Girlboss is a show for which I’ve been waiting a long time. Sophia Amoruso is one of retail’s most vibrant characters; creator of online retailer Nasty Gal[1] and chief suspect of a whole lot of real-world drama. #Girlboss (2015), Amoruso’s autobiography/guide/entrepreneurial bible, continues to be a best seller – so it was no surprise when the book was picked up by Netflix and turned into one of its increasingly popular thirteen-part “originals”. The opening credits describe the adaptation as a “real loose”[2] retelling of true events: Sophia, the protagonist, is still the one who creates Nasty Gal, but her surname is altered; she has a best friend called Annie, who Amoruso has never mentioned; and there is a flourishing, fantasised romantic tale built in that is somewhat unnecessary but has its enjoyable moments.  What remains constant is the location in which Nasty Gal was conceived. San Francisco lives and breathes life into this series, working alongside the cast to bring character and place together as one.

Sophia’s personal relationships and the development of Nasty Gal are somewhat detached from each other. Annie, played by the delightful Ellie Reed, is a consistent shoulder for Sophia to cry on throughout the series. Shane (Johnny Simons), Sophia’s bit-on-the side boyfriend, provides support both through being there for his girlfriend and being out of the way of her grand ideas. But Sophia never relies on them or anyone else. She is a one-woman entrepreneurial machine, charging towards a successful vintage empire. Episode four of the series, entitled “Ladyshopper99”, sees Sophia scramble to get the perfect wedding dress to a tetchy bride on the day of the ceremony. There is an attempt made to showcase Sophia’s personal faults as a great disappointment to her business in this episode, but she doesn’t allow that to happen. Despite sleeping in and forgetting to fill her car tank, she manages to arrive just in time to deliver the dress, saving both the day and her own back.

The one relationship that Sophia needs is her one with San Francisco. The city, in which the series is set, consistently blurs the boundary between being background scenery and a required sidekick in Sophia’s attempts to be successful. This symbolic use of the city is made clear in the opening scene of the series, which shows Sophia struggle in her car as it attempts to climb one of San Fran’s absurdly steep hills. Pushing her broken-down vehicle to the nearest gas station, Sophia is joined on the hill by a tram and its frustrated conductor, entering into her first bust-up with the city. The following scene opens with the lines, “adulthood is where dreams go to die”,  showing how the city is expecting Sophia to enter to a phase of her life she is not ready for. The city in which she lives is making a mockery of Sophia at this point, using its outlandish hill to highlight the metaphorical pettiness of her car breaking down, which is just another barrier to her getting to where she wants to be in life. Sophia and San Francisco’s relationship has hit a sticky point – and neither appears to be backing down.

Place as character is a trope often integrated into light-hearted, binge-worthy series such as Girlboss, the most notable example being Sex and the City. HBO’s seven year comedy-drama established New York City as both the hub of misadventures and a collaborator for Carrie Bradshaw on her weekly sex and relationships newspaper column. When Carrie relocates to Paris in season six, she crumbles from the loss of her closest ally: the Big Apple. Girlmore Girls’ setting in Stars Hollow, the small town in Connecticut, likewise intertwines the lives and stories of its residents to create the narrative of the show. It is a microcosm of a working city, weaving together its divergent characters and encapsulating them.  These two shows contain certain spaces within the place that are home to particular activities; you know that when Carrie goes to her apartment she will be writing her column, or that when Lorelai sits in Luke’s diner their relationship will take another turn. Girlboss attempts to create this idea in their first season also. The fishing warehouse that becomes the Nasty Gal headquarters brings together Sophia’s greatest business decisions but also leads her to make troublesome personal choices; developing this space as Sophia’s character evolves would make for compelling viewing.

San Francisco’s apology to Sophia arrives in episode three, when she and Shane go on a non-date around the city’s entertainment hotspots. Sophia is searching for inspiration to name her eBay store, and she believes her city can pull through and give her a sign. But San Fran’s attempts to win Sophia back are both convoluted and deceitful. The city seems to pull her towards Shane romantically, an act she will later look to regret. She steals on numerous occasions, risking both her freedom and her newly built business; episode one sees a beautiful rug become victim to Sophia’s lawless ways. Sophia’s determined reliance on the city looks set to crumble until she stumbles across drag bar, where she prances in to duet with the main act’s rendition of Betty Davis’s “Nasty Gal”. And thus, an eBay store is born. San Francisco has saved the day and pulled Sophia in the right direction, finally. The city even gets a shout out in the episode’s apt title, “Thank You, San Francisco”.

Yet Sophia’s relationship with San Francisco experiences more ups and downs than a teenage romance. The child of divorced parents, she chooses to remain in in the city where her father lives, who appears to have been at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Her rent is unaffordable (as are pretty much all rents in San Francisco) and she feels a lack of job inspiration outside her entrepreneurial ambitions. Additionally, perhaps most amusingly of all, she has a fear of bridges. Just like the gigantic hills ridicule her financial failures and general struggle through life, the Golden Gate Bridge stands as hundreds of tonnes of metallic mockery at Sophia’s expense.

But without San Francisco there would be no Nasty Gal, and that is what Girlboss makes clear. It is in the city that we see the fictionalised Sophia discover her first precious vintage piece, sets up the original premises of the store, and says goodbye to full-time employment forever. Sophia gives little to her city, but her city gives a lot to her. San Fran takes the role of a maternal figure missing for the most crucial years of Sophia’s life; she doesn’t have to earn San Francisco’s love, but it won’t always give her everything she wants. San Francisco and Sophia go hand in hand; they are the two pieces of the Nasty Gal jigsaw puzzle. The series adds to the collection of television shows bringing place to the forefront of the audience’s viewing. This month sees the return of Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s serial drama famed for its titular setting, and another example of how audiences are fascinated by what a place can contribute to the story. From big cities to small towns, all places hold secrets the audience are dying to know. Knowing Amoruso’s story, much more is to come, but what San Francisco will do for her is to be revealed by the city itself.


[2] Netflix, Girlboss.