Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on television

And I’m old enough to remember the Krankies.

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Oh, but what fresh hell is this? Though the more apt question might be: what fresh smell is this? I speak not of Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-discussed vagina-scented candle – all I can tell you about that debate is that I’m pretty certain it reeks of neither Matey bubble bath nor emergency black cherry yoghurt, shoved there until she can get to a chemist – but of her new Netflix series, Goop Lab, (from 24 Jan) which stinks to high heaven of… what? Hmm, let’s see. I’m picking up top notes of charred sage layered over a heavy base of high decadence and 360-degree narcissism. It is said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. In the 21st century, however, fiddling is for amateurs. Some of us would rather style out the climate emergency by “laddering up to one thing, which is the optimisation of the self”.

You remember Paltrow’s $250m lifestyle brand, Goop, with its jade eggs, to be stored in intimate places, and its cashmere throws, which cost more than the renovation of Frogmore Cottage. Well, having begun its life as a website, it has now arrived on the small screen: a “deeper-dive” into “next level shit” as Gwynnie puts it, in her inimitable way. Paltrow and Elise Loehnen, Goop’s seemingly permanently dumb-founded head of content, co-present; Goop’s eager-to-please staff trial the dubious and asinine – sorry, I mean healing and life-enhancing – treatments and techniques.

Personally, I think it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on television, and I’m old enough to remember the Krankies. Would you like to take magic mushrooms and then, while you trip, receive a cuddle from a bloke/“counsellor” (credentials unknown) who looks like he recently went wild at a stall in Camden Market? Would you like to hang out in an “erotic recess” where you can “pop right off” (translation: have an orgasm) while being watched by a bunch of naked strangers and an ageing sex educator called Betty? No, me neither. Even just typing this, parts of me are clenched so tightly I won’t have to do any Kegel exercises for at least the next eight months.

Having lit my own scented candle – deadly nightshade and poison-ivy, since you ask – I endured two of these shows. The first is about psychedelics and stars Paltrow’s right-hand man, Kevin, who hopes to tackle his intimacy issues with a trip to Jamaica, where magic mushrooms are not regulated and those with the cash can sign up for a supervised session with the aforementioned counsellor and his equally comically dressed colleagues. (In Goop Lab, one gets used to seeing men with plaits as long as anacondas and sharks’ teeth around their necks; one wonders how Paltrow, who looks like she recently went wild in Brunello Cucinelli, copes with the horror.)

Back at Goop HQ, our heroine is at her (strangely bare) desk, waiting to hear all about it. Watching her talk to her colleagues and even dear old Kev, one struggles to recall that she was once rather a good actor: she seems hardly able to play herself convincingly. Still, she is ever sympathetic. After all, she knows. “Being the person people perceive me to be is inherently traumatic,” she notes. Did the drugs work for Kev? I’m not sure. “I love you,” she says, suggesting some achievement, but that he still has work to do. But then, don’t we all?

Moving on, I soon found myself listening to Paltrow ask: “Are there different kinds of orgasm?” Poor GP. For a former associate of various Hollywood bad boys, she seems terribly innocent. “Vulva, vulva, vulva,” she says, trying her best to own the word, her cheeks the colour of something startling by Kevyn Aucoin. In the end, though, neither she nor Loehnen signs up for one of Betty Dodson’s vulva-on-parade workshops (Dodson has been teaching women to climax since the 1970s). It was left to Goop staffer Lexi to watch someone try out Betty’s “rock and roll” technique for ultimate pleasure. It goes like this. Step one: insert your vaginal “barbell” (not a euphemism, but a bit of Dodson-approved metalware). Step two: roll your pelvis. Step three: apply the simply giant vibrator to the relevant spot. And there you go! Beautiful, as they say at Goop. Bingo, as we say in Britain. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 24 January 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Power to the people

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