Netflix has produced a steady stream of original series, many of which have reaped critical acclaim and enthusiasm from binge-viewing audiences. Netflix does not, however, have the Midas touch when it comes to content, as some of their offerings, including the disappointing Girlboss — starring Britt Robertson as flaky fashionista Sophia Marlowe — fall short of expectations. While the title may draw viewers who think the show is a journey through feminist theory in practice, Girlboss’s premise of millennial hipster Sophia’s evolution from unlikeable loser to even-more-unlikeable purveyor of vintage fashion focuses less on feminist action and more on how one bored, privileged twenty-something, through luck and divine providence, falls up into niche business success based on a skill set of knowing little and demanding everything.
Billed as a comedy, the biggest laughs come from the well-cast supporting characters, whose roles as quirky friends and acquaintances color Sophia’s experience as a broke girl in tech-boom San Francisco. Actors such as RuPaul, Norm MacDonald, Jim Rash, and Melanie Lynskey shine as Sophia’s sassy neighbor, former boss, weird coworker, and perpetually put-out retail competition, respectively. The principal characters, however, are bland at best and unforgivably obnoxious at worst. But where a slicker satire might use the disagreeable aspects of these characters to illustrate a viewpoint on millennial culture, Girlboss uses hackneyed concepts and staid responses (Is it a date? Is it not a date? Oh no!) to force conflict rather than allowing the characters to knead through hardships based on a model either absurd or realistic. Annie, Sophia’s bestie, is a pouty, daft minion; Shane, Sophia’s boy-toy, is a noncommittal doormat; and Sophia is so unpleasant and lacking in redeeming self-awareness that it’s difficult to imagine any viewers of any demographic rooting for her to succeed.
Creator Kay Cannon had tested material to pull from for the creation of this series: #GIRLBOSS, Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography. Yet the potential charm of a coming-of-age story about a young woman who finds purpose (and income) in an online vintage clothing retail business based in San Francisco is undercut by the flavorless illustration of a vibrant city and its eccentric residents. In Girlboss, San Francisco could be Anytown, U.S.A. And the vintage fashion, which could be a unique aspect of the show, is barely treated as anything more than a basket of props to make Sophia look busy based on the amount of product bloat she’s stuffed into her apartment, demanding the question of what this show is about if it isn’t about the main character’s relationship with her job. In place of narrative about a driven, albeit abusive, young woman pushing her vintage fashion brand, Girlboss has plenty of moments in which Sophia complains about how much it sucks to be an adult. When the character cannot find the motivation to invest in her own journey (other than really wanting to work from her bed), it’s easy, as a viewer, to maintain the same level of indifference.
Released by Netflix in April 2017, Girlboss has been cancelled after one 13-episode cycle. With a lackluster depiction of fashion and a lazy representation of the lean-around generation and millennial culture, Girlboss is neither about a girl nor a boss — it’s about a full-grown woman who figures out a way to work for herself, which seems less like an earned perk of inventing her own career and more of a general necessity given that Sophia’s lack of work ethic, shoddy social skills, and broad-spectrum sense of malaise and entitlement render her incapable of holding down a job working for anyone else.