GLOW: Season 2 – A Masterclass in Metafiction

(Spoilers-ho!)

The comedy drama about putting on a fake wrestling show, that’s based on an 80s TV show is back!

Even if I wasn’t already a fan of professional wrestling, I would be a big supporter of what GLOW is currently achieving. It’s a masterclass in metafiction, not just with it being a show about putting on a show (that itself is about putting on a show), but you really get the sense that the ensemble group of actresses are working just as hard to make GLOW (Netflix) work as they are at pretending to make GLOW (fictional) work. It’s an ambitious project in itself, and it only gets more daring this time around.

The main arc of season 2 is built around producing twenty weeks of cable television for their small-time network, having successfully produced a pilot at the end of the first season. GLOW stars Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Allison Brie) are still at odds with each other, and must overcome their personal issues to work as an effective creative team. The director, Sam (Marc Maron), battles constantly with the network, all as he attempts to raise his teenage daughter. And Cherry (Sydelle Noel) struggles with her work on the network’s latest cop drama.

All of the colourful lights, 80s music and era appropriate costumes are back. So if you enjoyed the general aesthetic of the first season, or just enjoy 80s pop-culture in general, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re purely a wrestling fan, and care not for the highs and lows of producing a TV show, then you’re also in for a delicious treat. Season 2 is even more faithful to the business than before. With a subplot focused on the etiquette of stealing another wrestler’s moves, an appearance from Chavo Guerrero (the real life fight coordinator for the show), and lots of impressively executed moves and holds which hold true to an 80s wresting style.

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Perhaps the most dramatically impressive subplot of the season, comes with a clear-cut #MeToo moment. Ruth is invited to dinner with one of the network executives, and ring-bells immediately start chiming when she’s told that they’ll be taking dinner in his personal suite. The whole moment smacks of something out of Harvey Weinstein’s predator playbook, which feels oh so intentional. After things get bad, but before they get really bad, Ruth finds the exit.

Her actions cause GLOW to be moved to a 2am slot, as the executive’s twisted way of taking revenge on Ruth for not allowing him rape her. Again, the kind of reaction we’ve read from actress’ testimonials all too many times over the last twelve months.

In a scene I consider to be the highlight of season 2, Ruth confronts Debbie about her experience with the executive, expecting to find sympathy and assurance that she did the right thing. Instead, we get explosive dialogue, expertly crafted and delivered, around the idea that Ruth might’ve done the wrong thing by doing the right thing. The whole sequence felt like an actress from 1986 talking to an actress from 2018. With Debbie declaring that’s just how the business works, and Ruth stating that it shouldn’t have to be that way.

I’m not going to do this scene any kind of justice here. It’s award-winning levels of dramatic writing and performance, and it’s in a show about pro-wrestling! If you check out this season for no other reason that this one scene, you’d still be spending your time wisely.

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The comedic highpoint of the season comes with episode eight. Holy wow, episode eight. The creators of GLOW (Netflix) made the bold decision to show an episode of GLOW (fictional) in its entirety. The episode immediately follows the destruction of the gang’s internal disequilibrium, when they’ve decided to just shoot the show in their own way, because nobody is going to be watching at 2am anyway. What follows, and what we get to see, is textbook 80s homemade television, directed through the lens of a 60s independent B-movie film director. We also get 80s-style commercials, music videos and maybe a wrestling match or two (maybe).

The episode itself served as excellent character development for every single cast member, despite the fact that we never see them play themselves at any point. With every scene I found myself imagining just how Ruth pitched it to Sam, or how all the girls came up with an idea while drinking together, or Sam’s daughter (now a member of the AV club and following in her father’s footsteps) wanting to frame a shot a certain way.

It was brave of Netflix to allow this episode to happen, it really was a do or die idea. And oh man did it do. It needs the context of the rest of the season, and all of the characters, but I haven’t laughed at a single episode of TV so far this year, quite as much as I did while watching GLOW Season 2, Episode 8.

Finally, I want to praise the show’s handling of LGBT characters. My issue with prior Jenji Kohan romps, like Orange is the New Black, has been that characters felt as though they’re gay first, and interesting humans second. Every single LGBT GLOW character feels like a well-rounded human, and not a caricature for the sake of representation. Particularly Bash, the show’s lead producer and wrestling fan millionaire, who is struggling to come out to even himself in 80s America. Much of his arc is subtext, with heartbreaking twists and turns. He’s a realistic representation of growing up gay in a time that’s just as conservative as today, only much less accepting or understanding.

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You can’t go wrong watching GLOW. It’s respectful to every slice of life pie it takes from the piping hot dish of…life – particularly pro-wrestling! Just when moments start to get a little heavy, it pulls you back out of an intentionally dramatic moment with some laugh-out-loud comedy. The cast are all on top form, with the real-life chemistry of the group regularly shining through. Marc Maron has certainly found the role he was born to play, and wrester-turned-actor Kia Stevens shows that Dwayne Johnson and Dave Bautista aren’t the only former-wrestlers with acting chops.

Season 3 was set-up perfectly, with an interesting new premise in store for the show in 2019. Now all we have to do is wait another year before GLOW sneaks up on us again, and delivers another cheeky german suplex to our ever-loving TV brains.

Today is Sunday, July 1st and my cat was sleeping, then woke up to make huge bug-eyes at me for two seconds, and then went straight back to sleep again.

All images used for the purposes of review

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