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In a rare moment of cross-promotion that both entertains and makes sense, the female cast of GLOW showed up to cameo on WWE’s (nee WWF) Smackdown to promote Season 2 of Netflix’s GLOW. The segment, which only lasted just over two minutes, was a brief glimpse of some of the best things about GLOW – its seamless bridging between prestige television and the complex, insular world of wrestling, particularly the careful yet comical tongue in cheek negotiation of kayfabe. Slipping into character as Zoya the Destroyer, or perhaps more accurately as pro-wrestler Ruth, Alison Brie tried to one-up Smackdown’s “Ravishing Russian” wrestling heel Lana (in actuality Floridian-but-fluent-in-Russian Catherine Joy Perry) in a surreal contest of faux Russianness. It’s this kind of humour and attention to detail that makes GLOW shine, even when the talented cast are working outside of their 30-minute Netflix episode format, and whets the appetite for GLOW’s second season.
The first season, a fictional backstory of how the real life anarchic, all-women 80s wrestling show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling came to be, set the bar high for riotous feminist dramedy. With plenty of women in front of and behind the camera, GLOW managed to tell authentic stories that spoke to the lived-in experiences of racism and misogyny with a diverse ensemble cast of nuanced characters and storylines, through the hyperreal circus mirror-to-the-world that is professional wrestling. Its tight storytelling had to communicate an awful lot quickly but never felt laboured, drip-feeding wrestling’s cultural conventions and complex politics, which allowed for radical feminist expression in a conservative space, naturally into its narrative. The large cast of characters were never reduced to diminutive stereotypes, even if the short running time meant characterisation had to be fast and economic. It also had some of the most jaw-dropping moments of drama we’ve ever seen on TV – could you ever forget the toe-curling scene when “loveable” misogynist Sam (Marc Maron), G.L.O.W’s coked-up, self-loathing sleazeball director unknowingly hits on his own daughter, Justine (Britt Baron), before learning of his mistake and epically failing to rise to the challenge? (You can read more about what made season one great here.)
For those who missed out on the heady, lurid world of GLOW the first time round, we strongly suggest you binge the first season before devouring the second, so that you can enjoy the rest of its dramatic twists and turns in all their stupefying, climatic glory.
Season 2 starts in media res after the ladies manage to make it through the almost disastrous pilot shoot of G.L.O.W, in which the group’s backbone busybody and star heel Ruth managed to corral a self-imploding Sam to make a success of the Gorgeous Ladies’ cumulative efforts and land a syndicated cable wrestling show, despite all that could have gone wrong. Sam, in typical, self-destructive style, is dreading the commitment of taping G.L.O.W every week and Ruth steps in to fill in for all the parts of his job that he is woefully bad at, particularly dealing with his all female cast with any level of respect, naming herself Alma Hitchcock to his Alfred – a quiet nod to all the unrecognised creative labour the women contributed to G.L.O.W’s success. To cement this power dynamic, Sam and wide-eyed trustafarian producer Bash (Chris Lowell) hand out one-sided contracts for the women to sign, all of whom do, except savvy ex-soap actress, Debbie (Bettie Gilpin), who uses her leverage as G.L.O.W’s star baby face Liberty Belle to get a better deal, including a role as producer.
Most of the cast are full of nervous, excited energy, keen to build on their various characters’ stories from the pilot – all except Arthie (Sunita Mani), who, having happily embraced her racist stereotype heel character, Beirut, an Islamic terrorist, had beer thrown at her by a few bigoted audience members and took wrestling’s bizarre political pantomime too far, before being thrown out. “Still smells like beer and racism,” she says mournfully picking up her costume off the rack. Her creative idea to blow up Beirut in a suicide bomb before being reborn as Phoenix, a character that frees her from a one-note racist gimmick, gets cruelly ripped off by tag team Stacey and Dawn (Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson), who are bored of playing feisty pensioners – a classic example of white women thoughtlessly and frivolously stealing ideas wholesale from a woman of colour.
When it’s clear that Sam doesn’t need them on set and wants to “prep” the show in peace, Ruth takes the cast to a shopping mall to film anarchic, playful opening credits for the show, in an attempt to keep group morale high and also to flex her own creative muscles. Realising the cheesy footage she shot is actually good, Ruth turns to G.L.OW.’s new cameraman to ask “Do you think we captured the nexus of girl on girl violence and consumer culture in America?” “No, it’s way dumber than that,” he laughs, before blurring the lines between the professional and personal by asking if Ruth would like to help him edit the footage back at his place. Somewhat blindsighted by his request, ex-best-friend Debbie steps in to save speechless Ruth from both a potential sleezeball and herself. On the drive home, Ruth thanks a still bristling Debbie who answers “I don’t want you to fuck up group morale by getting date raped”, a tersely acerbic throwaway line where rape culture is the butt of the joke, rather than women.
Season 2 benefits greatly from the heavy lifting and world building that GLOW’s first season did so well, and thus has breathing space for characters that didn’t get the screen time we would’ve liked on its first outing, particularly women of colour, such as African American Tammé (real life wrestler Kia Stevens), whose experience of black motherhood is run up against the white-privileged, gilded cage of Debbie’s newly found single mother experience. When Tammé’s son, Stanford undergraduate Ernest (Eli Goree), expresses concern that her wrestling persona “Welfare Queen” is a black minstrel character, we know Tammé has long laboured at jobs far below her level due to the double socioeconomic bind of misogynoir, and understand her acceptance of something painfully demeaning in a trade-off with a chance to fulfill her potential as a strong, creative wrestler.
Season 2 also addresses the initial cast’s perceived heteronormativity – although we were blessed with the wonderfully queer she-wolf Sheila (Gayle Rankin) in Season 1, GLOW was missing a straight-up (for want of a better phrase) lesbian character, and thus we’re introduced to unapologetic Latinx self-described “lady lover” and talented dancer-cum-stripper Yolanda, an intriguing figure whom we hope to learn more about as the season progresses.
GLOW Season 1 and 2 is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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