal to middle schoolers—showing glimpses of a woman having an orgasm, a Goop staffer getting a face lift using string that pulls her smile toward her ears, and a group of Goopers tripping on mushrooms.

Meanwhile, the goop lab makes no effort to question or critically evaluate any of its claims. There are no fact checks or counterpoints offered. There's no mention of any criticism and little to no warnings of potential harms.

In all, it's a show that you can safely skip. But, if you still want to know more about why the goop lab is so bad, let's run through the six episodes.

Goop on shrooms

The first episode covers psychedelics and their potential to improve mental health. Paltrow and Loehnen sit down with Will Siu (a psychiatrist who supports "psychedelic Integration" in therapies) and Mark Haden (executive director of MAPS Canada, which is an affiliate of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit created in 1985 to advocate for the medical benefits and use of psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA and LSD). Siu received training at MAPS.

The episode references the fact that reputable academic researchers—many associated with MAPS—are exploring in clinical trials whether certain psychedelics can aid in addressing specific mental-health conditions, such as clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The early trials on these subjects have provided some positive results.

“Being the person that people perceive me to be is inherently traumatic.”

For instance, in 2016 the Food and Drug Administration greenlighted the first Phase III trial to assess whether or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)—known as "molly" or "ecstasy"—can improve the symptoms of PTSD. And treatments with psilocybin, the psychedelic component of "magic" mushrooms, has yielded positive results in small trials on people struggling with depression.

While that research is legitimate and interesting, the Goop episode approached the topic in the dumbest possible way: a group of four Goop employees hop on a plane to Jamaica to trip on mushrooms. Two of the Goopers weren't trying to address mental health. One Gooper said she wanted to feel more creative and like her "authentic self," and Loehnen, who went, said she wanted a "psychospiritual experience." The other two were trying to "process some personal trauma."

While the clinical trials are evaluating specific drug doses to treat well-defined symptoms in tightly controlled, weeks-long programs, the Goopers drank mushroom tea once, in a "more ceremonial setting," surrounded by what they described as "psychedelic elders."

You'd think watching people trip on mushrooms might be fun. It was, in fact, boring. You mostly just see them lying on the floor, laughing or crying to themselves. The episode shows little else of what goes on and hardly any dialogue among the "elders" and the Goopers.

Meanwhile, the interview back at Goop headquarters starts rambling, with discussion around vague mental health issues, the value of "connecting people," harmful societal norms, and how basically everyone is suffering. Paltrow notes at one point that she, too, suffers mental-health problems despite her wealth and status, and she adds that "being the person that people perceive me to be is inherently traumatic." [Ep.1, 29:00] Poor Gwyneth.

At the end of the episode, some of the Goopers talk about how the experience was intense—well, yeah. We don't hear back from the woman who wanted to be more creative, so we can only hope things worked out for her. But one of the Goopers processing trauma (in his case, trauma of having an emotionally distant father) said in a final one-on-one discussion with Paltrow that he felt more of an "openness" after the experience. He thanked Paltrow for letting him go.

Yeah, OK.

NEXT.


Page 2

The second episode dives into the icy world of Wim Hof and his method of breathing, meditation, and cold-water exposures to, as he claims, make himself more resilient to stress and healthier overall.

The episode hardly introduces Wim Hof, but he is world-famous for this self-titled method and widely known as "The Iceman" for his ability to withstand extreme cold for long periods of time. He holds records for the fastest-recorded half-marathon while on snow and ice while barefoot and for the longest time being fully immerses in a bath of crushed ice (1 hour and 50 minutes), among other records.

Hof claims that, through his breathing and meditation, he can control his autonomic nervous system to keep himself warm. However, a study of Hof and his twin brother—who doesn't partake in the Wim Hof method and has a sedentary lifestyle—suggested that it's genetics and brown-fat levels that account for their cold tolerance.

The Wim Hof breathing technique is considered similar to the Tibetan Tummo meditation technique and involves hyperventilating to temporarily lower CO2 levels in the blood. A very small study of healthy people who used the method suggested that it might temporarily dampen innate immune responses. Twelve Hof-trained subjects reported fewer subjective symptoms than control subjects after getting injected with a bacterial toxin that would make them feel sick.

While there's certainly evidence that breathing and meditation methods can help improve well-being, particularly for people suffering anxiety or depression, Hof is well-known for making unsupported medical claims and spewing pseudoscientific gobbledygook about his strategy. For instance, he's suggested that his method can cure cancer.

So, naturally, he fits right in at Goop.

While Paltrow and Loehnen talk with Hof at Goop headquarters, we see a group of Goop employee volunteers take a trip with Hof to Lake Tahoe, which is largely boring. Among the group, one Gooper says she wants to get better at breathing, whatever that means. Interestingly, two of the Goopers say they are research scientists and have master's degrees... aaaannnd we don't hear from them again for the rest of the series.

While at the lake, the Goopers do Hof's meditative breathing, play in the snow in their swimsuits, and then dive into the freezing cold lake from a dock. The diving into the lake is the most exciting part, which involves them jumping in, looking remarkably cold, and then furiously swimming to shore. You can gauge for yourself how interesting that is to watch.

In the end, none of them dies, and one of them says it helped her manage a panic disorder. The former point is important given that there have been several reported deaths among people using Hof's method. This, of course, is not mentioned in the Goop episode.

Moving on...

Let’s talk about sex

The third episode—and climax of the series—is about female masturbation and orgasms, which Paltrow approaches with the knowledge and maturity of a 13-year-old. As mentioned, Betty Dodson is interviewed at Goop, and so is her business partner, Carlin Ross. While Paltrow and Loehnen talk with them, you see a group of Goopers do a workshop with a different, LA-based sex educator who works to guide women to have a more satisfying sex life.

In the workshop, the Goopers talk about their insecurities, do individual sexy photoshoots to make themselves feel empowered, and then do exercises, such as giving each other hand massages while telling each other how they want to be touched and what feels good. As our culture editor, Sam Machkovech tells me, it's like a Real Housewives episode, only more boring.

Back with Dodson and Ross, Paltrow and Loehnen talk about orgasms and busting stigma, myths, and fake orgasms—like pretty much all of the female orgasms shown in pornography. They also flash pictures of vulvas because Dodson says it's a good idea.

After the LA-based workshop, one of the Goopers says she has realized that she needs more help, so Goop then sends her to Dodson and Ross' workplace in New York City with the stated goal to learn how to masturbate. In New York, the pair gives the Gooper a little anatomy lesson and then lets her watch Ross masturbate with Dodson's coaching. The latter of which the viewer gets to see some of, but it's heavily edited snippets of breathing, a little moaning, and what her non-occupied hand is doing.

Overall, this was the most informative and non-pseudoscience-y episode of the entire series. If you must watch one episode of the series, this is the one I'd recommend. After this episode, the series goes downhill fast.

Gwyneth finally gets gooped

The fifth episode tackles ways to try to thwart aging—with reconstituted soup, a $50 piece of salmon, and weird facials.

Paltrow and Loehnen sit down with Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California Longevity Center, who promotes a fasting-mimicking diet. They also talk with Morgan Levine, a pathology professor at Yale who recently co-authored a study on using a set of biomarkers in blood to predict "biological age" that correlates with lifespan.

I, meanwhile, may have aged five biological years watching this 30-minute episode.

As the interview goes on, we watch Paltrow, Loehnen, and Wendy Lauria (Goop's SVP of marketing) have blood tests to measure their biological age, then try three different diets and measure their biological age again. Lauria tries a vegan diet, Loehnen goes Mediterranean/pescatarian, and Paltrow tries the fasting-mimicking diet, which is still being evaluated in clinical trials.

At the start, Lauria was biologically 48.4 years old and chronologically 49.5. Loehnen was 37.9 biologically, 39.5 chronologically. Paltrow was 44.2 biologically and 46 chronologically at the time. At the anti-climactic end of the episode, after the dieting, the tests indicate that Lauria had the same biological age, Loehnen was down to 36.8 (a difference of 1.1 biological years from the start), and Paltrow dropped to a biological 42.5 (a difference of 1.7 biological years).

It's unclear what the clinical significance of a 1- to 2-year shift in a biological age really is, if that's even beyond what a margin of error would be for such a calculation, or if it will last as they go back to their normal diets and routines.

But, to get to that oh-so-exciting conclusion, we have to watch all three women struggle through their diets via selfie-cellphone video. Paltrow—who had a five-day fasting-mimicking diet that comes straight out of a $249 box of dried soups and nutrition bars, sold by Valter's company L-Nutra—is the whiniest.

Loehnen, meanwhile, goes to a grocery store and somehow spends $50 on a pound of pre-frozen salmon. And Lauria laments not getting to eat at an In-and-Out Burger after her Costco trip with her young son. Riveting stuff.

To fill time in the rest of the episode, the women also get facials to try to look younger. Paltrow goes to a naturopathic doctor for a "vampire facial," which involves injecting platelets harvested from her own blood into her face. Loehnen gets 100 acupuncture needles in her face, and Lauria has a plastic surgeon pull the skin on her face back with dissolvable threads, which leaves all manner of weird puckering.

Overall, by the end of the episode, they all look the same as they did at the start, and Paltrow says she has resumed her previous diet, which involves French fries. I, meanwhile, may have aged five biological years watching this 30-minute episode. And the next episode almost gave me a rage stroke.


Page 3

This episode deals with "energy healing" and, whooeee, is it a load of pseudoscientific garbage.

At Goop headquarters, Paltrow and Loehnen interview chiropractor and "body worker" John Amaral. He claims to influence how energy moves through the body by changing the frequency of a person, or something-something, quantum physics. We also hear from Apostolos Lekkos, a physician who is really into "manipulating the energetic field of a person." He's also Amaral's apprentice.

Amid the interview, we see glimpses of Amaral at work. He has a person lying on a massage table and touches a few points on their body, gives them verbal commands that the audience can't hear, and waves his hands above them like the energy wizard he is. This shifts around their energy fields, which extend four to six feet from a person, we learn. The person on the table, meanwhile, makes dramatic, flowing movements and, at times, shakes violently.

It looks utterly ridiculous and completely staged.

Throughout the episode, Amaral spouts nonsense and claims that quantum physics proves what he's doing is real. For instance, he states that the double-slit experiment proves "without a shadow of a doubt that our consciousness actually shifts or alters, in some way shape or form, physical reality." [Ep. 5, 5:30] (Spoiler: it doesn't.)

Ars' in-house physicist and associate writer, Chris Lee, responded to this claim:

It is true that the double-slit experiment produces a rather spectacular and startling result. It is also true that simultaneously shining a light up your vagina and up your anus will produce a startling result. However, one does not need quantum mechanics to explain the latter, while the former does not rely on your conscious decision to perform the experiment. Quantum mechanics does not provide you with the mental power to balance energies, find lay lines, or cure syphilis. It does, unfortunately, seem to provide buzzwords to those prone to prey on the rich and gullible.

A few Goopers subject themselves to Amaral's body working and end up describing their experiences as "trippy" and "weird." One Gooper said it ended up being therapeutic because he relaxed and quieted his mind. Paltrow and Loehnen also get their energy fields manipulated. Paltrow rose off the table saying she was sleepy, while Loehnen claimed to have gone through an exorcism.

I see drinking in my future

The sixth and final episode is about psychics—who are given a bad name by the charlatans of the industry, obviously.

Paltrow and Loehnen talk with psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson, who says she can teach others how to be a medium. In fact, amid the interview, we see Goopers go to a workshop with Jackson, and one of them gets suspiciously good at channeling their psychic powers—almost as if there's a method about picking up subtle clues from other people and offering vague-enough "readings" that lead them to connect their own dots.

A group of Goopers direct energy at each other to try to make them levitate, or something. No one levitated.

We also hear from spiritualist Julie Beischel, who co-founded the woo-y Windbridge Research Center. According to her blog, she has doctorates in pharmacology and toxicology.

Both interviewees say the dead can be channeled and that they can help people deal with grief. In other words, both women can prey on distraught people who have recently lost a loved one.

We see Jackson do a reading for one staffer, who cries. Then a group of Goopers go to a workshop with Jackson and make each other cry, while also directing energy at each other to try to make them levitate, or something. No one levitated.

Amusingly, one Gooper admitted she didn't believe any of this and sat down for a one-on-one reading with Jackson to see if she could be convinced. As Jackson put out her feelers and probed for information, she kept striking out. "Are there twins in the family or like a Gemini birthday—what is that, June?" [Ep. 6, 24:00]

"No," the Gooper replied.

This sort of thing kept happening, and it seemed like a total disaster. Then we panned over to see a member of the camera crew bawling, saying that Jackson was describing her completely. So Jackson's reputation was unimpeached—she was accidentally just reading the wrong person. Or so we're told.

We never revisit whether the earlier Gooper had changed her mind about psychics or had tried to have another reading with fewer people in the room. The episode ends back at Goop's headquarters, with Paltrow asking Jackson who will be elected president in 2020. We don't get to hear the answer.

the goop lab with Gwyneth Paltrow is available on Netflix January 24.