The Bingeworthy Breakdown is an occasional look at new TV shows. An estimated 500 scripted seasons of TV will air in 2017, and to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we’re going to look at the first episodes of the most notable of these to help you work out whether it’s worth tuning in every week for them, waiting to binge later, or using the time to finally catch up on “13 Reasons Why” or whatever else you’ve been waiting for. Today, we’re looking at Netflix’s new coming-of-age dramedy “Girlboss.”
Hey. What’s up? Anything new?
Not too much. Well, I mean, it was my brother’s bachelor party last weekend. Also, I sorta/kinda got a new job. That’s something. So I’ve actually been a little busy lately. More than I’d like to be, at least.
Hey, I wasn’t asking for a diary entry.
I should’ve figured as much.
Have you gotten a chance to watch anything new recently?
Actually, yes. In the midst of my newly busy schedule, I got to check out a healthy bit of Netflix‘s newest show, “Girlboss.” Depending on your definition of “healthy,” obviously.
That’s the one with Britt Robertson, right? And it has something to do with fashion?
Well, how is it?
I see you’ve thought about this for awhile.
Actually, I have. I’ve been mulling over my feelings about this show for the past few days.
What’s the premise of the show?
It’s based on young fashion entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso and her 2015 autobiography “#Girlboss.”
Hmm… why does that name sound familiar?
Amoruso has, let’s say, a bit of a reputation, especially these days….
Care to define what you mean?
She has a history of firing pregnant women. She also fired another employee after she underwent heart surgery, along with a few other people enrolled in her company Nasty Gal’s health insurance plan.
Since I’m the least fashionable person on the planet, could you explain what Nasty Gal is/was for me?
Sure thing. Nasty Gal is considered one of the most prominent, distinguishable and fastest-growing online clothing retailers in the world. It’s a pretty big deal, you might say. At least, it was in the early-to-mid ’10s. The fashion website’s net worth was once projected to be worth over $100 million. Since Amoruso stepped down, however, the company has fallen on hard times.
I can imagine.
Forbes named Amoruso one of the richest self-made women in the world the very same year that the multi-million dollar company she founded filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Well, it sounds like there’s some dramatic potential there, at least.
You’re not wrong.
Does the show delve into that at all?
Are they building up to it?
Honestly, it’s hard to say.
“Girlboss” is like the fashion world’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” meets “The Social Network” by way of “Girls” and “Broad City.” Kind of.
Sounds like fun.
And it’s adapted and created by Kay Cannon, the writer behind the “Pitch Perfect” movies.
Well, she did use to work for “30 Rock,” at least…
Let me guess: it does that Diablo Cody thing where not only does every character act like they totally know they’re in a TV show, and they act as if every cutesy little joke they utter is the most clever thing ever said?
I like Diablo Cody, but sure. It’s very, in a way, precious about itself and its bubbly, offbeat tone. It really, really wants you to like it, even if it doesn’t wholeheartedly want you to like its true-life main character, who is supposed to be the kind of “I don’t give no fucks what the world thinks of me” kinda gal who not-so-secretly wants the world to love her at all costs.
But to its credit, much like the aforementioned Lena Dunham show, “Girlboss” takes a cheeky, satirical, moderately self-aware approach to its material. It paints Sophia (here Sophia Marlowe), as played by the often wonderfully adorable Robertson, as a brash, outspoken, overconfident, overzealous, self-indulgent brat who feels the world owes her more than it does. And it’s not too bad at doing that. But it also wants us to sympathize and later endear to Sophia and her fashion queen ambitions. That’s where Cannon’s show runs into trouble.
Unlike “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Girlboss” is executive produced by its main subject.
That’s a bad sign.
It is. While Sophia certainly isn’t painted favorably throughout a larger number of her on-screen actions, which involve stealing, bribing, lying, cheating, harassing, provoking, insulting others and generally not being a good person (and especially not being a good friend at times), we’re ultimately meant to root for this plucky, enthusiastic, determined, (periodically) hard-working flying-on-the-seat-of-her-stylish-pants kinda protagonist.
She’s portrayed as smart, if often wrongheaded, and mostly fearless, if prone to her own inhibitions, but she’s also generally mean, rude, stubborn, unsophisticated (un-sophia-cated), pompous person who isn’t necessarily the most lovable or enjoyable character to follow around. So her characterization is a bit of a mixed bag thus far, I think it’s fair to say.
It sounds like the chemicals aren’t quite in balance yet.
They’re not, and to be fair, it’s possible those are just typical first season problems.
You think it’ll get a second season?
It’s Netflix. Doesn’t everything get a second season? Even “Marco Polo” got two seasons.
But the reason why it’s so crucial for “Girlboss” to nail down its tone so early is because we’re watching a character’s journey here, and there’s a very good chance we’re not going to like the person Sophia, the character, becomes at the end. Assuming the series stays pretty close to reality, that is, although every episode makes a point to start with the following caption: “What follows is a loose retelling of true events… real loose.” So, yes, it’s entirely possible that we won’t be getting the full truth here. But considering Sophia and her company go by their real names, they have some obligation to stay a little rigid to the truth.
That hasn’t stopped other people in the past, though.
Very true. But we’re living in the age of the Internet, my friend. It’s harder to get away with such things. Everyone is a Google search away from knowing the truth of Sophia’s life story.
Again, that hasn’t stopped people before. We’re living in the age of “fake news” and Breitbart and President Trump, buddy.
You don’t need to remind me. Like, at all. And I’m honestly pretty disappointed that you found a way to bring up Trump. Not even “Girlboss” can escape President Trump, huh?
Let’s move on, shall we?
So, it sounds like you’re pretty negative on this show so far, from what I reckon. If that’s the case, then what makes you hesitant not to give it a full-out bad review?
Well, in a way, “Girlboss” reminds me of another Netflix dramedy series: “Love.”
I still need to finish season two. No spoilers, please.
My lips are sealed.
Beyond the fact that both shows take place in sunny, picturesque California, both “Love” and “Girlboss” find themselves in a pretty similar trajectory. Both shows started out with clunky, misshapen pilots that lacked a core understanding of what they ultimately hoped to achieve. But by episode two, both Netflix originals sorta figure out how to mellow out and narrow their scope, letting more realism soak in admit all the quips and scripted gags. Both shows are wildly uneven, and they both have the difficult task of trying to get viewers to binge through series with some intentionally hard-to-handle characters and loud, abrasive personalities. But they each slowly sorta find their groove, and that’s often thanks to their committed, talented lead performers. In this case, it’s thanks mainly to Robertson herself.
She totally is. But she also has a pretty hard time finding the right material for herself. Even as someone who’ll openly defend “Tomorrowland,“ at least more than most people, I’ll admit that Brad Bird‘s fairly mishandled movie wasn’t necessarily the best calling card in the world, and since then, she’s been waiting patiently for that major role that’ll truly let her do her own thing.
The main reason I was fairly excited to check out “Girlboss” — even admit all the red flags and herrings — is because I was really pulling for it to be the project where Robertson excelled to her fullest potential. And while that’s ultimately/unfortunately not the case, she still does a pretty darn good job. She’s witty, funny, expressive, versatile, energetic, inspired and warm-hearted in her portrayal of the (seemingly) generally-cold Ms. Amoruso, which goes a looooooong way. We’re not talking about the easiest character to play here, and thankfully Robertson really shines at making you at least want to like this wildly dexterous child — even when every bone in your body wouldn’t want to spend more than two minutes in her company.
So, you’re saying she saves the show?
Not quite, but if it weren’t for her, “Girlboss” would’ve been downright insufferable.
Of course, Robertson is the heart and spirit of the show, so how do I know what it would be like otherwise?
It’s worth noting that she also has decent chemistry with Johnny Simmons, the main love interest, who is another one of those talented, likable young actors who needs to catch a big break one of these days. He put in the hours by now. He paid his dues. Give him a shot.
No arguments here.
So, essentially, you’re saying the show is just fine?
More or less, yeah. It has some good supporting players, including Dean Norris, RuPaul, Ellie Reed, Jim Rash and a wickedly delightful Norm Macdonald, who honestly steals this entire show from all the youngsters’ feet.
I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mr. Macdonald.
It also looks very lovely and visually appealing, the way most non-“Sandy Wexler” Netflix productions do. Additionally, “Girlboss” lets San Francisco serve as an active, vibrant part of the series. It’s not simply a backdrop. It’s a part of the action. It’s part of its groove. Not since HBO‘s shamefully short-lived “Looking” have I seen a series pay so much love and respect and trepidation to that idiosyncratic bayside city. I love it when shows feel like they belong somewhere, and it’s nice to see “Girlboss” have a clear and present sense of place, especially with its protagonist intentionally seen in disarray in almost every frame.
It’s also intermediately stylish, with enough flourishes and quirky camera angles to keep your eye interested, particularly as you woof down episode after episode. And when it comes to bingeing, you can certainly find worse programs to slice and dice through. Like its main character, “Girlboss” is consistently enthused with spunk and friskiness and forward motion, which — at the very least — keeps things lively and engaging enough that it’s not an absolute slog to endure.
That said, for the most part, many of the main characters also come across like broad caricatures, and the ones that do actually feel like real people —like the supporting ones played by Norris and Simmons — are seen too few-and-far-between to regularly ground the show. Only occasionally, periodically. “Girlboss” is maybe just a bit too wild for its own good.
It’s a lumpy, shaggy, scrappy series, and that’s probably for the best, but it’s also typically for the worse. And while it’s amusing at times, it’s never quite funny enough to glaze over a number of its glaring problems, many of which pertaining to the main character and her eventual reputation hanging over the show like an ugly grey cloud. It’s not a show you completely hate, but it’s a hard one to love. Or even like. “Girlboss” is a show that has a fair share of control issues. But it’s also, in the right spots, a good bit of fun.
Would you recommend it?
I guess it depends on who you are and how your tastes swing. If you like something a little messy, a little unsure of itself, but full of passion, pride in itself and persistence, then you might dig it. If you’re looking for a well-rounded character piece, however, one with some deep thoughts on our country’s consumption, capitalism, the business world, the rebellious spirit, the perils and flightiness of youth, the Internet boom and the American Dream, then you won’t find a whole heck of a lot of meat on this bone. “Girlboss” is mainly aiming to entertain; when viewed exclusively on those terms, it’s only moderately successful.
But I’ll give it this much…
It’s probably the best show ever adapted from a book with a hashtag in its title.
Well, I guess that’s something.
Somewhere in the C+/B- band?