I've always had a thing for sidekicks. The peripheral character, often slightly quirkier than the protagonist, has a freedom that the main character can't afford. Where they — the Buffys, Felicitys, and Harry Potters of the world — play janitor to the plot, the sidekick can, well, have fun. They crack jokes! Their lines aren't bloated with expository dialogue! They dance around the fringe, having a blast, while the main character keeps up narrative appearances.
Netflix's Girlboss, which premiered April 21, isn't a perfect show, but it's flawless in this regard: The sidekick is awesome. Annie, played by a perky Ellie Reed, is the real MVP here, and she ultimately redeems the series.
First off, let me state that by using the word "sidekick," I don't mean any offence. Annie is categorically a sidekick, and that by no means diminishes her importance. As I said, to me sidekicks are of the utmost importance. Best friend to Sophia Marlowe, the titular Girlboss played by Britt Robertson, Annie is fairly average as far as second bananas go. She's an aspiring makeup artist. She's dating the local bartender, Dax (Alphonso McAuley). She and Sophia have a bestie catchphrase: "Love you in case I die!" Oh, and she really has the hots for Sophia's dad, played by Dean Norris, whom I know exclusively as Hank from Breaking Bad. But like the best "best friends," she's witty, self-aware, and at times much smarter than Sophia.
It helps that Sophia Marlowe is so goddamn annoying. The show itself is likeable; Sophia is decidedly not. In the first episode, she steals a carpet, mocks her boss, and hollers at more than a few pedestrians. Like a lot of main characters these days — Hannah Horvath, we're looking at you — Sophia isn't meant to be morally upstanding or appealing at all. This is deliberate. Sophia is a Girlboss! Who said Girlbosses had to be sparkly angels of delight? No one. By contrast, though, Annie is minty fresh. The premiere is airless until she shows up, cackling about "the untimely death of Peter Jennings" and mixing Kahlua with Coke. (She garnishes this interesting mix with an olive. Classic quirky move.)
The danger of every sidekick is that they won't be put to good use. Girlboss succeeds because it treats Annie with respect. The show really picks up in episode 5, titled "Top 8." The concept is silly and purposefully dated: Annie wants to be in Sophia's Myspace Top 8. Nostalgia-induced humour aside, the episode is the most poignant because it forces Sophia to reckon with the world around her. Put plainly, our Girlboss is unlikeable because she's self-absorbed. She's self-reliant and individualistic to a fault, sneering at all those who try to help.
When Annie requests a spot in Sophia's Top 8, Sophia shrugs. It's just a website, right? But Annie is genuinely hurt.
"You think I'm overreacting, and that sucks," Annie spits on her way out. "And it sucks that I'm not in your Top 8. And you know what sucks most of all is that you don't seem to get any of this. Whole thing sucks. It sucks."
I never said she was eloquent.
The episode then takes us on a tour of their friendship. It turns out, Annie's been in the business of saving Sophia's ass for years. They meet in lockup, where Annie rescues Sophia from a gang of zealous baseball fans. When Sophia gets in a spat with a cocktail waitress, it's Annie who materialises to break the tension and toss drink waivers at the crowd. And when the two really sink their teeth into a genuine BFF fight on the way to Coachella, Annie's the one who crawls back to a sobbing Sophia. The gist of the montage is, if Annie weren't around, Sophia wouldn't be, either.
The same goes with the whole Girlboss ethos. Sophia Marlowe, based on the entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso, starts the clothing company Nasty Gal over the course of the series. The title "Girlboss" implies a sort of singular success — i.e., lone girl becomes a boss and it's her against the world. But Sophia Marlowe couldn't have launched Nasty Gal without Annie. A later episode details Annie's essential role in the company, proving that the Girlboss can't be a lone wolf. Similarly, Girlboss wouldn't have launched without Ellie Reed or Annie the character. Where Britt Robertson is sullen and sour, hiding behind blunt fringe, Ellie Reed brings toothy smiles and an appealing outlook.
Interestingly, the only episode not to feature Reed is titled "Garbage Person," which is exactly what Sophia is without her best friend. Annie is the best sort of sidekick. She balances the show's solipsistic protagonist with an unwavering devotion to joy and generosity. She's the anti-Girlboss, and she saves the series from being a droning catalogue of one woman's achievements.
Oh, and dare I say: Her style on the show is just as good, if not better, than Sophia's.