GLOW: Season 2 — a review

If you liked the first season of the Netflix original, GLOW, I guarantee you’ll like this season, too.

Maybe that’s not a ringing, over-the-top endorsement, or maybe it sounds a little glib or sarcastic. If you think either of these things, then I may not be communicating my point clearly enough. The first season of this series was good television. This season is also good television, and, arguably, better television.

Right out of the gate, I reassure you that it’s not necessary to be a wrestling fan to enjoy this series. It doesn’t hurt to be a fan of the 1980s, however.

In spite of the fact that something known as G.L.O.W. (The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling) existed in reality during the ’80s, leave all thoughts that this is a factual docu-drama behind. The series is only loosely based on the fact that a ladies wrestling program existed during that time, and that it shared the same name. Otherwise, this is a work of fiction, created out of whole cloth. The characters on this show are fictional. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. That’s what the disclaimer says, anyway.

And, this is good news. Reality is not required to follow any of the dictates of logic and reason, and it frequently does not. Fiction must have some sort of internal logic, and story requires some sort of preordained structure. In short, fiction is better than reality. Q.E.D.

From the first episode of this season, we learn that there are some changes in the air. Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) has been replaced in the role of “Junkchain” by Yolanda Rivas (Shakira Barrera). Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) becomes a producer on the wrestling show by making backroom deals with the network. Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) demonstrates her moxie by borrowing new cameraman Russell Barroso (Victor Quinaz) to shoot scenes at a mall for the show’s title sequence. And, Reggie “Vicky the Viking” Walsh (Marianna Palka) gets fired by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) when she defends Ruth’s actions.

With only ten episodes in the season, each episode has to carry quite a bit of weight, story-wise. Each scene has to matter and there’s little time for filler or random sideplots. I like this about the show.

The events of the first episode sow the seeds for the rest of the season. Debbie has to deal with the lack of respect she feels she receives as a female producer in a man’s world, along with the drama inherent in her divorce from Mark Eagan (Rich Sommer). Ruth is still trying to find her way in her new career, earning the animosity of Sam to go along with her continuing friction with Debbie (Ruth had an affair with Mark, you may recall). Plus, there is a burgeoning romance with Camerman Russell that Debbie seems intent on sabotaging. Cherry, whose background in stunt work doesn’t give her the acting tools she needs in her new starring television role in Chambers and Gold, which sounds like a typical ’80s cop show, eventually comes back to G.L.O.W. Reggie Walsh is also eventually rehired by Sam.

Writing for this show seems like it would be a lot of fun. The ensemble cast represents a multitude of potential story threads to explore, especially as the characters that began as decidedly two-dimensional begin to gain some depth.

Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) is a large black lady who wrestles under the name “Welfare Queen.” But, she subverts expectations when it’s revealed that she has a son who is attending Stanford and she becomes embarassed about perpetuating a cultural stereotype while he’s in the audience.

Bash Howard (Chris Lowell) is given a bit more backstory as well this season, sometimes in just hints and tiny revelations. While I can identify with Bash’s monomania about producing a ladies wrestling show, it’s difficult to empathize with his plight as a trust-fund baby. While Bash is trying to find his former assistant/friend Florian, the viewer gets intimations that Bash may also be gay, judging by his reactions in a gay bar. This point is driven home when it’s revealed that Florian later dies of AIDS. But, the topic isn’t really explored further in this season, unless Bash’s decision to marry someone in order to get her a green card might be considered overcompensation. I could tell you who he marries, but I’m trying to avoid some spoilers.

Sam Sylvia continues to deal with his chronic insecurities, which temporarily puts him at odds with Ruth, with whom he seems to be building some sort of relationship. He’s still abusing drugs and alcohol quite a bit. Plus, he’s suddenly having to deal with being Instant Dad to a teenaged girl, Justine Biagi (Britt Baron), who used to be one of the wrestlers. I’ve always been a lukewarm Marc Maron fan, at best. His WTF podcast can be entertaining, and his approach to standup comedy is different. He seems perfect for the role of Sam, however. The sarcasm and bitterness, tinged with a bit of sadness, that comes through in his stage act seems like it was tailor-made for Sam Sylvia.

I realize that there are a lot of other characters in the series that I haven’t namechecked to this point. They’re all still present and add their unique individual flavors to the show. I particularly like Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young) and Sheila “the She-Wolf” (Gayle Rankin). And, Melanie “Melrose” Rosen (Jackie Tohn) makes me laugh nearly every time she has a line of dialogue.

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I’ve mentioned almost every one of the wrestlers already, so I can’t neglect the others. There’s Arthie “Beirut” Premkumar (Sunita Mani), Jenny “Fortune Cookie” Chey (Ellen Wong), Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson (Kate Nash) and Dawn Rivecca (Rebecca Johnson) and Stacey Beswick (Kimmy Gatewood) as the “Beatdown Biddies.”

The fact that I felt—just a little—that I would be hurting someone’s feelings if I didn’t mention them is a testament to how realistically these characters are being developed over just a handful of episodes. This is still just skimming the surface of this series, since there are plenty of other characters I haven’t mentioned.

Horatio Sanz deserves a shout-out as the strip club owner Ray, who becomes a deus ex machina to save the show from cancellation and give it new direction at the end of the season.

Co-showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch are dedicated to focusing upon the feminine perspective in this show, amidst the exploitation and racial stereotyping. Debbie Eagan’s bold power play to become a producer of the show-within-a-show shines a bright spotlight on her struggle, as a woman in the industry, to gain respect. Ruth Wilder is sexually harassed by a television executive, and when she rebuffs his advances, the show is moved to a 2 AM slot. When it is Debbie who tells her she should have had sex with him to save the show, the message hits even harder than it would have if said by Sam Sylvia or Bash Howard.

Episode 8, “The Good Twin,” is a pastiche of an entire GLOW broadcast. While I couldn’t handle a steady diet of this sort of thing (I was never a wrestling fan), this was a fun episode, full of ’80s cheesiness and camp.

This series rides the line between episodic and serialized content, rather deftly, in my opinion. The individual episodes can offer a unique perspective or purpose without adversely affecting the overall seasonal arc. By the same token, the writers on this show are able to shift the tone from episode to episode without shattering the fictive dream. Having a large cast and a multitude of perspectives assists with this as well.

During the first season, I believed that the heart of this series was the dynamic between Ruth, Debbie and Sam (and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Bash Howard). I still think this show is at its best when these characters are on-screen and interacting with each other. However, there is a real sense of the focus pulling back from this triad (or quartet—sorry, Bash) during this season, in order to let other characters shine through a bit brighter. Since I believe this was handled rather well, my words here serve, somehow, as both criticism and praise. I like all the characters on this show, but I feel like my favorites are getting less of the spotlight this time around. A little less, maybe, but to a noticeable degree. There is also a potential relationship that I won’t ruin here that comes to light towards the end of the season that feels a bit forced—and, honestly, unwanted, by me at least.

One last thing before I go. Not only is this season only ten episodes long, each episode is only 30-35 minutes. Slightly longer than your average 30-minute sitcom when you factor in commercials, but shorter than the typical hour-long drama. When you consider the time restrictions, the amount of story injected into the season is nothing short of amazing.

Firewater’s Perverts-Are-People-Too Report Card: A

Are there occasional missteps? Certainly. But, the series recovers quickly and continues to entertain. If it’s not been obvious up to this point, I am a fan. I look forward to the final two seasons. If I can survive the ’80s one more time.

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