FYI: "GLOW" Season Two Continues To Dazzle

For all its runaway success, Netflix is still pretty divisive. Get a group of media experts in a room and they’ll almost certainly disagree about what it’s doing to the industry, either hailing it for breaking new ground or blaming it for the slow death of movie ticket sales and cable subscriptions. However, if there’s one thing Netflix is unquestionably good at, it’s getting people interested in shows that are a little, well, unorthodox.

Horror meets action serial led by child actors? Try Stranger Things. Nuanced portrayal of queer relationships, race issues and women’s incarceration? Try Orange Is The New Black. Relationship comedy dealing with the problems that emerge when your wife turns into a zombie? Yep, there’s a show for that too (The Santa Clarita Diet, in case you haven’t seen it). Netflix thrives on the stories that nobody knows they need to know, and GLOW, very loosely based on the story of the real Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, definitely fits that definition.

GLOW entered the ring in 2017, telling the story of struggling actresses and a coke-addled director as they fought tooth and nail to get a pilot accepted for their female wrestling show. Of course, there was also the friendly rivalry between lovable underdog Ruth (Alison Brie) and sitcom veteran Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and the far less friendly rivalry between Brie and her director Sam (Marc Macron), as well as a thousand petty disasters courtesy of the hugely talented ensemble. At its heart though, the show’s strength lay in its focus on female friendship and camaraderie, a theme which is expanded on in the proverbial second round.

When the pilot is picked up, it seems like the pressure is off, but not a single character is given time to breathe. Every member of the core cast is given a storyline both in and out of wrestling garb, forced to deal with everything from stalkers to constipation, from entitled Hollywood producers to the crushing reality of the AIDS crisis. Some problems are refracted across the season like light rays bouncing off glitter, with the most prominent being parenthood. The story of a freshly divorced mother balancing her love for their son with her resentment for his father is mirrored in that of an experienced single mom with her own son, who is horrified by her attempts to support him through what he sees as her degrading and borderline racist wrestling job. Also in the mix is a long-estranged father forced to deal with a teenage daughter he never saw grow up, a daughter so alarmingly similar to him that they struggle to communicate.

These stories rarely intersect but instead run parallel to each other, the contrast serving to more fully illuminate the diversity of the characters. They differ in class and race and gender and outlook, and their approach to balancing the professional with the personal differs also. Their occasional similarity is allowed to come out only in small moments, whether that’s knowing glances in a production meeting or a snatched conversation in the hallway before a fight. In every case, the children we see in varying degrees show exactly where the characters’ individual hard edges come from, by showing the softness they are all trying to protect.

With that said, the parents aren’t the only ones shielding some kind of vulnerability. The show’s realism lies in the fact that everyone who puts on a costume wants to escape into their persona, and face problems with solutions as simple and satisfying as a well-timed clothesline. It’s a credit to the actors behind GLOW that both levels of performance are equally engaging, a skill that is tested during a mid-season episode that consists almost entirely of the show-within-a-show. It’s a skill to make 30 minutes of believably bad TV that is still hilarious and earnest enough to sit through, while also using it to progress storylines happening away from the ring, storylines that on the surface aren’t dealt with at all.

None of this is to say that GLOW is a high-brow show. Mostly it is kitschy and nostalgic, either so light that it’s almost entirely without substance or so melodramatic that it surpasses soap opera and goes straight into farce. It does deal with heavy issues, and we are certainly not hidden from the grime behind the glitter, but any brush against politics is eventually evened out by either a montage or a Reservoir Dogs-esque slow motion hero walk. The whole season has a bubble gum sheen that is impossible to pop, no matter how many hard-hitting curveballs are thrown at the characters.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the season finale. Instead of tackling realism, the last episode is wholly given over to ticking off wrestling clichés, not to mention taking absolutely every opportunity to turn things up to eleven. There’s a wedding (and a last-minute confession at the alter), a three against one match (with some in-world celebrity cameos), an all-hope-is-lost moment followed by a glorious ex-Machina, and even a zip-lining Russian. All played out in outfits so eighties they’re almost painful to look at, and hair so big it takes up at least 40% of any given shot. It’s a culmination of ten episodes of character development of plot threads, but it’s also trashy, saccharine and just a touch predictable – exactly as good guilty pleasure TV should be.