News & Politics

I Watched All Six Episodes of “The Goop Lab” in One Sitting. Bring on the Guided Mushroom Trip!

Spoiler alert: I realized I freaking love Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow at the premiere of Netflix's "The Politician" in September 2019. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

I’ve been wavering about this for so long, caught between a jade egg and a hard place, but the time is nigh. I can no longer deny what’s in front of me: I freaking love Gwyneth Paltrow.

I thought I was on the fence for a while because of her kooky snake oil salesman persona (Have diabetes? Here, gnaw on this Nepalese root!) and her seeming detachment from anything that constitutes as reality (for reference: Her DC Goop guide). But really, I think a part of me was jealous, jealous that Paltrow has so deeply tapped into her own personal journey toward enlightenment and well-being that she just doesn’t really give a fuck what anyone else thinks.

It makes me sad to say that it’s still somewhat of a radical thing for a woman to place so much emphasis on becoming her best self, but it’s true. We all kind of roll our eyes at the stories of male tech figures biohacking in Silicon Valley or Tom Brady’s war on nightshades, but we don’t prescribe the same vitriol for them as we do women waging the same campaigns.

All this to say, I was curious to see how the world would receive Paltrow’s Netflix series The Goop Lab. It’s basically what you’d expect her to stream into our homes: A six-part series where each 30-minute episode looks into a different realm of the wellness world—think psychedelics, mediums, energy healers, and the like. (And the reviews are also what you’d expect—that is, not great. One critic called it “a nesting doll of terrible.”)

I decided for maximum Goop effect I’d stream the whole thing at once. The tiny hamster cage that I call “a studio” is hardly akin to any of Paltrow’s homes, let alone the beauty that is the Goop office, but I did my best, lighting some sandalwood incense and sipping kombucha while wearing a face mask. I was ready for GP to rock my chakras off.

The first episode takes a few Goop staffers to Jamaica, where they undergo a magic mushroom trip. Apparently, if you consume psychedelics in the presence of trained professionals and therapists, the experience can be something akin to multiple years of therapy, which sounds okay to me. What does not sound okay to me is the idea of tripping your face off next to your office accountant. There is absolutely no part of me that would ever want to consume a bunch of psychedelics in the jungle with my Washingtonian coworkers—not only would that be an HR nightmare, but I’d probably end up sobbing hysterically, eating a bunch of snacks, and then talking to my cubicle mate about the death of my childhood Jack Russell, Freckles, for an hour. I’m good.

The next episode introduces us to Wim Hof, a Dutch man who looks particularly Steve Zissou-esque as he cavorts about barefooted in his red beanie across glaciers. Hof is famous for being able to withstand freezing temperatures with his mind-over-matter meditation and breathing techniques (the show also says he was injected with E. coli and didn’t contract it because of said technique, but…we’re just not going to touch that). His technique is said to improve focus and mental clarity and improve things like anxiety and depression. Of course, Paltrow sends some of her minions to a freezing cold Hof-sponsored retreat in Lake Tahoe, where Hof yells breathing instructions at them like a musher leading a pack of sled dogs, they do yoga in the snow in their bathing suits, and then submerge themselves in a freezing lake. Work perks, baby!

And then of course it wouldn’t be a Goop-sponsored series if there wasn’t an episode about vaginas. And, oh boy, is there. The third episode is all about female sensuality, pleasure, and the discovery of self, where Betty Dodson, something of the American version of Dr. Ruth, leads a young, terrified-looking Goop staffer on a journey of self-exploration. And there are pictures of vulvas. Lots and lots of vulvas. Like so many.

From the vulva montage, we’re carried to the last three episodes, where Goopers are treated to energy healing sessions, aka exorcisms (and Julianne Hough of that viral video shows up for another go), a session on combating aging, and a dalliance with a psychic medium.

So, yes—we’ve got all the working parts for a classic Goop extravaganza. Line up, folks! And, besides the self-help tutorials, we also get a peek into Gwyneth’s very glamorous HQ life: Everyone in her office is wearing a cargo jumpsuit and multiple chunky gold necklaces, looking like an effortlessly trendy LA dweller you’d see drinking a juice as they walk to their Santa Monica bungalow.

But what about the actual practices themselves, these cure-alls Paltrow peddles with the same enthusiasm as Billy Mays, red-faced and screaming, dunking soiled shirts into buckets of OxiClean?

Paltrow’s show begins each episode with a warning that all practices are meant to teach and entertain, and that all viewers should see a doctor before making medical decisions (which, in light of Team Goop settling a lawsuit in 2018 over faulty medical claims, seems smart).

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This is wise not only for legal reasons, but also because some of their suggestions give me pause. During the Wim Hof episode, for example, there are vague intonations that folks should get off medication for anxiety and depression, instead turning to alternative means of treatment. As a longtime user of such medications myself, I am firmly anti-stigmatizing mental health treatments. If it works for you, be it a pill or a mushroom, and is administered in a healthy, controlled format, let’s leave it be.

Same goes for Paltrow’s episode on anti-aging, in which she undergoes a five-day fast to lower her biological age. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, claims of fasting can be an automatic trigger. In the show, Paltrow talks about the several fasts she’s endured in the past, and the episode only makes a brief attempt at warning against the effects of such controlled eating.

But then there’s everything else. I should preface this by saying I am a spiritual person who believes there are elements of the world that can’t be explained in human terms, which is a large element of this show. After watching it, I am dying to get treated by an energy healer, I would willingly forgo an appointment with my traditional talk therapist for a guided mushroom trip, and I may even pull a Wim Hof and take some cold showers in the morning. (I’m aware that I’m basically buying what Gwyneth is selling here, but somehow I feel better about doing that than, say, buying into a Kylie Jenner lip kit.)

I’m a big proponent of the “can’t hurt, could help” methodology. Want to chug celery juice in the morning? Do it! Hang out in a salt cave and listening to a singing bowl? Right on!

These wellness soundbites are like anything else: They only become problematic when you put all your faith into one basket. So long as you are still going to the doctor, taking your medication, and keeping a balanced perspective, you can probably do as many psychedelic trips as you want (well, not really, but you know what I mean).

And as for Gwyneth? Well, like I said—I love her. We’re only in these bodies for a burning moment in time. Why wouldn’t we want to discover everything they can do?

In my opinion, one of the bravest things you can do is dive into the depths of yourself. Gwynnie just wants to hold our hands along the way, her painfully beautiful face shining like a jade egg in the sun.

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.

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