On a quest for self-optimisation? Netflix’s new Goop Labs series explores everything from energy healing and orgasm coaching to psychic communication and psychedelic medicine, and it's not all quackery
"My calling is something else besides making out with Matt Damon on screen, or whatever," says the Gwyneth Paltrow, who must know we know her calling is to excavate the bank accounts and brains of the dubiously enlightened.
In her new docuseries Goop Labs, employees are dispatched to worldly locations to discover alternative therapies, while Gwyneth cocks her chin and issues cutesy bon mots from a sofa on the sidelines. Each therapy sees her and chief of staff Eloise Loehnen, joined by two specialists; one alternative practitioner, and one licensed professional (Yoni Egg gate ushered in that annoyingly scrupulous and binding thing: fact checking).
NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has slammed it for its role in "peddling misinformation and dodgy procedures". It figures - pseudo-science has always been at the centre of Goop, and although the show is caveated with a not-to-be-confused-with-medical-advice disclaimer, it quietly campaigns otherwise. See the presence of actual doctors, the citation of vast and various trials, a title with the word ‘lab’ in it, and some sterile cinematography for proof. But actually, once removed from the realm of pressing, modern medicine, this holistic approach to physical and mental health looks quite transformative. Quite fun. Quite ME! Pick me!
In the first and most compelling episode staff went to Jamaica to "explore psychedelics in a therapeutic environment," Loehnen in tow. As it turns out, being "at one" with a mushroom and saying so aloud, reframes the ubiquitous and slightly skanky experience as something wholly more admissible than drinking one in, say, milkshake form, at, I don’t know, er, a full moon party on Koh Phi Phi. On hand to supervise, cradle and rock the subjects, are three 'psychedelic elders’. They instruct staffers to let go of defining information: time; place; name; gender. "You are more than your job title," one says to the group of staffers who are in fact, defined by their job titles. But before derision - or envy - takes hold, a particularly poignant bit sees Jenny, the photo editor, deal with the feelings she’s suppressed around her father’s suicide. It’s deep and raw and harrowing and exhausting. Then we’re introduced to an Iraq War veteran who, formerly suicidal, is evangelical about the healing power of psychedelics - MDMA for PTSD. His dignified, stoic scenes are spliced with hysterical crying, laughing and conked out sleeping. Just nod, it works, and the gold standard evidence is that he no longer wants to end his life.
So pedestrian in its kook, the ‘Cold Comforts’ episode of cold therapy and ‘snowga’ (snow yoga) in and around Lake Tahoe, could well be a family New Year’s Day swim (if said family were all professionally thin and attractive, of course). As such, the clout comes from a man afflicted by a rare and serious autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system. He credits cryotherapy not only for giving him an increased range of motion, but the ability to do the splits. Who doesn’t want to be able to do the splits? Precisely no-one, see.
Quite perplexing was when Gwyneth kinda outed herself as not understanding her own currency. The very thing she’s synonymous with: a vagina. "The vagina is the birth canal only. Ya wanna talk about the vulva – the clitoris, the inner lips and all that good shit around it," says the radical Betty Dodson, a 90-year-old female masturbation specialist, who’s very much still active. She makes Gwyneth look like a 13-year-old fumbling in the dark, for her biology and her brain: "I thought the vagina was the whole thing?" she says furtively. Betty’s friend Carlin Ross on the other hand - her other hand, the right one - expertly masturbates with her vulva in vivid, tasteful HD. Oh, and an on-screen orgasm that feels in no way porny or exploitative. Free from the male gaze. Fancy that. Well done Goop!
In the final episode, cynicism gives way to blunt awkwardness as psychic medium Laura Lynee Jackson "reads" food editor Ana. Whittling through specific questions and gleanings - "Are you a twin? Upcoming holiday in Mexico? Some/ any affinity with Shrek?" - the answers are all emphatic "nos". The moment you’re willing to salute the executive producer (Gwyneth) for satiating the sceptics, the camera pans to a woman to whom all the information relates. She is crying. Her grandmother is a twin, she’s getting married in Mexico, and at the wedding, there was talk of having Donkey (a character from Shrek) in the photo booth. Cue title card: "Lindsay did not have any communication with Laura Lynne Jackson prior to this taping." Woah.
The series aims to prove that there is science beyond science, and it does so without manipulating your intelligence. Not overtly anyway, which is to say it's not the blind, unquestioning loyalists that tamper with your judgement and poke at your curiosity, but the contingent of cynics. While they may stand on the figurative periphery, they're not made to stand on the actual one. Ripe for conversion, Gwyneth brings them in. In turn, she brings us in. And when the prizes are self-understanding and acceptance, rapturous orgasms and hyper mobile joints, who's complaining? Plus, we don't have to experience it all on telly.