Another ten-episode offering from Netflix. It’s bittersweet, since the series has been cancelled. Originally, the series was supposed to end at Season 4, but the pandemic screwed up all sorts of timetables and schedules, and, if what I’ve read today is true, the fourth season was eighty-sixed entirely.
I’m secretly hoping this is another Internet hoax I’ve fallen for, because the stories weren’t finished. We’re abandoning the show on a cliffhanger of sorts.
If you’ve joined me on my trek through GLOW, you already know that I’m a convert. I’m a fan.
Not of female wrestling, necessarily. But, I am a fan of this series. I was pretty sure, before watching the first season, that this particular genre of wrestling drama wasn’t for me. It wasn’t my cup of tea, I thought. I would call myself a casual fan of Marc Maron, so it had that going for it. I had appreciated Alison Brie’s work on Mad Men and Community. So, there’s that. But . . . wrestling? And having to endure yet another reenactment of the 1980s?
All of which is handled very well, bolstered by some of the best acting I’ve seen on television in a while. Including Maron and Brie.
The year is 1986, and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are staging their shows at the Fan-Tan Casino. The first episode of the season shows the GLOW troupe preparing for their Las Vegas debut in spite of the Challenger explosion, immediately after Ruth, in her Zoya heel persona, on live television, insulted the space shuttle. The show must go on.
That seems to be the theme of this season—or at least one of the themes. While all sorts of crises, ephiphanies and issues crop up with our characters, the GLOW show itself is a constant. The wrestlers are all living at the Fan-Tan as well, which lends the show a kind of summer camp vibe.
Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) has a hearty character arc. She’s having to deal with separation from her baby at the same time she’s trying to be a producer as well as a star performer. Debbie fills some of the lonely spaces in her post-divorce life with a succession of male casino employees, before beginning a more serious relationship with a tycoon named J.J. “Tex” McCready (Toby Huss). I’ve been a huge Huss fan since his days on Halt and Catch Fire, and he turns in another excellent performance here. Debbie not only battles some body dysmorphia issues after comparing herself to Vegas chorus girls, but she also has to navigate her way through family issues, her damaged friendship with Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), and the business she’s trying to build. The conclusion of the season, the cliffhanger we’ll never see resolved that I mentioned earlier, involves a business decision that could affect all of her relationships.
Ruth, meanwhile, is trying to salvage her relationship with camera man Russell (Victor Quinaz) at the same time she’s facing the feelings she has for Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). While Ruth remains at the center of the myriad story threads woven through these ten episodes, her personal character arc, upon reflection, seems to lack the substance of Debbie’s. Her role in this season seems to be more as den mother or counselor, allowing other characters to step into the spotlight more. As the season ends, her role in the future of GLOW is uncertain.
Meanwhile, Sam is increasingly having less to do with the wrestling program as he works with daughter Justine (Britt Baron) to get her screenplay made into a film. He suffers a health scare, then seems on the verge of consummating some sort of relationship with Ruth before he is forced to tell her that she didn’t get a part in Justine’s film. This potential relationship was also left in limbo after the finale.
Bash Howard (Chris Lowell) begins to act a bit more dictatorial to his cast of wrestlers, while dealing with his green card marriage to Rhonda (Kate Nash) and his closeted homosexuality. Or, maybe it’s genuinely bisexuality. I’m no authority. His entitled rich boy game is solid, and I respect Lowell’s acting even when I don’t particularly like the character. I remember when Lowell was “Piz” on Veronica Mars.
I’m not trying to dismiss the roles of the other actors on the show. They all turn in fine performances and further develop their characters in this final season. Tammé
(Kia Stevens) is having to deal with back problems. Cherry (Sydelle Noel) is having marital problems with her husband Keith (Bashir Salahuddin), and develops a bit of a gambling addiction. Sheila (Gayle Rankin) becomes more serious about acting and even addresses her she-wolf persona. Melrose (Jackie Tohn) starts a relationship with a Vegas gigolo, and leads the gang in a Passover Seder at Red Rock Canyon. Yolanda (Shakira Barrera) and Arthie (Sunita Mani) are in the honeymoon phase of their own relationship, which is Arthie’s first lesbian experience. Jenny (Ellen Wong) finally becomes concerned with her racist Fortune Cookie wrestling persona. Who have I left out? Carmen (Britney Young) is all over the place, as a member of a famous wrestling family, always ready with suggestions; plus, she mud wrestles alongside Cherry at some point.
I still feel like I left characters out. This is a huge cast.
One character I can’t leave out is Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis), the entertainment director of the Fan-Tan Casino and former Vegas showgirl. The statuesque, always beautiful Davis is perfect in the role.
Actual wrestling matches take a backseat to the character drama in this season, which is perfectly all right with me. One notable exception is a performance of A Christmas Carol in the ring during the finale. It was surprisingly well-done and affecting.
GLOW is a Netflix dramedy that was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, with Jenji Kohan as an executive producer. Kohan also created the Showtime dramedy Weeds and the Netflix dramedy Orange is the New Black. This is a female-centric series, with female showrunners.
Not to sound arrogant, but I think I can see where a series controlled by women differs from those controlled by men. The emphasis is never on the joke, or the hit, or the fire. It’s always on how these things affect the characters. Emotions take precedence on this series. In case this makes me, as an older white man, sound chauvinistic, let me add that this is why I like this series. If this were a show just about wrestling, I’d have given it a hard pass.
No past tense here. I like GLOW, and will continue to like it. I just wish it were allowed to wrap up its story.
Firewater’s This-Place-Can-Make-You-a-Little-Crazy Report Card: A
So long, you gorgeous ladies of wrestling.