GLOW season 2 review

The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are back for an all-new ’80s-themed season of GLOW, and what a wonderful season it is. In fact, with the combination of seasons 1 and 2, it’s safe to say, without any trace of hyperbole, that GLOW is one of the best shows Netflix has to offer. It’s paced perfectly, it never overstays its welcome, and best of all, it has so much heart that at times it’s almost overwhelming. Almost no other show on the streaming service is as warm as this; as emotionally vibrant as this. Best of all – GLOW balances its sweetness with a darkly dramatic center. It’s light and dark all at once, and the results are worth celebrating.

glow cast

Climb Back Into the Ring

The premise of GLOW is essentially the same this season as last: the all-female wrestling league known as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling puts on wildly entertaining, occasionally awkward matches in which their big, broad, stereotypical wrestling characters body-slam their way through trials and tribulations. The ladies are a bit more polished this time – they’ve been working on their moves, and improving their characters. They’re more confident, more entertaining, and they’re having fun.

But all is not well. Sponsorship for their wrestling TV show is dropping, and before they know it, the girls of GLOW are banished to an early A.M. time slot that only the occasional insomniac might catch. And there are personal matters, too. The rift between former friends Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder (Alison Brie) and Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan (Betty Gilpin) has only grown. In season 1, Ruth had an affair with Debbie’s husband. Said affair has ended both Debbie’s marriage and her friendship with Ruth. And while Ruth and Debbie learned to work together in the ring by the end of season 1, time has not healed all emotional wounds.

Debbie feels like her life is spinning out of control, and it’s clear she holds Ruth personally responsible for that. Ruth, meanwhile, struggles to continually prove herself. Wrestling is no longer just a “job” to her – it’s something much more important. Something she wants more control over. In the first episode, Ruth gathers up the ladies to shoot a hilarious opening credits sequence for the show in the local shopping mall. It’s clever and well-made, but it backfires. Sam Silva (Marc Maron), the regular director of GLOW, feels threatened by Ruth’s directorial prowess and lashes out, and starts barking about how he can fire anyone he wants. 

It’s a somewhat bleak start to the show, and to be sure, there are bleaker moments to come. A storyline involving GLOW producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell) grows increasingly melancholy and tragic, culminating in some disquieting moments. All these moments perfectly encapsulate the theme of this season, and the show in general: self-doubt. All the characters are struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy.

Ruth struggles to mend her fractured friendship and be taken seriously in her career. Sam struggles to reclaim his faded artistic glory, and also be a good father to his recently discovered illegitimate daughter (Britt Baron). Debbie talks her way into landing a producer credit on the show, but still finds herself constantly out of the loop because she’s a woman; and of course, she’s still furious with her husband and Ruth. Wrestler Cherry “Junkchain” Bang (Sydelle Noel) has left GLOW to co-star in a cop TV show, only to discover she may not be a very good actress, at least in terms of reading lines.

Everyone here is wrestling with something, literally and metaphorically. It can often yield somber results, and yet, GLOW finds miraculous ways to rise above the sadness and find bittersweet moments.

glow season 2

Get Into Character

The bond between certain characters is one of the most enjoyable elements of the show. Near the end of the season, Debbie and Bash form a sort of alliance that I hope we see more of in future seasons. And the relationship between Ruth and Sam is increasingly sweet, despite Sam’s occasional temper. I feel a little silly singling out Maron on a show that’s so female-driven, but the actor’s performance as Sam remains a series highlight. Maron is so extraordinary here at playing Sam as a cranky, miserable, washed-up jerk who also just happens to have a heart of gold. Some of the biggest laughs of the series come from Maron’s droll reactions; his incredulous face as he struggles to put up with something he considers to be utter bullshit.

But really, practically everyone is worth applauding here. Brie is effortlessly charming and likable, making Ruth endearing. At times, it would be very easy for Ruth to slip into an over-the-top mode that’s hard to buy – she’s sometimes pushy and over-dramatic. But Brie nails it, always keeping the character down to earth and believable. In a later episode, Ruth ends up badly injured and has to be rushed to the hospital by her fellow wrestlers. The result is one of the best moments in the series, as Brie’s Ruth realizes the value of the friendships that have arisen from joining GLOW. Trying to make Ruth feel better in the hospital, Sam casually shrugs the show off as something silly and frivolous. But Ruth shoots him down, insisting it’s more than that. It’s important. Especially to her.

“I have people now,” she says tearfully. “People who rush me to the hospital and care if I’m hurt.” It’s such a simple line, but the weight Brie gives it with the inflection of her voice is staggering. It is the sound of someone who has spent so very long feeling so very alone, suddenly realizing they’re not alone anymore.

Gilpin is a strong stand-out as well. Her Debbie is simmering with pent-up rage this season; a rage mixed with weariness, always present in how Gilpin carries herself – she seems as if an actual physical weight is on her shoulders, bringing her down. Eventually, that rage boils over and explodes, and there’s something cathartic in that, for both Debbie and us. Perhaps best of all, though, is the way the show handles this turmoil. It’s not easily solved with a speech or an action. By season’s end, Debbie has resolved a lot of her anger issues, but they haven’t magically evaporated. They’re still there; they’re just better-managed.

glow review

Picking Up The Pace

The acting and storytelling on display here is sublime across the board, but it’s pacing that’s GLOW’s greatest achievement. Netflix shows have a terrible tendency to draaaaag. The Marvel Netflix series are the most egregious offender here, puffing up what could easily be 8 episodes into 13. It’s sometimes painful to sit through, even if you’re pacing yourself and not bingeing.

GLOW, in sharp, glorious contrast, does the opposite. There are 10 episodes here, but each runs barely over a half-hour. As a result, each episode flies by while also cramming in plenty of story. Perhaps best of all, though, is how each episode is handled. While there is an overarching narrative to the season, GLOW does not succumb to the dreaded movie-as-TV-show-trend. Many showrunners these days like to proclaim that their shows aren’t really shows – they’re feature-length films broken up into ten (or more) episodes.

This is a terrible trend, and needs to stop. TV shows shouldn’t be movies. Movies tell stories in a very specific way, and to take that and stretch it out beyond the standard cinematic length is often tortuous. GLOW never makes this mistake – the episodes are, well, episodic. As they should be. Each episode tells its own individual story, while also contributing to the overall narrative. The show becomes truly exceptional when its episodes veers off into unfamiliar territory. One episode late in the season is presented to us almost entirely as an episode of the fictional wrestling show the characters all star in. It’s a quirky, deliberately corny half-hour, completely with hilarious commercials for cable access shows about knitting. It might be the best episode of the season.

glow alison brie

The Best is Yet to Come

GLOW season 2 isn’t perfect, though. The season’s biggest flaw is that it just doesn’t have time for all its characters. There’s a huge cast here, but many of them don’t have enough screen time. One particularly strong episode carves out some time for Kia Stevens Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson, who feels uncomfortable with her son learning about the stereotypical character she plays in the ring. And near the end of the season, Kate Nash’s Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson is suddenly in the midst of an immigration conflict. But beyond this, many of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling end up left out of the ring. Britney Young’s Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade, who was a major character in season 1, feels virtually ignored this time around save for a few moments. It’s no doubt difficult to balance so many characters in one show, but hopefully as GLOW grows, it finds a more succinct way to let its supporting players shine.

By the time GLOW season 2 draws to a close, a whole new world of possibilities have opened up for the show. Season 3 will see some major changes, and the prospects that are apparent are endless. More often than not, I find myself coming away from the end of a Netflix show exhausted, ready for a much-needed break. GLOW is the complete opposite. The minute the season ended, I was giddy with excitement for more – season 3 can’t get here fast enough. What a charming, captivating series this is. The type of show you want to climb into and stay a while. Long live the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

***

GLOW season 2 arrives on Netflix June 29, 2018.

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