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Sunday, 18 August 2019

REVIEW: The Highs and Lows of Glow Season Three (Spoiler Warning)



The second season of Netflix's comedy drama GLOW ended on a hopeful note with the ragtag bunch of female wrestlers boarding a bus to Las Vegas after being offered a residence at the Fan-Tan Casino. I was looking forward to seeing the characters transplanted from their native L.A. into a strange environment and the creative ways that the titular wrestling show would transform. Therefore, I was a little dismayed to discover that this season gave little focus to the show itself and instead concentrated on the development of the characters. While this worked to some extent, thanks to creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch crafting an ensemble of sympathetic protagonists, I felt that there were simply too many interweaving storylines given the ten-episode structure of the season.


Season Three started incredibly strong with Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) being interviewed in their Zoya the Destroyer and Liberty Belle personas for a local news station. While promoting their casino show, the pair are also giving their thoughts on the launching of the Space Shuttle Challenger as it blasts off, with Ruth launching into an anti-American diatribe as the craft launches. Anybody who's aware of what happened to Challenger knows exactly what's going to happen next and that anticipation caused me to howl with laughter. Obviously, Ruth is devastated by her actions and wants to incorporate a tribute to those who perished during the shuttle's explosion, but she's denied this by those in charge of the show.

In fact, any type of creativity in this year's show is abandoned which is evidenced when the cast arrive to carry out their sound cues prior to their opening night. We're told here that this is very much going to be a greatest hits show; including the ending of the season one finale where Tammé (Kia Stevens) challenges for the belt and the climax of season two where Rhonda (Kate Nash) asks someone from the audience to marry her. The lack of creativity in this show creates a frustration in the cast, most of whom are counting down to when their three months in Vegas concludes. But I also found it frustrating not to see more of the show, which I saw as one of the series' most unique elements and one that separated it from other similar shows.



I don't believe it's a coincidence that my favourite episodes focused on the GLOW show itself as it injected the series with a much-needed sense of fun. An example of this is 'Freaky Tuesday' where the performers swap characters for the night, primarily because Tammé is suffering from severe back problems so must play one of The Biddies as she then has access to a walking frame. The finale in which Carmen (Brittney Young) attempts to instil some unity in her castmates but framing the show around A Christmas Carol was also ingenious. Both these episodes demonstrated the show's strengths by creating something unique whilst simultaneously advancing the characters and storylines.

With a lack of focus on the show, GLOW season three instead focuses on the characters, which works to some extent as most of the show's characters are well-crafted and brilliantly played by the talented ensemble. Once again, Betty Gilpin shines as portraying Debbie Eagan; the former soap actress who is attempting to branch out by becoming one of GLOW's co-producers. Debbie's story arc in this season sees her separated from her baby son and missing out on his milestones because of this. Gilpin portrays Debbie's melancholia at missing this time with her son perfectly, especially when she starts to develop both an eating disorder and a habit of sleeping with younger men. Like in the last season, Debbie's arc is used to demonstrate that men had for women trying to make their mark in the business world. This is exemplified by Debbie's relationship with a businessman she nicknames Tex (Toby Huss), who dismisses her financial advice and instead explains her place is simply to look pretty on his arm. The fact that Debbie gazumps one of Tex's business deals, which forms the basis for a possible season four, showcases the lengths that the character will go to prove her worth but was also a believable move for the show's star to make.



Although she was originally the focus of the series, Ruth slipped into the background slightly this season as the writers struggled to find new storylines for her. This season saw the continuation of the potential romance between she and GLOW's foul-mouthed director Sam (Marc Meron). I wrote in my review of the show's second season that I didn't believe in the romance between the pair and, unfortunately, those feelings remain throughout season three. Throughout the season, both admit their feelings for each other, but the course of their relationship doesn't run smoothly when she's denied a role in the film that Sam is producing alongside his daughter Justine (Britt Baron). This season also saw both Sam and Ruth lose the edge which made them engrossing characters when GLOW first began. Neither were particularly likeable people but, through exploring their vulnerabilities, we grew to love them by the end of Season One. Sam seems to have completely softened by this point, as he becomes the voice of reason in the season's first half, before leaving the show to concentrate on helping Justine selling her first screenplay. That's not to say that both Brie and Meron don't give brilliant performances, but I just didn't feel their characters were as engaging as they once were.

Thankfully, GLOW has a plethora of engaging characters, most of whom are given their own story arc over the course of season three. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time to tell all these stories, some of them feel rushed and aren't given the room to breathe that they deserve. Examples of this include the relationship Melrose (Jackie Tohn) begins with a male escort who works in the casino, or the revelation from Jenny (Ellen Wong) that most of her family died in the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia. Similarly, Tammés move from wrestler to manager due to her back issues are never explored, whilst the same could be said for Carmen's desire to be more involved in GLOW's creative process. Even some stories that are given more time have unsatisfying conclusions such as Cherry (Sydelle Noel) plunging into gambling debt after he husband Keith (Bashire Salahuddin) leaves the show following an argument about her reluctance to start a family. Cherry seemingly wins back her money after participating in a mud-wrestling match, before Keith returns in the season finale and suggests that they adopt so his wife doesn't have to compromise her body.



This lack of time also impacted on the way I felt about some characters namely the show's benefactor Bash (Chris Lowell); who I began to dislike during the season's final episodes. Season Two clumsily explored Bash's battles with his sexuality and season three does the same. It feels like the writers forget this aspect of the character for most of the season and therefore his turmoil feels mishandled. I'd completely forgotten about it until Bash interacted with Bobby (Kevin Cahoon); the casino's resident drag performer who wants him to invest in his show. Bobby recognises Bash's struggles and believes that his marriage to Rhonda is a cover-up, however this theory is rejected with Bash ultimately deciding not to invest in the drag show. A later scene sees Rhonda loan Melrose's escort, leading to a rather awkward threesome where she witnesses her husband's true feelings first-hand. Bash's reaction to the aftermath of this liaison paints the character in an incredibly negative light, which adds to other moments in the season where he's painted as the bad guy. This is a shame as Bash was once a likeable wide-eyed manchild, but now he's presented as more petulant and I took against him as a result.

One of the positive character changes this season was that of Sheila (Gayle Rankin) who, through her friendship with Bobby, ditched her She-Wolf persona and grew as a person. This change began when she borrows Bobby's Liza Minnelli costume during the Freaky Tuesday episode, before burning her She-Wolf wig on the fire during the season's brilliant sixth episode where the ladies go camping together. Rankin's performance in this season was extraordinary, especially when the character performs a monologue during Bobby's fundraiser after her plans to perform a scene with Ruth are scuppered. Another of the season's subplots which I enjoyed was the continued relationship between Arthie (Sunita Mani) and Yolanda (Shakira Barrera), with the former reluctant to officially out herself as gay. Unlike other side stories in this season, Arthie and Yolanda's turbulent romance is well-handled and is naturally resolved when the former finally decides to come out to her colleagues who were already aware of her orientation.



Although it appears I might not have enjoyed this season, I still found it to be an absolutely engrossing watch and one that I binged through in just over twenty-four hours. I just think that, because I know how great the show can be, I was disappointed with certain aspects of GLOW Season Three. Whilst the performances were universally brilliant and the attention-to-detail with the period setting was still spot-on, the storytelling was inconsistent and some of the characters felt diluted. However, when GLOW gets it right, it gets it so right as is evidenced in 'Freaky Tuesday', 'Outward Bound' and 'A Very GLOW Christmas'. In fact, the final episode, left things on a high and made me positive that a fourth season of GLOW would see it return to its season one glory.

However, with the uncertainty currently surrounding Netflix originals, I'm slightly worried that this fourth season may not be commissioned. That would be a shame as Season Three was left on an incredibly intriguing note with Bash and Debbie purchase a TV station on which to air a revived GLOW show. However, this is seemingly without both Ruth; who declined Debbie's offer of a director role, and Carmen who left the show to go on the road with her wrestling family. The biggest hint that we're getting a fourth season is that the Sam and Ruth relationship was left with an ambiguous conclusion and I believe that if the creators felt that this was GLOW's final run then they would have wrapped this up more definitively.


Despite the issues I had with the season, I still found GLOW season three to be a joyous watch and one of the most enjoyable TV experiences I've had this year so far. If you enjoyed the prior seasons, I believe there's still lots to love about the show and, if you've not seen it before, then I would urge you to catch-up on a show which is a nostalgic neon treat, and one that I'm really hoping returns for a well-deserved fourth run next year.

Contributed by Matt Donnelly.

GLOW is streaming on Netflix Worldwide.

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