Who needs a drink? —

Vulvas, psychics, and junk science, oh my. I watched so you don’t have to.


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.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/goop-vulva-800×437.png”></img><figcaption>
<p><a data-height=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.

Netflix

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 bore 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.

  • Paltrow and Loehnen sit in Goop’s headquarters for an interview.


    Netflix

  • Members of the “Goop gang” convene in Jamaica to convince themselves that magic mushrooms are a crucial part of a therapeutic journey.


    Netflix

  • This woman isn’t crying because she’s on the goop lab. Instead, the tears are apparently coming on because she took a dose of psilocybin as part of a “therapy retreat” in Jamaica.


    Netflix

  • A Gooper lies on the floor while tripping.


    Netflix

  • These are often paired with anecdotes about participants in limited clinical trials. We hear their success stories without context about how the associated study at-large turned out or whether any positive results came with side effects or issues with bias.


    Netflix

  • A Gooper gets a hug while tripping.


    Netflix

  • Just another day in Jamaica, where Goopers gather to take shrooms, cry, and hug.


    Netflix

  • The problem with this boilerplate statement is that most of the goop lab is full of one-sided, anecdotal claims that standard Western medical practice is all wrong. Right or wrong, that is mostly certainly a type of “medical advice,” Gwyneth and co.


    Netflix

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 takes 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 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.

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