July 2, 2018
Stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Marc Maron, Britt Baron, Kate Nash, Gayle Rankin, Kia Stevens, Jackie Tohn, Chris Lowell.
Last year’s first season of “GLOW” was one of the more memorable additions to the television landscape, deftly mixing comedy and drama with an assortment of quirky characters fighting their way through the seedier nature of Hollywood.
The series is a heavily fictionalized account of the creation of the cult-classic “G.L.O.W.” women’s professional wrestling show of the late 1980s, which stood for “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.”
The real show was a low-budget mix of cheesy sketches and passable in-ring action, a tone the Netflix version manages to re-create in spirit if not in total accuracy. In the first season, down-on-his-luck director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) struggled to craft a watchable program from a disparate stable of talent, led by actresses Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin). Debbie was once a prominent soap opera star who left the business to start a family, while Ruth stumbled upon “G.L.O.W.” after a series of failed auditions and found a chance to unleash her repressed creativity in helping to develop the upstart series.
The pair were also best friends until Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband, leading to a rift between them that parallels an in-ring feud between their characters, with Debbie as the righteous All-American girl Liberty Belle, and Ruth an evil Soviet agent named Zoya. (One of the fun aspects of the show is seeing which aspects from the real show have been borrowed to fit the fictional narratives).
The second season finds Sam and the girls trying to figure out how to keep all the storylines going for a full season, only to run up against creative roadblocks set in place by their own egos and inability to work together for a greater purpose. Central among them is the fragile truce between Ruth and Debbie, but also prominent is a rift between Ruth and Sam over the creative direction of the series.
The show’s splashy but unremarkable impact on local Los Angeles television also pays off with other microcosms of the Hollywood experience, as the girls must learn to deal with fandom and a blurring of the lines between their in-ring and real-life personas (although with some of the girls, there isn’t much of a distinction to be found there). Since most of the characters are borderline offensive racial and social stereotypes (one girl is made a terrorist character simply by looking vaguely Middle-Eastern; an Asian girl who isn’t even Chinese is named “Fortune Cookie”), this naturally leads to a few complaints from the performers who don’t find their roles as appealing as they would like.
Amid these tensions, Ruth finds herself in the middle of a prototypical #MeToo moment, when a sleazy station manager tries to force himself on her with the pretext of a working dinner to discuss the show’s creative direction, only to punish the show when she runs from his advances.
The series is extremely well written in how it sets up these elements to pay off later. A bit more than halfway through the season’s 10 episodes, all the strife reaches a glorious crescendo that brings all the conflict to a head and leads to some of the most engaging episodes of the series, resulting in an inspired eighth episode that many fans will not realize they needed until they see it.
As with the first season, the episodes are layered with references and subtext that encourage a re-watch to really take it all in and gain a better appreciation of the bigger picture.
While the whole cast shines, Brie and Maron continue to anchor the show with their antipodal portrayals of characters who have had vastly different Hollywood experiences — she the optimist who sees opportunity around every corner, he the cynical veteran resigned to the fact his career has steered him toward making a late-night wrestling show. And yet so much of “GLOW” is about them finding that balance that lets each of them use their show to find at least a modicum of the kind of personal and professional satisfaction they’ve been searching for all along.