Girlboss, loosely based (“real loose”) on Sophia Amoruso’s rise from eBay seller of vintage clothes to one of the richest self-made women in the world, premiered on Netflix last Friday. It’s not very good.
1. Britt Robertson — I like Robertson — a 27 year old who can still play a teenager, aka this generation’s Alison Lohman — but I couldn’t really tell you why. I’ve seen her in a number of mostly terrible projects — Delivery Man, Mother’s Day, Tomorrowland, Under the Dome and The Space Between Us — and she’s never been particularly good in them. She shout-acts, as though she were performing on stage, over-delivering all of her lines. And yet, she remains mysteriously likable.
Here, however, she’s sorely miscast. Her likability works against her unlikable character. She is also unusually profane — which I don’t have a problem with — except that the character’s personality is ill-suited to the actress. She says things like “Suck my ass” a lot, but she has the demeanor of someone who is better suited to a faith-based movie. It doesn’t jibe.
2. The Aesthetic — The miscasting of Britt Robertson extends to the tone and aesthetic of the show, as well. If you were flipping through the channels with the mute button on, you’d have thought you’d run across a Disney or Nick teen sitcom, and the entire cast looks like they were pulled straight from Teen Nick right along with the set of one of their sitcoms. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, except that the aesthetic doesn’t suit the subject material: It’s like watching Sam and Cat or iCarly curse up a storm, fuck, and do drugs. Parts of Amoruso’s life have been sanitized, while other parts haven’t, and it’s tonally discordant.
3. The Writing — I like the creator and writer of Girlboss, Kay Cannon, who was behind 30 Rock and Pitch Perfect, but until I looked it up, I didn’t know much about her personally (she was once married to Jason Sudeikis!). However, watching the show, it very much feels like a 40-something Mom trying to write dialogue for a 20-year-old hipster — the characters don’t speak like people their age; they speak like older people think people that age speak. It’s jarring and, at times, cringeworthy. The series has the quality of a bad Dad joke.
4. The Sense of Humor — Girlboss often feels like a laugh-track sitcom without a laugh track. The humor is broad and cheesy, but the language is tailored to adults. I don’t know how else to explain it, except that it’s like watching a USA Network show after language restrictions were lifted. The characters started saying “shit” and “asshole” a lot, but it never felt natural. It was like they were using profanity because they could, and not because it was natural.
Jen Braeden is also a writer and exec producer on this show, and the sense of humor of Girlboss is closer to Braeden’s Super Fun Night (with Rebel Wilson) than Cannon’s 30 Rock. That’s not a compliment.
5. Sophia Amoruso — I don’t know how much Robertson’s character resembles the actual Amoruso, but the character from the show is awful: She’s a self-obsessed narcissist who treats her friends like shit and regards everyone else with disdain. Granted, this is part of the narrative arc of Girlboss — Go-it-alone narcissist discovers that she can’t succeed without the help of her friends — but there’s no evidence that any of these characters should have befriended Amoruso in the first place. I certainly wouldn’t have.
6. Melanie Lynskey — I love Lynskey. She’s been a regular on my Five Freebies for the past several years. My crush knew no bounds, until she appeared in Girlboss. It’s a testament to Lynskey’s acting abilities, I suppose, that someone as intensely likable could play a character so off-putting. Lynskey plays Gail, who is the pseudo-villain of Girlboss. She’s basically a dowdy cat-lady stereotype who represents the old-school sellers of vintage clothing on eBay. It’s Gail who attempts to sabotage Sophia’s career because Sophia doesn’t abide by the rules, and also because Gail is jealous of Sophia. To see someone as cool as Lynskey reduced to a role this uncool made my soul cry.
7. The Rest of the Supporting Cast — Alphonso McAuley, Johnny Simmons, and Ellie Reed are all needlessly Disneyfied, which is a weird choice for this show. Plus, RuPaul, Dean Norris, and Jim Rash are mostly wasted (actually, Jim Rash is basically the only good thing about this show, but he’s barely in it).
8. It’s Anachronistic — It’s not just the anachronistic details, either, of which there are several (so many, in fact, that I kept forgetting what year it was set in). It’s the whole thing. It feels like a 90s show set in the 2000s that airs in 2017. It’s painfully outdated. It’s not a show that belongs in this era, or on Netflix, or in this cultural climate.
9. “It’s Loosely Based on Real Events. Real Loose” — That line precedes every episode of Girlboss, and the “real loose” is obvious, because the story being told here barely resembles the life of Sophia Amoruso. There’s also one glaring, real-life detail that sours the whole experience: Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy last year, Amoruso eventually quit, and the company was sold for a meager $20 million. Why did it go bankrupt? Mismanagement, largely at the behest of Amoruso, who had no business experience. The company spent a fortune on marketing, driving up sales, but as soon as it pulled back on advertising, its sales fell because they couldn’t convert one-time customers into returning customers. Amoruso also wasted a lot of money in unnecessary expenses, and never figured out how to sell clothing on the scale necessary to sustain the business model. Best I can tell from the series, the company also sold out to the core beliefs espoused in Girlboss.
10. Despite How Bad It Is, It’s Hard Not to Continue Watching — Girlboss is a bad show, but the one thing it does succeed at is in replicating the Netflix binge-watching formula. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger, of sorts, that’s just intriguing enough to nudge viewers along to the next episode, to the next episode, to the next episode, until you realize you’re at episode 10 and you may as well finish the damn series. If Girlboss were 13 hour-long, or even 42-minute long episodes, I’d have never made it to episode 3. But the episodes come in at 24-26 minutes, and they’re just watchable enough to string viewers along until the end.