Reviews · TV

We Should Be Talking More About ‘GLOW’

The Netflix comedy’s third season is a profoundly well-crafted continuation of a story we’ve come to love.
By  · Published on August 10th, 2019

There’s a point, if you’re lucky, when the show you’ve been watching for awhile flips–often in a moment, as if on a switch–from enjoyable television to should-be-classic television. You might have liked it or even loved it before, but now it’s become transcendent, a series you’ll preach about, elevate, and champion for the rest of your TV-loving days. That’s GLOW in 2019.

Season one of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s ‘80s set women’s wrestling comedy gave us the outlines of a dozen different memorable characters. Season two deepened our understanding of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, steadily developing them far beyond the single-trait identifiers their wrestling personas embody. In season three, a series of well-executed creative leaps that holds sisterly love in every frame, we’re finally able to live in close quarters with these women. As the cast of GLOW takes Las Vegas, their desires and insecurities and idiosyncrasies are laid bare for one another (and us) in a way that feels akin to the bonds forged at a summer camp–compressed yet authentic, magical yet emotionally exhausting. The result is a resonant season of television that shimmers with more deeply felt narrative truth across its five hours than most shows ever achieve in their lifetimes.

GLOW’s funny and touching third season, now on Netflix, sees a more harmonious group than ever before, with Ruth (Alison Brie) on thoroughly good terms with former best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin) for the first time since the show began. The relationship between the two is the linchpin for a season that relishes the small moments of women-centered camaraderie, and Gilpin and Brie are better than ever together as they portray the realistic ebbs, flows, and nuances of adult friendship. At the heart of this season lies Debbie’s vocal discomfort with her place in the patriarchy as a single working mother, an issue she addresses with equal parts verve and disgust. This is Gilpin’s finest performance yet; as loving yet rightfully angry Debbie, she’s both laser-precise and relaxed in the role, and each of her scenes crackles with raw energy.

Meanwhile, ensemble characters like Sheila (Gayle Rankin), Melrose (Jackie Tohn), Jenny (Ellen Wong), and Arthie (Sunita Mani) are given room to explore their identities and relationships in arcs that highlight the strength of the show’s large cast, writers, and filmmaking crew. With all this talent in one place, the show is frequently able to visually convey characters’ mindsets, sacrifices, and moments of growth with gestures and well-framed shots alone. As with recent masterpiece dramas like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, a simple prop–a glass of alcohol, wet spray-paint, a Liza Minnelli wig–can bring us to the edge of tears and beyond thanks to the show’s clever, cohesive storytelling and then, in its own distinct GLOW style, bring us right back with a well-timed joke.

GLOW’s third season may have softened the sharp corners of its central relationships, but don’t ever say it’s lost its edge. The premiere opens up with Ruth and Debbie in-character as Zoya The Destroya and Liberty Belle, commenting on live TV during the USS Challenger launch. The moment of comedy turned tragedy, played out mostly via each character’s minute facial expression shifts, comes across as a brutally honest play on our current tragedy-a-day climate. Later, a pair of dodgy dudes with money appeal to Bash (Chris Lowell, whose great performance was the heart of season two) and end up waltzing into the GLOW dressing rooms, oblivious to the women’s’ discomfort until Sam throws them out. Almost every series made in the past few years has taken the opportunity to comment on the ways in which figures like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein have changed our definition of normal, but those moments often feel either flat, corny or forced. GLOW, on the other hand, never gives up one iota of storytelling integrity for the sake of saying something about today, instead seamlessly embedding issues of autonomy and body image, discrimination, wealth inequality, and more in its bright, big-haired 1980s context.

Another welcome shift comes in the third season’s portrayal of the show-within-a-show. A few episodes of GLOW’s latest season include in-ring action, and they don’t disappoint, but showrunners made a wise decision in moving the fictional cast to Vegas to do repeat performances. As the excitement of neon lights and buffet food fades, the women of GLOW try to find new ways to beat monotony on-stage and off, and with Sam drawn away by other projects, fewer scenes are focused on the GLOW shows themselves. By directly addressing the high-concept, easily exhaustible idea behind the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, the series comments on the question of its own potential mortality and ultimately proves that it, like its central wrestlers, is strong and committed enough to keep reinventing itself for as long as possible.

Geena Davis, Kevin Cahoon, and Toby Huss join the cast this year, and in yet another example of the GLOW writer’s room’s prowess, even these new characters are afforded an uncommon level of interiority as they act as catalysts for the main cast. The season never loses steam, and although episode nine might be the standout in terms of the sheer number of “holy shit” sequences, almost every episode contains a goosebump-inducing moment of powerhouse storytelling. “There are so many things that I wanna do…and become,” one character says during a moment of transformation. That’s also GLOW in 2019. Do yourself a favor and book a front-row seat to whatever it becomes next.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)