In life – and TV – timing is everything. And for Girlboss, the latest cog in Netflix’s original programming machine, the timing could not have been more spectacularly bad. The series is (very) loosely based on the come-up of one real life “girlboss” Sophia Amoruso, whose personal style and sassy verve helped birth the fast fashion-cum-vintage purveyor Nasty Gal, a site that caters its California-chic throwback gear to the closets of heavily curated millennial customers. For Amoruso, her meteoric rise depended entirely on perfect timing. But for her series? That same timing could be its ironic downfall, as the show hits the small screen just a few months after Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy.
Girlboss, in case there was any confusion, follows Amoruso’s less-than glamorous transformation from a NorCal chic, hip-hugger-wearing freegan to an LA-based (still hip-hugger wearing) mogul. It’s a rags to riches tale for the fashionable youth set, and a story that’s already succeeded in spades in the form of a best-selling book bearing the same title. But despite creative guidance from Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon, Girlboss‘ poor timing is just the tip of the iceberg.
In an age of fantastically layered antiheroines in shows like Fleabag, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Feud, the joy of watching a prickly female protagonist still holds some sort of perverse catharsis against longer-held female television tropes. And for what it’s worth, Girlboss ticks the antiheroine box in spades: we first meet Sophia (Britt Robertson) pushing her hunk o’ junk car up a steep San Francisco street. She’s loud, she’s vulgar, and she’s deeply unapologetic, bursting an enviable punk rock hubris — she’s a character Robertson pulls off admirably as she trades Betty Cooper blonde and saccharine smile for raven locks and a bad reputation.
But for all of Girlboss‘ bluster, the real problem isn’t that Sophia is unlikeable, it’s that she’s uninteresting. Hardly fleshed out beyond a line drawing of a devil-may-care rebel who hardly blinks at the idea of raiding a dead woman’s closet for vintage goodies, she’s a terribly wobbly center for an already uncentered show. And since viewers are aligned almost exclusively with Sophia’s point of view, it’s impossible not to wonder why the people in her life feel drawn to her in the slightest. There’s her best friend Annie, whose free labor Sophia blatantly exploits to get her eBay brand off the ground; her art school dropout bestie who exists solely to offer Sophia ego boosts on tap; a stoner neighbor (RuPaul) who extends every kindness with nothing in return; and her cardboard on-again, off-again boyfriend who makes Sophia’s poorly sketched personality look like a deep-rooted character study.
Where Girlboss truly succeeds is its ability to recreate the mid-to-early aughts. The soundtrack jangles with well-worn Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs and sugar-rush French pop as Sophia taps away at her Blackberry, monitoring AOL messages and MySpace Top 8s, and in one pivotal moment, we watch (…Spoiler alert?) Sophia and her friends lose their minds over Marissa’s death in The O.C.
There are other bright spots – the show does its best to dramatize the politics of reselling clothes online, as it finds creative ways to visually represent the dark, nebulous hole that is eBay sellers forums. Still, the show is hampered by the inherent bore that is “flipping clothes,” and even when we have a chance for some drama as Sophia alters garments to make them Nasty Gal-friendly, much of the magic happens offscreen.
In the end, perhaps so much shouldn’t be made of the real-life dissolution of Nasty Gal – the tech field is littered with still-successful men who have watched companies dissolve time and time again with little to no damage to their brand. But the time between development and release has perhaps never been as glaring as it is here, with a depiction of fictional Sophia as a closed-off narcissist unfortunately clashing with the real-life reports of Amoruso firing employees for getting pregnant, the juxtaposition of which makes the triumphant final shot of the show deeply unfortunate (and even a little icky). Hey, at least Season 2 should be interesting?
Rating: ★★ – An uneven, unanchored nostalgia dump