The story of how Sophia Amoruso built a fashion empire out of her apartment was documented in her autobiography #GIRLBOSS. Though times have changed for the founder of Nasty Gal Vintage in recent years, her improbable rise is now getting a screen adaptation in the Netflix series from 30 Rock and Pitch Perfect scribe Kay Cannon with Girlboss. Over the course of its 13-episode first season, Girlboss constantly feels as if it’s on the precipice of excellence without ever fully realizing its potential. In a lot of ways, Girlboss suffers from similar problems that affect Marvel’s Netflix series – there just doesn’t seem to be enough quality material to sustain 13 episodes.
This highly fictionalized retelling of Amoruso’s story stars Britt Robertson as Sophia Marlowe. She’s a college dropout struggling to survive in San Francisco, constantly worrying about having money for gas and rent. To say Sophia has an abrasive personality would be putting it mildly. She’s crude, rude, and often quite vulgar. There’s a selfishness and sense of entitlement to Sophia’s social interactions and that makes it difficult for her to scrape by, as evidenced by when she’s fired from her job at a clothing boutique for her insubordination.
Her father (Dean Norris) worries about Sophia, but she’s able to always find support from her best friend Annie (Ellie Reed), who has the ability to match her best friend in her vulgarity. Annie has just started dating Dax (Alphonso McAuley), a bartender, and while out at the bar one night Sophia meets Shane (Johnny Simmons), a reserved drummer and tour manager who has just recently moved to San Francisco. Things start to change for Sophia when she discovers a vintage jacket mispriced at a local store. She purchases it and eventually flips it on eBay for hundreds of dollars, inspiring her to start her own online store. After a number of obstacles and stops and starts, Sophia is able to launch Nasty Gal Vintage and leave her mark on the world.
As presented in the show, Sophia is an extremely unlikable character. She shoplifts and her persistent selfishness is obnoxious. That doesn’t have to be a problem. Plenty of great shows have survived for years with unlikable characters. What becomes a problem for Girlboss is the fact that so many of the episodes conclude with Sophia supposedly learning a lesson only to have whatever lessons learned be all but forgotten or nullified in the next episode. It puts the show in a weird position where it’s at once trying to revel in Sophia’s bad behavior while simultaneously condemning it. This causes Girlboss to have a conflicted personality that never gets sorted out by the season’s conclusion.
Another problem facing Girlboss is the similarity in tone between Sophia and Annie. I’m not talking about the timbre of their voices, but the manner of dialogue that they’re supplied with. The way these two characters talk and think makes you think that there’s no real difference between them and it causes problems for the show’s dramatic effectiveness when they’re supposed to be in a brief feud.
Britt Robertson has at least graduated from playing sassy teenagers to a sassy adult with Girlboss. Throughout the series, Robertson runs through a gamut of emotions that aren’t simply just crass sass, but jealousy, sadness, and desperation. The young actress can’t save the series from its scatterbrained scripting but she does an admirable job with such a deeply unlikable character. Over the course of the season, Robertson is given assists by a variety of guest stars that flavor this world, including Norm McDonald, Jim Rash, and Melanie Lynskey.
The romance between Sophia and Shane that runs through the entirety of the first season never really finds its footing to be truly effective. It’s a dynamic that reaches its peak rather early in the series as Sophia shows Shane various places around San Francisco over the course of a day. Once it gets to the point where their relationship begins to strain, it just seems like it’s rooted more in a writer’s decision to ramp up the dramatic tension and not an organic decision from its characters. But it’s another example of how Girlboss can’t sustain itself for 13 episodes.
More to the point of the show’s issues in sustaining itself for the entire 13-episode season, it’s extremely apparent as the show progresses and loses its footing after a blistering, acerbic start. At around the fourth episode, Girlboss starts to just spin its wheels as its stalls in making the story compelling. It’s not until many episodes later that some of the stronger aspects of the show emerge, such as a visually fascinating way to portray message boards and the introduction of Lynskey as a vintage obsessed moderator. Then shortly after finding its footing again, the series loses it just as quickly as it limps across the finish line to its finale.
There are funny moments buried in Girlboss and the show features an incredible soundtrack. Despite a talented writing staff and some parts that are magnificently directed, Girlboss struggles with its tone and personality consistently over the course of its first season. This should be so much more satisfying and the brief glimpses of brilliance make the show all the more frustrating as it constantly is taking one step forward and two steps back. If only Girlboss were as large and in charge as its lead character thinks herself.