The first season of GLOW was an absolute delight in the way that few Netflix Original debuts are. In the year leading into its second season, I’ve had a fear in the back of my mind that they might just bungle the sophomore endeavor. That isn’t just regular media anxiety – from Weeds to Orange is the New Black, shows spearheaded by Jenji Kohan have a pretty consistent track record of flying off the rails after strong debuts.
Lay your fears to rest, wrestlemaniacs. While GLOW’s newest ten-chapter installment takes a few episodes to find its footing and a direction for the season, once it gets into the swing, it really gets the hell into the swing.
Now that the in-universe show has been greenlit, season two sees the titular Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, lovable asshole director Sam Silvia, and lovable rich idiot Bash Howard tackling the task of actually producing a watchable TV show. As anyone who’s both watched wrestling on TV and attended a live event knows, they’re radically different environments. If a crowd is bad live, that’s a bummer. If a crowd is dead on TV, viewers at large will follow their lead. These conflicts drive the first few episodes of the season.
While it’s far from a show solely about her anymore – if it ever was – our ostensible protagonist Ruth Wilder no longer just feels like Piper from OITNB copy-pasted into a wrestling story. Alison Brie, who killed it last year, comes into this season having truly made Ruth Wilder her own. It feels like the writers got to take a few notes from Brie’s season one performance and mold Ruth into something a little more complex and interesting this time around.
The same goes for the eternally pitch-perfect Betty Gilpin as Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan, whose two modes in season one have morphed together like the titular monster of The Fly – ambitious and tortured and pissed-off and egocentric and sometimes righteous but always interesting to watch. You kinda get it but kinda don’t, but for the most part it’s not whiplash. It’s just a deeply complicated, broken person, and Gilpin nails it.
Marc Maron as Sam and Chris Lowell as Bash are also standouts. Maron plays Sam adjusting to season one’s bombshell revelation absolutely perfectly: the development isn’t linear because that’s not how people change. For Sam Silvia, it’s always two steps forward, somewhere between one and three back. For Lowell’s part, he’s always a delight as Bash, but the pure facial acting he does in the last two episodes of the season – when something in Bash’s life, for once, can’t be fixed by throwing cash or charm at it – left me absolutely stunned.
The season tackles the racism in the in-universe characters in a way that cares but doesn’t feel totally complete; it tackles the culture that spawned the #MeToo movement in all its ugliness; it tackles fan entitlement and gross sexualization of female performers. This isn’t just a laundry list of causes they felt like they had to address – each is woven seamlessly into the plot and into the way the characters grow and change. They’re the reality of giving an often twisted subculture like wrestling a bigger platform, and GLOW refuses to shy away from it.
If the first few chapters of the season feel a little so-so and directionless, the final three-episode run is perhaps the pinnacle of the entire show. Beginning with a wildly entertaining in-universe entire episode of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, every character hurtles toward the end of their current arc at perfect pace.
Alternately tense, heartbreaking, triumphant, and hysterical, the second season of GLOW adds more complex layers onto its brilliant foundation and leaves off on an exciting development for the direction of the series going forward. When you close this review, open Netflix and watch the new season of GLOW.
Yes, even if you’re at work. I won’t tell.
Image courtesy of screenrant.com