GLOW debuted last summer to much acclaim from audiences and critics. GLOW tells a fictionalized version of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’s origins. Tensions were high in season one between the ladies and their director as each episode inched closer to the debut match finale. By season’s end it all worked out, but the relationship between the two female leads remained icy at best.
Season 2 begins as the cast and crew come together to film the first actual season of the show after K-DTV picked up the series. Old tensions brew as production picks back up. Debbie is still upset with Ruth because of an affair last season, Ruth’s meddling with the production of the show bothers Sam, and some of the ladies aren’t into their assigned characters. New issues bubble to the surface on-set and off. Our ladies have a new cast member to deal with after the departure of Cherry Bang, and Sam is dealing with the meddlesome studio execs. All the while Bash and the ladies try to focus on making a good show they can be proud of.
The soundtrack continues to be an amazing collection of 1980s favorites, plus new songs that enhance the theme of each episode. Scandal’s “The Warrior” makes a reprise in episode one and pumps up the audience for a new season. On the more poignant end of the spectrum are songs like “Just Like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain, “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and “Destination Unknown” by Missing Persons. “Just Like Honey” feels like stab in the heart, reflecting Ruth’s feelings. “You’re All I Need to Get By” showcases how isolated Debbie feels this season with the dramatic change in her personal life. No 80s sports-themed show is complete without a training montage. In the season two opener they wisely chose “Far From Over” by Frank Stallone. This song choice ups the energy and showcases the resilience of its characters. The music is wonderful in both score and soundtrack, and also knows when to let a moment live in silence. GLOW’s score is a masterpiece of effective nostalgia.
Experiments in format must be in the air this television season, because GLOW is the second show that I’ve seen to attempt and pull it off this year. For instance, in episode 8 we see what an actual episode of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling would look like at broadcast. The episode is full of real wrestling matches, smack-talking promos, and skits, with commercials for products and other network shows. It leaves you wondering, “Are they really doing this?” The production values feel cheap compared to the actual show, so intentional effort must have gone into making it that “bad.” It’s a fun side episode. The format change moves the plot forward and it also introduces some interesting information that will impact future episodes.
What’s great about GLOW is it doesn’t try to glamorize the time period. It shows you the 80s, warts and all. GLOW gets topical this season with the agency women have in their careers and within themselves. We see Debbie, an experienced TV professional, leverage her background to exert her power over the show. It’s interesting that she doesn’t use this for the good of all the women on the program, but I guess Debbie has always been in it for herself. She’s always put on the airs that the show isn’t good enough for her, even though she’s the star. When a coworker is nearly assaulted by a powerful studio executive, she chides her instead of offering support. Despite her new power, the boys aren’t ready to listen to her ideas or give her a seat at the table. While Debbie gains some power as producer she also serves as a sad reminder that not all women are helpful and supportive of each other.
There is plenty of other social commentary this season, and a recognition of unresolved social issues. One cropped up last season and rears its head again: the insensitive caricatures that the ladies portray in the ring. This diverse cast of women have to portray and reinforce demeaning cultural stereotypes in their ring personas, and some don’t even represent their actual ethnicities. One example of this is Jenny, a Cambodian woman portraying a Chinese stereotype called Fortune Cookie. She tries to let it roll off her back, but also corrects people when they misidentify her outside the ring. Tammé tries to dismiss the offense inherent in her persona, The Welfare Queen, with, “it’s a wrestling show. . .everyone’s offensive.” While that is an honest statement, it feels like women of color are additionally slighted because their wrestling personas are more demeaning than the personas of their Caucasian counterparts. Addressing this injustice might make the show feel less realistic. There’s also the possibility that these scenarios are tame compared to reality. The show makes up for these stereotypes in scenes outside the ring where the women have the chance to interpret their roles with more nuance.
As well-crafted as this season’s arc is, GLOW falls short in one particular area. The cast, aside from Sam, Bash, Debbie, and Ruth, get the short shrift. Most women on the show don’t get much development this season. This is especially frustrating because they introduced a brand-new character, Yolanda, and didn’t really give her much to do. We get to see a bit more of Tammé’s life, but that’s pretty much it. We get brief glimpses into each character, but it feels insubstantial when compared to season one.
Aside from the few character development issues, this season was phenomenal. GLOW had a lot to live up to with such a strong first season, and season 2 exceeded all expectations. It leapt from origin story to the day-to-day of a program without losing the spark that made GLOW’s first season amazing.
GLOW Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix