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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

REVIEW: The highs and lows of GLOW Season 2



When GLOW came around last year, I was excited, as a fan of professional wrestling I was looking forward to seeing how a major Netflix series would treat the form of entertainment that I had loved for years. However, I had my reservations how co-creators Carly Mensch and Liv Flahive would treat the subject of professional wrestling especially seeing as how the show was loosely based on a campy promotion from the 1980's. Thankfully, their show wonderfully celebrated what worked about wrestling whilst poking fun at the plethora of stereotypes that were rife in the genre during the 1980's.

The first season was primarily seen through the eyes of slightly conceited wannabe actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) who became a part of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling after attending an open audition. The initial run saw Ruth battle both inside and outside the ring with ex-best friend and soap actress Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) after the latter discovered that the former had slept with her husband. Although the pair learnt to work with each other inside the ring, the season one finale saw that Debbie still hadn't forgiven Ruth for her actions even though they'd worked together to secure GLOW a TV deal on a minor cable channel.


Whilst season one focused on Ruth, I felt that season two shifted focus onto Debbie as we saw her going through a divorce and juggle being a single mother with her role as Liberty Belle on GLOW. As a TV veteran, Debbie negotiates a better contract for herself with the network and in doing so becomes wangles herself a producer credit, as she hopes to have a creative input into the show's future. However, Debbie's role isn't taken seriously by either the show's director Sam (Marc Meron) or its money-man Bash (Chris Lowell), both of whom no-show a dinner at her house to discuss the future of the show. I found that Gilpin's performance throughout this season was one of the highlights especially the scene in which Debbie has sold all of her furniture and sits alone in the house whilst forgetting to pick up her son from daycare.

One of season two's strengths is the exploration of how women were still treated as second-class citizens in the TV industry during the 1980's. This is explored both through Debbie's role as a producer and Ruth's storyline in episode five when she is invited for dinner with KDTV president Tom Grant. Whilst I initially felt like a look at the casting couch culture might be a clunky attempt to fit in with the timely me-too atmosphere, I thought that it played into the storyline perfectly Once Ruth was invited into Tom's private cottage. I felt that it was only a matter of time before he'd tried to assault her. Indeed, as soon as Tom asked Ruth to wrestle with him, I knew what was on the cards but thankfully she fled the room whilst he was busy setting up the hot-tub. Brie's performance in this scene was one of my favourites throughout the entire series as her facial expressions told us all we needed to know about Ruth's feelings about the meeting. I personally feel that her performance made this work as did the subsequent news that Ruth's fleeing from the hotel room had led to the TV show's timeslot being changed to an early morning one.


Equally interesting were Debbie and Sam's reactions to Ruth's decision with the former feeling that her former friend should've reciprocated Tom's advances whilst the latter took a sledgehammer to the network's presidents fancy car. This action seemed to repair the relationship between Ruth and Sam which was on shaky ground after she'd decided to film an opening sequence for the show without his permission. But, Sam and Ruth's falling out was one of the elements of the season that I had an issue with as it felt a little weak and was just treading the first season's ground of having the two characters forming a grudging respect for each other. Furthermore, I wasn't a fan of the fact that there were inklings that we were moving towards a Sam and Ruth romantic relationship as I preferred the platonic friendship that they'd built up during GLOW's first run. Meanwhile, there was an attempt to build a romance between Ruth and one of the show's cameramen Russell (Victor Quinaz); another part of the plot that I didn't feel worked. Partly because Russell never felt like a fully-fledged character and was mainly utilised as a plot device for Debbie use against Ruth or for Sam to develop jealousy towards after he developed feelings for Ruth.

The more interesting part of Sam's storyline in season two was his attempts to be a father to Justine (Britt Baron); who he'd only learnt was his daughter in the penultimate episode of season one. Despite, initial reservations about bringing a teenage daughter into his rather depressive life, I felt the pairing worked well and it was great to see Justine developing some of her father's skills in the directorial department. Both Baron and Meron worked brilliantly in these scenes especially when the latter demonstrated the fatherly pride Sam felt when he learned that Justine was a member of the AV Club. One of my favourite set pieces of the episode occurred when Sam chaperoned at Justine's winter formal as it showed just how far he'd come as a father.


I personally felt that one of GLOW's strengths is its impressive roster of female performers all of whom share fantastic chemistry which is utilised in some of the best scenes of season two. From the scene in which Debbie takes all the girls to the mall to film an opening sequence to their attempts to improve her mood when she's hospitalised following an in-ring injury the rapport that these ladies have developed is a joy to watch unfold. This is best demonstrated in the season's eighth episode in which we see some of the wacky ideas that the ladies have invented, and each scene demonstrates the brilliant chemistry that the actresses have. Episode eight also includes some of the funniest moments of the series including being introduced to the lab of supposed genius Britannica (Kate Nash) and a fantasy dance sequence involving two of the show's secondary characters.

However, the show's strength is also one of its downfalls as, with so many characters in the show, several of the storylines feel rushed and appear as if from nowhere. This is particularly evident in Bash's arc this season as his best friend/butler Florian disappears and his attempts to locate him result in several discoveries. Whilst Chris Lowell brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role of the boyish producer, it feels like a great deal of this storyline takes place off-screen and I believed that the reveal of Florian's ultimate fate should've had a bigger impact than it did. Bash's relationship with Carmen (Britney Young) also isn't explored as much as I would've like it to have been and her reaction to a decision he makes in the show's finale again feels like a lot of their story this season was left on the cutting room floor.


Thankfully some of the characters fair a little better namely Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens), who is given more exposure as her GLOW persona of 'The Welfare Queen' is the promotion's champion in the first half of the season. This leads up to the show in which she drops the title to Debbie's Liberty Belle character, a match which is witnessed by her college-age son who's just discovered what his mother's new role entails. Stevens is brilliant as Tammé brings out some of her characters best lines whilst at the same time looking concerned at how her son is reacting. Indeed, her reactions to Liberty Belle's post-match insults towards her, are beautifully done and lead to the crowd almost turning on Debbie's character. I felt Stevens got the biggest chance to shine this season and showed how clever Tammé was down to the way she encouraged Debbie to stand her ground in her role as the show's producer.

Another character who received more development in this season was Arthie (Sunita Mani), who was doing everything she could to ditch the 'Beirut, the Mad Bomber' character that had been been bestowed upon her early on in the show's development. An idea to don a suicide vest and reincarnate herself was stolen by Stacey and Dawn (Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson) as they shed their old biddy characters and instead became the toxic twins. However, her malaise over portraying arguably the most offensive of all the GLOW stereotypes made me warm even more to the character, especially during her dance routine in episode eight. It was here that we saw the burgeoning relationship between she and the show's latest cast member Yolanda (Shakira Barrera); a former stripper who same hires as the new Junk Chain. Like with Bash's story, I felt that Arthie and Yolanda's romance happened more off screen than on, but I believe that both actresses brought a believable chemistry to their on-screen relationship.


Despite some of my reservations about issues with rushed stories and character development, I genuinely enjoyed this second season of GLOW. When they were given their time in the spotlight, each cast member shone with the ensemble's chemistry being flawless throughout. The themes tackled were very timely especially as the GLOW cast found out how harsh being in the TV industry was. I felt that every episode flowed perfectly, and the period setting enhanced the plot rather than distracting from it. More than anything, I found GLOW to be a fun viewing experience and that's not something you can say about most TV shows in 2018. I find that to be critically-acclaimed, most TV shows have to feature gruelling plot-lines and be filled with dark moments. Although GLOW doesn't shy away from tough topics, its main focus is that of camaraderie between a group of women from vastly different backgrounds.

I hope the fun continues into season three which, as we saw from the closing scenes of the season two finale, takes the ladies of GLOW in a very different direction. Without spoiling the fate of the show, I feel the way GLOW is heading allows them to tell different stories in a way that fits in with the style that the programme has developed over the last two years. I'm already greatly anticipating the third season and am just a little upset that I'm going to have to wait at least a year to spend more time with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

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