TV Review: ‘Girlboss’ on Netflix

Girlboss
Photo by Karen Ballard

Britt Robertson plays "the Cinderella of tech" — from dumpster-diving to founding a label — in this oddly perfunctory Netflix debut

Girlboss” tells a stylized version of the true story of Sophia Amoruso — a down-and-out dirtbag hipster who turned selling clothes on eBay into the multimillion dollar it-fashion label Nasty Gal. The New York Times dubbed her “the Cinderella of tech,” partly because Amoruso’s story is so outsize: She literally went from rags to riches — in her case, from petty theft and dumpster-diving to being worth $280 million.

But the timing of “Girlboss” is a bit awkward. When the Netflix show was announced in February 2016, Amoruso was at the height of her success — founder, CEO, bestselling author. In the intervening months, Amoruso’s star has publicly waned: On November 9, she resigned as CEO of Nasty Gal, as the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

There’s an interesting story there, but it’s not the story “Girlboss” has alighted on. The Netflix half-hour takes a light, hyperbolic tone with Amoruso’s s–tshow of a life — amused by her casual stealing, comfort with various levels of filth, and total disregard for the feelings of others. It assumes that Amoruso is someone we all know has spun this nastiness into solid gold success. But she isn’t, and we don’t, and as a result, “Girlboss” is a love letter to a paragon of success that doesn’t exist. It does not help that Amoruso’s book “#GIRLBOSS” — the bestseller that the show is based on — is a kind of millennial “Lean In,” part generic advice and part ballsy showing-off.

To its credit, “Girlboss” looks great. The show begins in 2006 San Francisco, with Sophia (Britt Robertson) careening around the city trying to escape the eviction notice taped to her door, and the atmosphere it builds is a captivating, tangible one: Vintage stores, dive bars, dingy apartments, and trying-too-hard mannered young people. “Girlboss” is about Amoruso finding and monetizing her aesthetic sensibilities, so it makes sense that the show has its own style consciousness, alerting the viewer to the idiosyncrasies of the pre-recession hipster scene. Watching Sophia find and resell a vintage leather jacket at the end of the first episode has an inevitable, thrilling, superhero-origin-story feeling to it.

But Sophia herself is a frustrating hero. Robertson brings a manic energy to the character — an overwrought emotionality that is sometimes entirely plausible and sometimes off-puttingly mannered. It’s hard to tell how intentional or nuanced this performance is, because to put it bluntly, Sophia is frequently just awful — a tiny whirlwind who has trouble metabolizing other people’s emotions. “Girlboss” skews young-adult, and shows for teenagers are a little more comfortable showcasing emotional rollercoasters. But even with that framework, it’s hard to tell if the show admires Sophia or finds her useful as the butt of every joke. But it is confusing that her grating selfishness appears to read as charm to the other characters in the show. (Maybe that’s the key to Amoruso’s will-to-power success.)

And this points to the fundamental problem with “Girlboss.” The show feels amateurish; there’s odd lacunae in the dialogue and structure that indicate a lack of polish. The fact that the show attempts a slightly hyperbolic, slightly surreal biography of a real-life person is fascinating, and at first Sophia is like a s–t-talking American “Amélie,” bangs and all. But it’s hard to create something stylized without veering towards commercialized or childishly basic. “Girlboss” so strangely renders its goals that it appears to be stuck in its own striving, making for an oddly perfunctory journey. Much like Sophia Amoruso in 2006, “Girlboss” does not seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. And while the potential is thrilling, it’s messy, too.

TV Review: 'Girlboss' on Netflix

Comedy, 13 episodes (2 reviewed): Netflix, Fri. April 21. 30 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Kay Cannon, Charlize Theron, Laverne McKinnon, Christian Ditter, Beth Kono, Sophia Amoruso

Cast

Britt Robertson, Ellie Reed, Alphonso McAuley, Johnny Simmons, Dean Norris. With Jim Rash and RuPaul Charles.

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  1. Emma Wong says:

    Well written article and I couldn’t have said it better myself. I just finished episode 2 and don’t know if I can make it to the end. Sophia is insufferable to watch and her actions and personality make it impossible to root for her.

    I read Girlboss the book and Sophia does not seem THIS unlikable. They did her an injustice. It makes me wonder how involved in the show she was.

  2. Ugh says:

    Dude. The main character is such a narcissist I just feel cringe. Do people admire people like this? She sucks and I completely agree with this review. Is she an ironic joke who we’re supposed to pittt, or does this show believe anyone could feel anything but vomit during her little photo shoot at the end?

  3. Heather Cochran says:

    Absolutely love the show but being from Wichita, KS; I am disappointed in episode 11. It does not accurately portray Wichita or it’s theatre community. Was there any research done in the community at all? Still hoping for season 2….

  4. Joe Spissman says:

    I think you at Variety must have watched a different show then I did. It was fantastic, inspiring and fun. I’m a 70 year old guy and I am hoping that Netflix does a second season of Girlboss. Yes she’s hard pushing, rude, sometimes lacks feelings for others and sometimes just mean. All that being said she is on a learning curve because no one in her life had ever had faith in her. I find it refreshing that she’s tough, not a follower or snowflake that melts at the first sighn of trouble. I RATE THIS SERIES 5 OUT OF STARS. (EXCELLENT SHOW!)

  5. TDN says:

    I just binged Girl Boss and I liked the story. It ruined my imagination though. Being an 80’s kid, I fantasized the site would play it’s sudo namesake (NastyGirl) in the office. *Just saying

  6. Hale Bopp says:

    This show is absolutely frustrating to watch. Sophia is a total brat and I do not empathize with her in the least. She is the kind of character that I turn shows off for because of how over-the-top and completely boorish she is. From stealing books from a small business to demeaning her friends at every chance she gets, Girlboss is just a rude teenage girl who refuses to grow up.

    • susanmariemcdowell says:

      Ugh! I had such high hopes for this show having been a Nasty Gal customer (2013) and almost employee, I was really looking forward to this. But OMG, the character Sophia (based on the real life Sophia Amorosa) is a self absorbed, irresponsible brat who disrespects every person she seems to encounter. She reminds me of a bi-polar person on a manic high & you are just watching & waiting for her to come back down. I’m intrigued by her success story. Frankly, it’s pretty awesome. But wow, Sophia is just hard to digest.

      • DA says:

        I feel the same exact way! She just a big BITCH. I cant stress it. While watching i felt like she had some mental disorder. Watching Ep12, when the web disigner was going all out to help her build the site and she just rudely disses her, i screamed! Like bitch shes giving you a great deal! Same thing with the dad and the lease, fuck her.

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