Campy and Plucky, Netflix's 'Girlboss' is a Delightful Watch
Just five days after HBO's "Girls" aired its series finale, 13 half-hour episodes of the new comedy "Girlboss" will hit Netflix. There's plenty of similarities between the shows besides the name: Both are about young, complicated (sometimes unlikeable) young women in a big city, who are navigating their love life and careers. But where "Girls" pushed the boundaries of storytelling and TV, "Girlboss" aims to please with energetic and fast-paced episodes that lends itself very well to Netflix's tried-and-true binge model.
Starring an effervescent Britt Robertson ("Tomorrowland") in a breakout role, "Girlboss" is a very loose retelling of how Sophia Amoruso founded the online vintage boutique Nasty Gal in 2006. The show presents itself as an empowering rags-to-riches narrative but "Girlboss" is in the shadow of Amoruso's story, which has been marred by controversy. After growing into a multi-million dollar business over the years, Nasty Girl recently went south when it was hit with negative reviews on Glassdoor. Employees alleged the work environment was "toxic" and things got worse In 2015 when an ex-employee filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming Nasty Gal "systematically and illegally" fired pregnant woman, which is violation of California law. It wasn't long before Amoruso stepped down as CEO with the company filing for Chapter 11 bankrupt protection last year.
Created by Kate Cannon, who wrote the "Pitch Perfect" screenplay and served as a writer/producer on "30 Rock" and "New Girl," and executively produced by Charlize Theron, it's unlikely "Girlboss" will get into the weeds of Amoruso's recent troubles. (A title card before each episode reminds viewers the show is loosely based on Amoruso's life, more specifically her best-selling memoir "#GIRLBOSS") Nevertheless, Cannon is able to spin gold out of Amoruso's story, cleverly shinning the spotlight on the most compelling parts of the businesswoman's tale. If you can move past Amoruso's problematic real life drama, "Girlboss" becomes a plucky and rough-around-the-edges comedy with a colorful cast that is extremely watchable.
Robertson plays Sophia (to give the show further distance from Amoruso, her last name in "Girlboss" is changed to Marlowe) who is a struggling 23-year-old college dropout living in San Francisco circa 2006. Jobless and aimless, Sophia isn't sure what she wants to do with her life - that is until she buys a vintage leather jacket on the cheap and later resells it on eBay for thousands of dollars. The sale invigorates her, sparking the idea for Nasty Girl, which starts as an eBay store.
As Sophia launches her business (think a house flipper but for trendy vintage clothes), "Girlboss," which is beautifully stylized throughout all 13 episodes, oscillates between exploring her motivations of being an independent entrepreneur and her love/social life with varying results. The show has yet to find its groove, making its first season pretty uneven. When "Girlboss" hits its highs though, like in the fourth episode that finds Sophia balancing new friends with trying to delver a vintage wedding dress across the city, the comedy is a dynamic delight. That "Girlboss" is a lighthearted comedy, it mostly falters when it turns Sophia into a cartoonish, hyperbolic character who is either too manic to stomach or too much of a jerk to root for.
When the show evens out Sophia's two sides, "Girlboss" is enjoyable and it's boosted by its supporting cast: Newcomer Ellie Reed plays Sophia's BFF Annie, and Johnny Simmons ("Jennifer's Body") stars as Sophia's romantic interest, Shane. Throughout the series, Sophia encounters a number of recurring characters, many of who are queer, including the wonderful RuPaul (not in drag!) as her stoner neighbor and "Difficult People" star Cole Escola. "Saturday Night Live" alum Norm Macdonald pops up has Sophia's daytime job boss, Melanie Lynskey ("Togetherness," "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore") shows up and the brilliant but underrated Nicole Sullivan ("Mad TV," "King of Queens") makes an appearance.
The show may make mistakes along the way, but one thing it gets right is the era. Not too many current series have taken on depicting the early aughts but "Girlboss" does it with gusto. There are jokes about Dick Chaney, references to The Polyphonic Spree and one hilarious gag about "The O.C." finale. "Girlboss" has a killer soundtrack that features forgotten early 00s jams from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Yelle, Modest Mouse and more. Every computer has that classic Windows XP background and Sophia is often texting on her Motorola cellphone and using her clunky iBook. It's an ode to a time that's fresh in most millennials' memories but one that is rarely explored.
Even though "Girlboss" is a few episodes too many, it's easy to burn through the 7 hours in a weekend. Still, April and May are two months that happen to be jam-packed with big shows: "The Leftovers," "Fargo," "The Handmaid's Tale," "Twin Peaks," "Game of Thrones," and more currently dominating the TV conversation. But if "Girlboss" is as scrappy and determined as the Sophia it depicts, the show could break through the noise and find a devoted audience of its own.