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« A scattershot weekend at the box office. What did you see? | Main | Horror Actressing: Sigourney Weaver in "Copycat" »
Monday
Aug122019

Review: GLOW (Season 3) 

By Spencer Coile 

Despite its criminal underperformance at the Emmys this year (only scoring 5 nominations), the second season of GLOW was a marvelous piece of television. After an equally impressive first season, season 2 found the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling coalescing into a tighter ensemble. It was no longer just a vehicle for stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron. Each gorgeous lady had a rich history waiting to be told. Against the backdrop of grungy L.A., set to a mix of 80’s synth pop, GLOW pulsated with life, energy, and plenty of risks waiting to be taken. 

Season 2 ended with an offer for the ladies to adapt their syndicated show to an act in Las Vegas. Starship’s triumphant “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” begins to play as they board the bus that will land them in completely uncharted territory. With this notable shift in scenery, does GLOW season 3 pack the same punch? Pun intended...

Although humor is peppered throughout each episode, season 3 ironically opens with tragedy. The year is 1986, and our lady wrestlers pile into each other’s Vegas hotel rooms at the Fan-Tan to watch as Debbie “Liberty Belle” (Gilpin) and Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” (Brie) are interviewed for a local TV station. Their promotion for G.L.O.W. is interspersed with banter about the impending Challenger launch, much to the comic chagrin of Ruth’s Russian villain, Zoya. She begins to mock the Americans’ efforts to catch up with Russian space exploration… just as the Challenger explodes. As Ruth later laments:

I made fun of a national tragedy on live television.

This is a dominant theme of GLOW season 3: laughing despite, or in spite of, catastrophe. Because, regardless of the setting, it is still a comedy. The series is propelled forward by humor, and so to acknowledge the coping mechanisms we employ to make sense of missteps, misfortunes, misgivings seems like the right direction for these characters. After all, the G.L.O.W. Vegas show initially only has a 3-month-long contract. Beneath the bright and shiny Vegas veneer, there is a lonesomeness and a sadness that permeates - whether that is missing home, feeling aimless, or  not knowing what comes next: Time moves too fast, time moves too slow. These feelings are hard to shake. Instances like the Challenger explosion really only serve as set pieces for the quieter, more intimate tragedies the characters experience (because interestingly, the Challenger is mentioned only in this episode and then never again). 

And boy, are there a lot of experiences!

Las Vegas is the perfect setting for this group of rag-tag women trying to succeed in show business. Unlike its first season, where each of the supporting women were treated as little more than sidebars, we have started to see their personalities take shape. Sheila (Gayle Rankin), who strongly identifies as a wolf, finally confronts this part of her identity. Melrose (Jackie Tohn) falls for a sex worker who frequents their hotel. Cherry (Sydelle Noel) and her husband contemplate the possibility of having a child in the midst of Cherry’s blossoming career. Arthie (Sunita Mani) and Yolanda (Shakira Barrera) explore their relationship, even when Arthie begins questioning her sexuality. Rhonda (Kate Nash) and Bash (Chris Lowell) adjust to newly married “bliss.” Plus, we are introduced to some new characters - notably Vegas drag performer, Bobby (Kevin Cahoon), who helps Sheila come to terms with her budding aspirations as an actor. 

There is so much to unpack and so many performances worth mentioning from this season, yet to dissect each storyline would lose some of the impact. Because while many ensemble-led shows fall into the trap of abandoning particular storylines to prioritize “leading” characters, GLOW peers into these seemingly secondary characters for just a few moments - just to check up on them. For the most part, storylines that you believe to be forgotten float back in when you least expect it. And while we forgo many of the wrestling scenes that were notable from the first two seasons, the ones we do get are glorious. 

That said, not everything about season 3 feels complete. What was so special about season 2 was that it took a huge risk moving all the characters to Las Vegas. What could have been a unique opportunity for world-building soon felt like little more than a second thought (we barely ever see what the hotel actually looks like!). Dawn (Rebekka Johnson) and Stacey (Kimmy Gatewood) are portrayed as little more than afterthoughts in the larger ensemble. Perhaps they will finally get some development in season 4? 

The most egregious crime committed this season was the misuse of Geena Davis as Sandy, manager of the Fan-Tan hotel. She initially is portrayed as Debbie’s foil or even a potential antagonist, but it becomes abundantly clear her character doesn’t serve much of a purpose. She is absent for several episodes, but even when she is present, there is nothing worthwhile for her to do. Even her scene in episode 9 abruptly ends before she’s given a chance to do anything interesting.  

Still, there is enough material here for the other actors to sink their teeth into. Betty Gilpin has consistently been the MVP and she continues to evolve Debbie into one of the most fascinating characters on television. The way she can finesse a single line reading is seriously unmatched. It must be an exhaustive job to be an actor playing an actor. Are they good at their jobs? Are they bad? It’s something that must be modulated so precisely, that one false move is noticeable (think about the perfection that is Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr.). Alison Brie and especially Gayle Rankin play actors with such earnestness, as if they were actors born to play actors - one pivotal scene involves a dramatic monologue delivered by Rankin’s Sheila that demonstrates the sheer skill and control required from these characters. Wrestling was once the focus, but now it is investigating the women in the ring. And fortunately, this is truly an ensemble work, so credit goes to all the fabulous ladies of G.L.O.W. 

GLOW season 2 was boisterous and jubilant, ending with so much possibility. Season 3 is far more subdued. At its core, the series, not to mention the very act these ladies put on, should be about wrestling. But what comes next? The series is starting to grapple with that question and fortunately, this season ends with many more questions worth asking. Wrestling might not be the sole focus of GLOW anymore, but it's a risk well worth taking. 

 

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Reader Comments (4)

I started watching because of this website and I love the show

Thanks for the tip and for this text.

August 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

Betty Gilpin is a real rockstar on this show. So excited to see her grow into other roles.

August 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParker B

I'm OBSESSED with this season. Was blown away by how good it was.

August 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJ.B.

Only on episode 3, but I am appreciating the realism (?) of this season's storyline. In reality, the women of GLOW all lived at The Riveria and had curfew, and I think it's doing a good job of showing how strangely lonely and isolating that kind of existence had to be.

August 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

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