If you’re anything like me, the minute a new season of your favorite series drops on Netflix you instantly gobble it up. You immediately binge said season and pass out, suffused in a euphoria akin to ingesting too much turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It’s like tryptophan…for the eyeballs. Well, this past weekend I had a similar experience – GLOW Season 2 finally dropped, making my ’80s heart all aflutter with excitement. Season 1 was everything I had hoped for and more. We were blessed with the diverse female-centric period piece we’d always longed for.
Now, Season 2 certainly delivered on the usual GLOW talking points. It touched on subjects such as sexuality, grief and even sexual harassment. Alison Brie‘s Ruth Wilder and Betty Gilpin‘s Debbie Eagan took center stage with their strained relationship. Meanwhile, characters like Tamme Dawson (Kia Stevens) and Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) had a chance to shine. We were even introduced to a new GLOW performer – Yolanda (Shakira Barrera). She is the series’ first openly gay character, and her reception by the other wrestlers is intriguing. One of my favorite aspects of GLOW is its take on heavy-hitting topics as viewed through “antiquated” lenses. The ’80s were a much different time. While the subjects being explored may seem modern, these are human issues that have existed long before leg warmers and synthesizers.
Of course, this season finds our heroes trying to maintain the newly acquired momentum from the Season 1 finale. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is an overnight success, and now Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) must find a way to keep the ship afloat. Season 2 opens with Ruth convincing the girls to take a trip to the mall, where they film an opening credits sequence for the show. Now, Sam takes this as Ruth overstepping her bounds, and exerts his “authority” as director in an effort to boost his own morale. He even admits his shortcomings in that regard to Ruth later in the season. GLOW uses this opportunity to explore society’s view of masculinity, and how “fragile” it really is. They pull no punches and I’m glad they didn’t, especially given how relevant this subject is in today’s climate.
Thankfully, Sam manages to overcome his need to self-gratify by allowing Ruth creative license. He even relinquishes some power over to Debbie, who’s now a producer of the show. This is also something GLOW masterfully explores this season – a woman striving to survive in a man’s world. We see the obstacles that stand in Debbie’s way when she’s made a producer alongside Bash (Chris Lowell) and Sam. They don’t take her seriously, citing that she has a young son as a weakness in the fast-paced world of producing. It’s something women still struggle with currently – balancing family and career. However, it can be done, and GLOW makes sure we’re aware of this fact. Being a mother is not a weakness – it’s a strength, and this series lifts up multi-tasking women everywhere.
Now, GLOW doesn’t shy away from racism or stereotypes, which is evident from the caricatures our protagonists portray on the mat. This season Tamme’s son sits in the audience for a taping of the show. He’s visiting from Stanford, and it’s clear that Tamme has been vital in supporting her son’s academic pursuits. Tamme plays the Welfare Queen. After she loses to Debbie’s Liberty Belle, she’s essentially humiliated when audience members chant for her to “get a job.” You see the tears rolling down Tamme’s face, and her son is flabbergasted at the public stone throwing at his mother. It was an utterly heartbreaking moment. It showcased an attitude that still exists – that those on government assistance are merely “lazy.” Of course, Tamme tries to play it off as part of the “show,” but the parallels are there.
Sunita Mani‘s Arthie also experiences discomfort regarding her role as Beirut. She’s been uncomfortable with her being stereotyped as a “terrorist” since GLOW’s inception. Thus, she attempts to give her character a transformation, a “phoenix rising from the ashes” look. Nowadays, people still view those from the Middle East as “terrorists,” and Arthie’s plight is just as relevant 30 some years into the past as it is today. Stereotypes are hurtful, and GLOW makes us privy to our heroes’ viewpoints regarding said stereotypes. Arthie also had another big story line – her blossoming romantic relationship with Yolanda.
Now, I’ve seen some complaints floating around the web about how we never had hints of Arthie’s sexuality in the previous season. Not to mention that her relationship with Yolanda seemed to solidify overnight. I respectfully disagree. I believe their relationship developed at a healthy pace for a 10-episode TV season. As for Arthie’s sexuality – why the compartmentalization? Perhaps this was the first time Arthie fell for a woman. Maybe she’s simply attracted to people, regardless of gender or sex. Arthie and Yolanda are adorable, end of story. I’m just glad they’re happy.
Ruth unfortunately experienced sexual harassment halfway through the season, when the head of the TV studio made more than a pass at her. He nuzzled his face in her breasts and kissed her neck without her consent. Then, he attempted to keep Ruth there by starting a bath for her. Of course, all of this was under the guise of discussing her future as an actress. Ruth, being an actress eager for work, took the bait when he invited her to his hotel room for dinner. Thankfully, Ruth discreetly escaped when he left the room.
When GLOW is bumped to an undesirable time slot, Ruth reveals her harassment story to Debbie. Debbie chastises her for not sleeping with the TV head, which is the wrong reaction to have when someone tells you they were harassed. GLOW doesn’t pull punches where this is concerned. They make sure we understand, especially in the age of Me Too, that consent is important. They also rake the Hollywood system over the coals, much to my delight. Old white men incessantly at the helm of artistic projects when so many diverse voices deserve to be heard has never sit well with me.
Now, Sam’s burgeoning father/daughter relationship with Justine (Britt Baron) is also explored. We learn that Justine has been living with Sam and refuses to return to Sacramento. Sam attempting to grapple with his new role as a father is equal parts delightful and touching, especially given his curmudgeonly attitude in general. Maron’s chemistry with Baron is off the charts, and they play off each other with apparent ease. When Justine is forced to move back with her mother, my heart broke for Sam.
There’s one line from Sam, after Ruth also admits to sleeping with Russell, that tore my heart in two. It’s now one of my favorite lines ever. “Yeah, you let somebody in, you know? And then, you make room. Then they go. And yeah, the room’s still there.” Perhaps it’s Maron’s perfect delivery, but that line struck a nerve with me. It’s a sentiment we can all relate with. Opening your heart is never easy.
Of course, GLOW wouldn’t be complete without Ruth/Debbie drama. Just when the tension between the two former best friends appears to be subsiding, Debbie breaks Ruth’s leg during a live taping of the show. Granted, she was also on coke. When Debbie visits Ruth in the hospital, the two verbally duke it out. They air out all their dirty laundry – seemingly years of pent up frustrations are released in one emotionally volatile argument. Both Ruth and Debbie are in tears.
Honestly, this should be the scene that the GLOW Powers That Be submit for Emmy consideration for both Brie and Gilpin. They are forces to be reckoned with, and an immense supply of talent is put on display in this scene. After their fight, everything seems to smooth over between Ruth and Debbie. Maybe that’s all it took – one nasty argument rife with frustration to restore the natural order of things.
Bash also had an intriguing story arc this season. After Florian goes missing, Bash leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to find his butler. Later, Bash learns that his mother Birdie has passed away. He finally returns to his home and has it scrubbed down completely, which most assumed as part of the “AIDS panic” that existed back then. However, I believe it was more of an attempt to excise his memories of Florian than paranoia regarding AIDS. Then, during the season finale, Bash marries Rhonda (Kate Nash) on a whim in a televised ceremony. This occurs after it’s revealed that the latter will be deported back to the UK. Bash openly professes his love for her, which apparently always existed.
Of course, it’s abundantly clear that Bash is very much in the closet and won’t acknowledge his feelings for Florian. With his butler missing and his deceased mother, Bash is merely experiencing overwhelming loneliness. Unfortunately, his marriage to Rhonda is a means to an end – a method of filling that lonely void. Lowell has managed to inject layers into Bash, making him a rich a**hole that you can love.
Now, GLOW still had plenty of fun moments peppered throughout its sophomore season. Melrose (Jackie Tohn) and Jenny (Ellen Wong) provided comedic relief aplenty in between the drama. Not to mention Episode 8, “The Good Twin,” gave our wrestlers a moment to stretch their comedic legs, as it were. It was an episode within an episode. Our heroes filmed a show of GLOW, complete with amusing backstory vignettes and elaborate wrestling. There’s even a song the cast records within the show titled “Kidnapping is Wrong,” and it’s a gloriously cheesy ’80s PSA. Side note: I had no idea Tohn had pipes, and I say we petition to have her sing every song on the GLOW Season 3 soundtrack. “The Good Twin” is a truly outrageous page in the GLOW Season 2 book, and an episode I didn’t know I needed.
Season MVP: Marc Maron and Betty Gilpin. Both were so immensely terrific that I had to crown them as co-MVPs. Gilpin’s Debbie struggled with not only being a female producer in a man’s world, but also coping with her divorce from Mark. In one episode she sells everything she belongs, and forgets to pick her son up from daycare. Her breakdowns were gut wrenching, and you can tell by watching that Gilpin was giving it her all. Debbie’s strength is apparent, and Gilpin made sure to showcase that. Maron’s Sam was also a revelation. Sam, like Bash, is another lovable a**hole. Maron has managed to wring every drop out of Sam Sylvia, and injected nuance into what could have been a one-note character. He steals every scene, and never ceases to make me laugh with his brashness. My hat is off to these two stellar performers.
GLOW knocked it out of the park for Season 2. However, my main criticism is the lack of showcasing for characters like Sheila (Gayle Rankin), Melrose and Jenny. Yes, we’d get the occasional one-liner or small scene, but I want to see more. Now, the cast is huge, so I can understand how difficult it must be to write for them. My hope is next season we’ll get more of everyone, including Cherry. There can never be enough Cherry Bang. Of course, the season ended with our gang packing up the show to Vegas. It’ll be interesting to see our protagonists acclimating to a much different setting.
So, what can we do as we wait for GLOW to be greenlit for a Season 3? Binge the first two seasons. Blast all the eighties music. Don a neon leotard and matching leg warmers (summer heat be damned). Channel your inner feminine goddess. Kick some butt. We are women, hear us roar.
GLOW Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
Final Grade: A-