'GLOW' Showrunners On Having More Wrestling (And Some Breakdancing) In Season 2 [Interview]

GLOW became a Netflix sensation last summer as both fans of the '80s era women's wrestling league and fans of Netflix drama converged on the show. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are back for a second season, continuing the fictionalized account of the league with Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron and all the series regulars returning.

In season two, Ruth (Brie) and Debbie (Gilpin) still have not reconciled, but have to work together to make G.L.O.W. a success. Ruth continues helping Sam (Maron) with business ideas, including shooting opening titles. All the wrestlers have to come up with new ways to stand out in the ring and on camera, and for Ruth, that includes breakdancing. We also get to spend more time with some of the other wrestlers like Tamme (Kia Stevens).

GLOW creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch spoke with /Film by phone before the premiere of season 2 on Netflix. They also contributed to the screenplay for Captain Marvel. GLOW season 2 is streaming now.

Your G.L.O.W. is a fictionalization, but were there real things you were able to include about G.L.O.W. in the second season?

Mensch: The second season we had a lot more liberty to create our G.L.O.W. and to continue exploring the characters we created. So I think we got even further away, aside from the fact that we were very inspired from the beginning of our show by the fact that the original G.L.O.W. was so many different types of show shoved into one in a glorious vaudevillian way. I think we tried to honor that in making our wrestling show kind of a crazy hybrid. Aside from that, season two continues to be even more of a departure than season one.

Flahive: Especially as we get deeper into the fictional characters we created, I feel like that naturally continues to move away from real life that we continue to get inspired by.

Was the idea idea that some wrestlers switched characters something you invented?

Mensch: That's true of wrestling. I think we've been paying attention to wrestling, G.L.O.W. included. The character is not owned by the person playing it. Anyone can step out or someone else can step into those shoes. That's a very key point in wrestling and something that we definitely put in our show.

Flahive: And that wrestlers turn heel. Chavo Guerero Jr., our wrestling coach, has played many different characters in his small career and I feel like it's something that was really exciting to us in terms of telling that story as the show is on the air now. It felt like that had a lot of potential impact in terms of girls deciding that their characters weren't doing what they wanted them to do or they didn't like their character for a particular reason. I think that was an interesting narrative for us.

I thought I remembered G.L.O.W. being on late at night at 2AM. Did that happen too?

Flahive: Yeah, it was on in different marketplaces at different times. There was no one set time for the original G.L.O.W.

Mensch: We had I think assumed, correctly or incorrectly, that it was on Saturday mornings in a lot of places. But that it was on at different times. For our G.L.O.W., we thought that the worst thing that could happen was to be moved to a timeslot where no one watched, so that's why we made up our own G.L.O.W. narrative.

Flahive: From Saturday morning to 2AM.

I'm sure you would've addressed the sexual politics of the '80s anyway, but did the #MeToo movement empower you in the way you dealt with it in season two?

Flahive: I think it definitely emboldened us to go further with our storytelling. I think that our story of a bunch of girls making a girl where there are a bunch of men in charge, both creatively and then at a network level, it felt like a really natural story to tell and we knew we wanted to tell it. It felt of the time, but I think what was happening in our present moment definitely helped fuel us in our storytelling.

Mensch: In fact, I think the #MeToo stuff was not very surprising to anyone sitting in the writers room because our shared stories as women were very much reflective of some of the same behaviors. So it was also one of those movements that was no surprise to us but still exciting that it was happening.

Will some people miss the "prep" vs. "prepare" joke?

Mensch: For sure, yes. We agree. We put it in there because it tickled us so much but we agree with you that people might miss it.

I love that you don't explain it.

Mensch: Nope, we loved it so much.

Flahive: Thank you for noticing. That's our first hint that it may be noticeable.

It took me a second but I got it.

Mensch: That's one of our sleeper jokes.

Flahive: We'll wait for it.

Since breakdancing is so '80s, did you really want to work it in this season?

Flahive:  I watched a lot of White Nights and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Breakin' was a big one. A sequence where somebody learns a dance and then that dance happens felt really important to be included in season two creatively in terms of an homage to things that make me happy about these scenes.

Is dance choreography significantly different than wrestling choreography?

Mensch: Yeah, we have to get a very different choreographer.

Flahive: A whole different person.

Mensch: We have a wrestling choreographer and this time we had to bring in a dance choreographer.

Flahive: There's a little less room for injury in the dance choreography maybe.

Mensch: And I think that you're less holding your partner and their life being in your hands throughout the dance, than it is in wrestling.

Were you able to spend a lot more time with Tamme' this season? 

Flahive: I think season one we went purposely very, very slow in our storytelling and wanted you to get the sense of the team and really the focus was at its core Ruth and Debbie. And I think now that we told the story of the girls learning how to wrestle and you have a handle on who everybody is, the idea that we can actually follow Debbie and Tamme for an episode felt incredibly exciting to us.

Mensch: And season one, we knew they were the two ones but they didn't really interact in season one. So it felt like a huge opportunity to both have to work on a wrestling match together and just parallel their lives in different portraits of motherhood as there are many portraits of motherhood both in our writers room and in the world. So it's exciting to pick two different one.

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Had you always known that Tamme's son was a character you'd introduce?

Flahive: I think like anything else, there were so many things we had planted in season one that we hoped we would have room to tell season two. On our wish list for season two was this sort of tale of two mothers where we would actually have the time to go meet Tamme's son and we would spend the day with her and Debbie culminating in a match. The thing is you just want to make sure as you're building a season is that, you know, in your season you have room for that move in a way that feels like it still fuels the larger narrative. I think once we figured out that we did that, it was exciting. I think we always had dreams of seeing more of Tamme's life but only if it served the season and the story.

Is there more wrestling in season two than season one?

Mensch: Yes, for sure.

Flahive: There is so much more wrestling in season two.

Mensch: A lot of season one the joke was they went through this month long boot camp and then we started the season and they have to go back to the beginning and pretend  to be bad again. Then we spent all season watching them learn when in fact in our real lives, our actresses were actually pretty badass wrestlers at this point. It almost felt like we were holding a card behind our back. Season 2 they're unleashed. I feel like we don't have to pretend they're learning anymore. We just get to show them at their full glory.

Is that harder to shoot?

Flahive: It is for sure harder to shoot, for everybody.

Mensch: You know, we've gone through so many stages of cinematic learning. In the pilot, we had to learn how to shoot that first match. Then when the finale came last year, I think it was a very huge learning experience, both how to not tax our entire cast and try to shoot it so that each match looked different, so that it was personal, so that it reflected their real life. And then I think we had a whole new learning experience this year where it was like not only do we have matches, but we're making a TV show so we have to find different ways to shoot it so that we can see how they originally would have shot it, which is in episode eight.

Flahive: The wrestling is shot very differently than we do at any other point during the entire show.

Mensch: I feel like we're on some level still learning. The large work of the show is learning how to capture it dynamically and show it evolving so that how we shoot it now is not how we shot it on day one season one.

Was "Far From Over" by Frank Stallone from Staying Alive, used in a montage in episode six, someone's favorite '80s homage?

Flahive: You know, the thing we learned about songs and montages is that they can't be too good. We did "Dare" in season one and that song from Staying Alive season two. They're just the right level of cheesy and not so great that the song supports the montage but doesn't overtake it. Because we tried a lot of different songs I think at a certain point in both of those montages and that was the thing we started to learn with the wrestling.

Do Ruth and Debbie have to work together a lot more through season two?

Mensch: Yes, I think we've structured the season actually so that they come from further apart. They weren't working together at first and further sending them to their corners almost made the time when they have to work together, come back together which is a pretty tense moment, we wanted to load that moment up where we weren't just building off where we were last year. We didn't want them in such a great place.

Were drugs something you had to include doing a show about entertainment in the '80s?

Mensch: Marc Maron loves to tell the story of when he arrived and had very specific requests in terms of how his coke was carried in a bindle and what type of magazine page was used.

Flahive: The specificity of Sam Sylvia's coke use was all designed by Marc Maron.

Mensch: And we just had to thank him and let him.

Flahive: Let him leave the charge on how his character does drugs because we didn't do coke in the '80s.

But doing a show about the '80s, were drugs inevitably going to be part of it?

Flahive: I think it was less about it being relevant to the era and more about the character moment, and her having access in Sam's office and being a little unhinged. Coke is around in the '80s in our show.

Mensch: Sam is doing so much coke in our show that we don't need anyone else to do it. In a regular way, we have it represented on our show but then it kind of felt exciting to see what would happen when a character reaches a low point and what it means to be partnered with someone who's a little...

Flahive: Drugs in the ring was something we always had on our bucket list in terms of something that could be a great complication. We didn't, for a long time, know exactly where it went and then we figured it out.

Divorce was very different for women in the '80s too, wasn't it?

Mesnch: Yes, and we had to do a bunch of homework on that.

Flahive: I think a lot of these stories, there's something exciting about the great limits a period piece puts on you in terms of some of your storytelling and how if you want accuracy, if you want to be authentic, you have to embrace some of the constraints. I think that's been a thrill for us and been really useful in our storytelling. I think we're both pretty happy to not be having characters use cell phones. It's real nice.

I know there are so many writers on Captain Marvel. Were you there in more of a script doctoring capacity or were you able to give some input on the direction of it. 

Flahive: We came in to do a polish and had a spectacular time. It was a total thrill.

Mensch: Other people had done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of creating the plot. I think what was so exciting is we got to come in and obviously we had some ideas. We had some very open, awesome conversations with Marvel who knew exactly what they wanted but were also excited to hear where we could help with voice.

Flahive: Character stuff and it was a thrill to get to write, any bit of a Marvel movie is thrilling, but then to be involved in their first female superhero movie was delightful.

Mensch: They're just really brilliant over there.

Were you told that Nick Fury calls her at the end of Infinity War?

Flahive: We were not. We were as surprised as everyone else.

glow cast

Do you already have thoughts on season three of GLOW?

Flahive: We have many thoughts for season three that we have not been paid to think about but are thinking about anyway for free.

Mensch: We're very excited. We hope we get it.

Flahive: Yeah, we have too many ideas.

Were you able to shoot their PSA video on VHS?

Mensch: You know, we have a secret which is that we use frequently a jerry rigged camera that shoots in VHS but then transfers to a digital format. So our DP from season one, Christian Springer kind of brought us this magic camera and we frequently use it when we need to go into VHS mode. It's a really cool trick.

But it's really shot in that format, not degraded from hi-def.

Mensch: Yeah, we do have some that is shot in high def and degraded.

Flahive: Which is episode eight.

Mensch: Because there are lots of rules at Netflix in terms of how degraded footage can be.

Flahive: But most frequently, such as the mall footage, very frequently when we're doing that, it's that camera.

Which other characters were you glad to give more of a spotlight in season two?

Flahive: I think Bash this season is a revelation. Both Chris [Lowell]'s performance and just in terms of a character who I think you think you have his number in terms of being an idiot playboy who's incredibly funny, but I think the beauty of the actors on our show and our intention on the show is that everybody has real depth. Everybody has a story. I think Cherry (Sydelle Noel) you get to dig into a bit more. You see her vulnerable. You get to see Arthie (Sunita Mani) in a new way. You get to see her outside of the shadow of Beirut as a young high school dropout. We're excited that you get to dig into Rhonda (Kate Nash) towards the end of the season. I think seeing Justine (Britt Baron) and Sam's relationship this season was a delight to write. I think that was something we didn't get them, at least we didn't reveal who they were to each other until the end of season one. So then to see how they are together in season two, the sort of unlikely later in life father and daughter relationship taking hold was pretty hilarious, and also really emotional, our favorite combination.

Each episode ends with not necessarily a cliffhanger but something that makes you have to watch the next one. Is that the same whether it's weekly or streaming, that you do something to keep people watching?

Mensch: Yeah, I think we are very consciously making a show that you could easily watch episodically or bunched together. We want each episode to be fully satisfying on its own right and then we are creating a larger story that, like a novel, you go from chapter to chapter and we want you to turn the page and see the next chapter. We're very consciously doing both, different from episodic one off television where you don't exactly have to tune in. We want each episode to be very essential to the story so that if you miss an episode, the story wouldn't make sense. We build so that it's a season of television, very much a cohesive 10. Each episode changes the game somehow.

Did you learn anything interesting from watching people discover the first season?

Mensch: I think just the biggest joy was watching how the wrestling community embraced it. I think that was the community that we were the most uh-oh, we've done our best to be as reverential as we can and honor this thing that we're stepping into. But then for all we knew, we were doing it wrong and we were going to piss the wrong people off. So while all these reactions felt great, that was the one that was the biggest surprise. It was a really satisfying exciting thing to see because it could've gone the other way.

Did it mirror the reaction to the actual G.L.O.W. when people discovered they were really good at it?

Mensch: Well, unlike the original, I don't think people were thinking we were going to create a cheesy sexual show. I think people may have thought we were going to write a dumber show that's just surface level about how funny the '80s were and how campy the show was. I think the thing hopefully that surprised people was how much we were sneaking in a lot of big ideas and a lot of nuanced grounded characters and how we wanted you to care and not just look at it on the surface. I think that was our version of the surprise for people.

Are you careful and picky with your '80s references like Nerds candy?

Mensch: Oh yeah, for sure.

Flahive: I mean, I think we always went in saying, you see it reflective I hope in the look of the show where we didn't want to be hitting you over the head with '80s anything. And that when we did something that felt, even with our song choice, like when we go iconic, it's very deliberate. We didn't want it to be a neon factory of scrunchies and neon and every '80s hit you've ever heard in your life in one episode. It's definitely something we are careful to meter out.

Mensch: We're also aware of exactly what month in 1985 we were in for every minute of season one so that for example, when we were boarding out the end of the season and we know we needed the TWA flight and Sam going to the movies and seeing Back to the Future, we needed them to be in the same area. We worked so hard to look at that timeline and get them as close as possible, because in our version of 1985 it needed to make sense.

Flahive: I think when songs are in the radio or used practically in our show, like when the girls ride away in that limo at the end of season one, they're playing that Howard Jones song that was in heavy rotation at that time. I think it is one of those things that being authentic with the '80s is important to us and I think that dictates how we reference the period.

Is the timeline less specific in season two?

Flahive: No.

Mesnch: No, you just may not know it but we are very aware of it. In every episode, we know in what week, what month it is. I think we don't try to hit the audience over the head with it so that they're paying attention to our timeline but we are. I think if you pay attention it will make sense.