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Girlboss - Season One - Review: “Dream Big”


Girlboss fits perfectly into Netflix’s ever-growing library of edgy original content. The great thing about the online network is that they rarely impose restrictions on a production and let the creative team tell the story they want to tell. That frees up everyone involved to focus on quality content and storytelling without the worry of strict televised standards and practices. If the broadcast networks are ever going to be able to truly keep up with the budding and evolving online networks they need to start taking a hard look at why online streaming shows are becoming so popular and stealing away their former content creators as well as their consumers. It’s shows like Girlboss that perfectly highlight this.

Without crazy broadcast restrictions, the show was free to be more real. Meaning that the characters were allowed to talk about sex, have sex, and curse as the story dictated without ever having to pull it back. The sex scenes were, to be frank, perfect. There was nothing graphic about them and they even poked fun at the fact that television sex scenes seem to always end with the woman still in her bra. It’s the great big elephant in the room that online commentators seem to always pick up on, so it was refreshing to see the show stare the elephant in the face and show it who was boss.

Then there is the cursing which was quite on point. If someone doesn’t like cursing then this is certainly not the show for them. For most all other viewers who curse as part of their standard vocabulary then it’s very normal. In fact, it’s quite refreshing for a show to just be able to say whatever the hell it wants. Of particular note is that the show never used cursing just for the fun of it. The cursing flowed into the scenes and never felt forced or out of place. This is yet another major perk to being distributed online.

During a press panel, it was revealed that this show was originally pitched to some broadcast network, but they wanted to impose crazy restrictions and changes. So, instead of compromising, they decided to bring the show to Netflix where it was welcomed with open arms. Every person who watches and enjoys this show should be extremely grateful for how hard Charlize Theron (Executive Producer) and Kay Cannon (Creator) along with their creative team worked to find Girlboss the right home. Netflix and this show were meant to be united in the creation of this uniquely wonderful dramedy.

At the very heart of this show is its lead, Britt Robertson, as Sophia. There is no better performer to whom the producers have entrusted this sassy sarcastic and complex character. Robertson works steadily and that’s because she’s mastered not only her dramatic craft but her comedic timing as well. It’s that perfect marriage of skills that made her the ideal lead for this show. Girlboss takes its comedic moments straight from real life events that could happen to almost anyone. One can only laugh at those genuine moments of ridiculousness. This isn’t slapstick comedy or even straight forward laugh out loud comedy, this is real, gritty comedy that requires a whole different skill set to pull off. It’s a skill set that Robertson has been known for ever since she first appeared on the short-lived Swingtown and that has followed her onto all of her bigger projects like Life UneXpected, The Secret Circle, and Under the Dome not to mention a whole array of movies. She brings an infectious energy that makes her character so intriguing and the show so addictive.

Even though she’s the heart of the show they have surrounded her with a ridiculously talented supporting cast who help make Girlboss what it is. Ellie Reed (Annie) is probably the biggest surprise of the show. She has played several roles, but this is certainly her biggest part to date, and she is phenomenal. Not only does she have an extraordinary chemistry with Robertson, but she can also juggle the comedy and drama with an ease equal to her more established co-star. Sophia is the heart of the show and Annie is Sophia’s heart, which is shown every time Sophia does something stupid to hurt her best friend, only to fall apart without her. This is just the start of great things for Reed who will almost certainly be on the brink of stardom following the airing of this series.

The show covered a lot of ground as it spanned nearly two years in just thirteen episodes. That’s a lot to cover, but it allowed the season to have a really nice organic flow. To add to that, in episode 5, they jumped all the way back to 2001 to show where Sophia and Annie’s friendship began. And of course, it would include boob flashing and stealing from a kid because that’s just who these two are. They were destined to be friends. Annie puts up with a lot from Sophia because she genuinely loves her best friend. They are platonic soulmates who complete each other and have a beautiful yet complicated friendship. That was one of the best episodes because it gave Britt Robertson and Ellie Reed some terrific material to work with. It was also nice to see the origins of the “love you in case I die” goodbye that these two share. Some of the best scenes of the season involve just the two of them working their phenomenal acting magic. Despite all the romantic relationships on the show, these two are without a doubt the best relationship of the series.

While Girlboss is told from the female perspective and female driven, it still has some really terrific guys as well. Johnny Simmons was brilliant as Shane, a sympathetic character right up until he went and cheated on Sophia. Though, to be fair, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone because Shane constantly commented about being worried that he’d cheat on her while he was away on tour with the band. Ironically, he waited until he got back. Yes, Sophia is a sometimes selfish character, but she was upfront about that from the very beginning. She intentionally tried to keep him at arm's length for a reason. When she finally gave in and accepted him as her boyfriend they had a short good run before things started to fall apart. While the audience wants to root for them as a couple, by the time they part ways in the season finale it’s hard to imagine a path for them to reunite in a future season. He hurt her so badly and she’s focused on her career, but perhaps he may yet find a way to make up for what he did. He does clearly love her, but that might not be enough to undo what he did. The bigger question is if she could ever learn to truly forgive him and trust him again. That was a pretty huge betrayal and it shattered Sophia, especially given how much she came to love him. After all, she even tried to make herself forget what she’d seen and not confront him at first to avoid losing him. It had to eat away at her and cause her to go a little mental before she realized the hard decision she had to make in cutting him loose. When they were fully together they were a fun couple to watch.

Simmons and Robertson had a really good chemistry which made it all that much harder to watch Sophia and Shane breakup. They had some really great moments together like their first unofficial date as they explored the city while Sophia tried to find inspiration to name her new eBay page. Sophia infuriated Shane and he annoyed her at times, but it was that yin and yang energy that initially made them work. Robertson and Simmons shared some intimate scenes as well, including the aforementioned bra scene which occurred during their first sort-of sex scene. Then there was the shower scene which was awkward to watch and had to be even more awkward to film. Thankfully, Simmons appeared to be quite respectful towards Robertson and did a good job shielding her from any unwanted exposure. Those sorts of scenes are never easy and props to the show and performers for delivering the edge Netflix viewers want without being overtly exploitive of the performers. That’s not an easy balance to accomplish.

The other main guy in the show was Annie’s boyfriend, Dax, played skillfully by Alphonso McAuley. Dax is a hard character to really get a feel for until later in the season when he really starts to come into his own as a character. For the longest time, he’s just a bartender and Annie’s boyfriend, that is until the road trip episode. That’s where the show really delves into who he is as a person and it’s revealed just how incredibly smart he is. His love for architecture is so contagious that not even Annie can deny him of it for long. Granted it took an acid trip for them to get on the same page, but it was so worth it to see them finally understand each other. This was the couple that seemed like they wouldn’t make it through the season, but instead, they had easily the most stable and supportive relationship. It was also a nice touch that he revealed that he was worried about his parents accepting Annie because of her skin color, but that he loved her regardless. It’ll be quite interesting to see that introduction go down, with any luck, in the yet to be ordered Season Two.

Then there was the always divine RuPaul Charles as Lionel, Sophia’s neighbor. He’s the kind of awesome no-nonsense neighbor that everyone wants to have. His advice is always on point and he pulls no punches. He calls things as they are and isn’t afraid to be very upfront about everything. He pops in and out throughout the season, but hopefully, in future seasons, he’ll get to have a bigger part to play because he’s a perfect fit for Girlboss.

Finally, there was Dean Norris who played Sophia’s dad. It was very interesting to see Norris and Robertson reunite after sharing the screen during CBS’s now-defunct show Under The Dome. On that show, their characters were at odds and that wasn’t all that different on Girlboss. Except for this time he played her father and was much more redeemable. It took almost the whole season, but by the time Sophia’s mother was introduced the bigger picture became apparent. He did the best he could to raise his daughter all by himself. Even though he struggles with believing in her dreams he does immensely love her. That was made very clear in episode 6 when she was hospitalized after her hernia burst during her angry fit of rage where she destroyed her apartment. The way he cared for her and ran to her side showed just how strong his fatherly love is. He goes about things wrong sometimes, like when he tries to get the lease to Nasty Gal put in his name, but hopefully, he’ll eventually come to fully and completely support his daughter’s endeavor.

The online forum episode (1x10) was the big standout because of how uniquely original it was. No other show has ever told an episode almost entirely from the perspective of an online forum. It was a gem of storytelling magic and hilarious because of just how on point it was. That is precisely how online forums were then and still are to this day. It showed off the absurdity of how the online community can sometimes be. Some can be vicious, restrictive, and downright cruel at times. Funny, that with all that has changed since then, that aspect of the online community remains and is perhaps even worse now than it was back then. While the group attack on Sophia temporarily took her down it served to teach her a very important lesson.

She hurt people on the way to her dreams and she made a lot of missteps, but by the end of the season she had matured some and had started to accept her mistakes. She even went as far as apologizing to Gail (Melanie Lynskey), the owner of Remembrances who shared a lovely day with Sophia in episode 7 before they had a falling out over Sophia’s love of altering vintage clothes. The apology and subsequent thank you were of particular interest since earlier in that episode (1x11) they were having a rather epic falling out on Gail’s’ porch. While Gail spent a fair number of episodes as a foil to Sophia she turned out to be a great force in Sophia’s life that gave her guidance and some good knocks upside the proverbial head to get her back on the right track. Lynskey was hilarious in this part and certainly shined big in the episodes she was in. She helped make the online forum episode really pop which is funny in and of itself given how monotone and one dimensional the performances had to be because of the nature of the episode.

On top of all the big things that happened the show also had a lot of early 2000’s pop culture references spanning from the big The OC season finale to LOST references and a lot of other things in between. Not to mention all the hilarious jabs at then-President George W Bush. Nothing was off limits for this show and they went for it never holding back or pulling punches. The cursing is done in bulk, but some come on, that’s just a part of normal adult life. By the time we all become adults the right to cuss has been earned and is appropriate as long as done in the right environments. Given that Sophia occasionally got that last part wrong kind of explains part of her inability to hold down a normal steady job. That is until the art school came into her life. The art school was a perfect fit for her as it introduced her to Rick (Norm MacDonald), Nathan (Cole Escola), and his mom Teresa (Nicole Sullivan). That later one, Teresa, really helped showcase just how deeply affected Sophia was by her mom leaving her. The interactions between them aided in the buildup to Sophia finally finding her mom after all their years apart. Every single person Sophia encountered in her journeys directly impacted her and helped push her a step closer to her dreams, even if she didn’t realize it at the time.

This season was hilarious at times and extremely heartfelt and raw at others. When Robertson was set free to let Sophia’s emotions rage, all bets were off. There is a deeply vulnerable side to Sophia that she fights very hard to protect, but at times throughout the season it was set free and she was let loose to show off the complex person hiding under all the sarcasm. Those moments were captured in vivid realism by Britt Robertson.

A lot happened throughout this season and the fast pace kept things interesting. In the end, Sophia did reach her dreams and get everything she had been fighting for, but it was a tough road. She was met by many setbacks and disappointments, but she kept getting up no matter how many times she was knocked down. Girlboss is very loosely based on real life events and in real life the real Nasty Gal went belly-up. It will be interesting, should the series get another season, and hopefully it does, to see how the success of the business is handled. One thing is for sure, this show has a lot more story to tell and it should be quite a fun ride to witness.

To end, one final thought, the moral of this story is to dream big and you never know what might happen. It’s something everyone should aspire to. At the start of the series, Sophia says, “Adulthood is where dreams go to die.” Perhaps, what the viewers of this show should take away from it is that adulthood is where any dream is possible if you persevere through the roadblocks life throws at you. Nothing is perfect, no dream fulfilled will ever be as it was in your imagination, maybe it’ll be even better because of what you went through to reach it…

Hit the comments with your thoughts about this first season. Did you enjoy it? Are you hopeful for more seasons? Who was your favorite character? What was your favorite episode?

Special thanks to Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.