SPOILERS AND A LOT OF SPANDEX AHEAD …
With its scene-setting first season successfully behind it, G.L.O.W., occupying the heady mid-decade year of 1985 this time around, takes a pleasing deep dive into the lives of the women (and a few men) who make up the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
The genius of this show is that it takes a cheesy premise but one very much of its Back to the Future occupying decade, and invests it with a considerable amount of meaning, showing us again and again that while it might look tacky, and everyone is involved is aware of that though they also importantly see what they are doing are having great personal worth if nothing else, that being on this TV show has implications for everyone’s lives, beyond all the staged fighting, lurid costumes and gloriously overdone melodrama.
While it has an impressive amount of fun executing on the idea of a show which struggles to find a wider audience beyond the nice L.A. cable channel on which is appears – one episode in particular, “The Good Twin” takes us through a pastiche of an episode in all its heady, surprisingly funny, glory – what really grabs your attention is the way the show comes to be the highwater for so many of the people involved.
They, in effect, become family for each other with many of the tensions from season 1 long gone; in fact, when cancellation looms towards the end of the season, and there’s no guarantee they will have a show to call home, and it is home for them now, they draw even closer together, a fact of life that becomes desperately important for them all, not least the two leads, and current frenemies (until a big hospital fight clears the air … mostly) Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder (Alison Brie) and Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan (Betty Gilpin).
Throughout a season that begins with ambitious Ruth and the director and past shlock horror creator Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) clashing over the filming of a pleasingly over-the-top title sequence at a mall, Debbie’s divorce announcement and a struggle to make the show’s content really zing and ends with a broken limb, some surprise relationships and a move to Las Vegas for a live wrestling show gig, Ruth and Debbie, though constantly at each other’s throats (Debbie far more than Ruth) find a place to belong in the hitherto perceived unlikeliest of circumstances.
For all the various plot machinations, which all ring true embedded as they are in the authenticity of human experience – the show might be cheesily excessive and gleefully hammed up but the people in it are real and their stories have deep, affecting resonance -what becomes obvious again and again is how much belonging to this unlikely family means not just to Ruth and Debbie, but to everyone involved.
Like so many things that at the start and on the surface don’t look like they’ll worth much of anything, G.L.O.W. ends up offering everyone involved a chance to take a breath, find or redefine themselves and do it all in the security of a web of relationships that is an anchor in a world that comes to be defined by cancellation, set backs and the stinging rebuke of lives resetting themselves in unexpected ways.
It becomes a joy watching how being a part of G.L.O.W. moves beyond a desperately-seized place to call home – for Ruth and Debbie, it’s a big break and a second respectively and vitally important for both of them – and becomes something that actually matters, something that first surprises and then delights everyone involved, especially the more resistant and sceptical among the group such as Sam, Debbie, Sheila “the She Wolf” (Gayle Rankin) and Cherry “Junkchain”/”Black Magic” Bang (Sydelle Noel).
As befits a show that has family as one of its core themes, and is into its second near perfectly-executed season, a great deal of attention is paid to the characters who make up the group and why being a part of G.L.O.W. is such an important part of their lives.
One beautiful example is producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), a trust fund baby who swans around in the latest cutting-edge ’80s fashion and whose main qualifications for his role seem to be the money he has at its disposal (though it is limited; his mother, Birdie, keep him on a financial tight leash) and his childlike passion for wrestling.
An almost comically peripheral character in season 1, he moves more to the fore, as do some of the other wrestlers such as Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson (Kia Stevens), Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson (Kate Nash) and Arthie “Beirut the Mad Bomber” Premkumar (Sunita Mani), as we explore his sexuality, his relationships away from the ring and his humanity which makes its presence felt in more a heart-on-the-sleeve way than you might have been expecting.
He is, like Sam too who we see coming to grips with being an “insta-dad” thanks to the sudden appearance of daughter Justine (Britt Baron), who was initially selected as a wrestler, far more substantial a person and far more nuanced than season 1, busy with exposition and setting up, let on.
He is, in fact, the recipient in seventh episode “Rosalie” of news so devastating that you can’t help but feel deeply for a character who moves effortlessly and pleasing from background comic relief to a central player in a drama that while it more than retains its comic persona, takes far more layered emotional expression this time around.
The impressive thing throughout the season is the way these great character reveals, and leaps forward in their life trajectories – Ruth begins a relationship with sweethearted cameraman Russell Barroso (Victor Quinaz) while Debbie grapples with the fallout of divorce – are woven organically into the show’s overall arc, one marked by creative leaps forward but the imminent threat of cancellation, despite the efforts of all concerned to fight for the show’s continued existence.
There is clearly evident in the down and down and down and then finally up, after a scene-stealing fight in a hospital room that is heard, somewhat comically (though the long-simmering articulation of grievous resentment is anything but), by everyone, friendship of Ruth and Debbie, best friends pulled apart by the former’s infidelity with the latter’s husband, who finally sort through a messy grab bag of emotions to emerge something like friends at season’s end.
Their eventual flawed reconciliation, grudgingly by Debbie and uncertainly by Ruth, is the beating heart of the show, both the one we’re watching and the show within, a relationship complicated by Debbie’s assumption of a producer role (she is the established actor) and Ruth ambition to play closer role in the look and feel of a TV show that has, she feels, made all of her sacrifices to date worth it.
They are the poster children for the fact that while the in-the-show show G.L.O.W. may seem cheesily overblown, and let’s face it is, it means the world to everyone, something that comes painfully to the front of proceedings, narratively and personally, as the season reaches its end.
Possessed of a self-aware comical sensibility and innate understanding of the critically-important things that drive their characters, G.L.O.W., which undergoes a move to Vegas at season’s end becoming a live show rather a televised production, is a show about how the most unexpected of things can shape and bring meaning to a person’s life and how family, real, meaningful, life changing family, can transform you in ways you didn’t see coming.
It may look silly, and season 2 gleefully plays to that in ways that amuse and delight on a near-constant basis, but there is grit and drama beneath the comically melodramatic posturing and the obviously-faked scripted wrestling (which comes close at season’s start, thanks to Sam’s cranky misstep, to pulling the family apart) which draws you in and makes you care about people for whom this show is everything.
Watch it, immerse yourself in it and let its innate humanity affect you (and trust me, it will) and you may just get some idea of why that is.