The second season of “GLOW,” the Netflix series about female wrestlers in the 1980s, reveals the kind of situations women faced before the #MeToo movement.
Ignored during creative conversations, viewed in stereotypical ways and demeaned for speaking out, they found ways to work around an unjust system and into the homes of viewers.
Picking up where the first season left off, we see the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling begin to find a place on television. They toy with character identities and storylines, perfect their wrestling moves and deal with inner turmoil on the way to independence.
Through Alison Brie’s Ruth and Betty Gilpin’s Debbie, we realize how women got a sleeper hold on a business that had been lulled into complacency. Taking charge of the program, Gilpin nudges her way into production meetings, then tag teams with Brie to flip the creative content.
Because this is set in the days of big hair, leg warmers and sequins, we laugh through the anger. Ruth and Debbie establish themselves as rivals – Ruth’s Russian persona, Debbie’s Liberty Belle identity. It plays well in the ring and helps reflect what they are off-screen. A former soap star, Debbie just wants a bit of the adoration back; Ruth, an aspiring actress, craves a spot. They’re connected because Ruth had an affair with Debbie’s husband, despite the fact they were once best friends.
Creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch don’t make their partnership an easy one but find openings, particularly when the two wrestlers realize they’re on the same page.
In the second season, “GLOW” (which is very loosely based on the real Glorious Ladies) digs deeper into the ragtag world of non-network television. Just getting viewers (at a stray time of day) is a challenge. But the women – including a galaxy of fellow wrestlers – rise and find strength.
While Mark Maron (as Sam, the show’s weary director) continues to steal scenes, he’s given more of a challenge by GLOW’s benefactor, Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), who has ideas of his own. The two accept Debbie’s participation but aren’t quite willing to crack the door for Ruth. That introduces the suggestive concept of creativity and shows just how a female executive is born.
Midway through the season, “GLOW” confronts the #MeToo world and lets those on the outside see just what the casting couch world was like. Flahive and Mensch handle it well, using the situation to fuel later stories.
Because there are so many supporting characters just waiting to break out (keep an eye on Kia Stevens’ Welfare Queen), “GLOW” has an urgency it may have lacked in the first season. There’s potential to keep this going for years but, first, it has to settle the dust and get the chess players in position.
Brie and Gilpin continue to redefine the bounds of friendship; Britt Baron (as Sam’s daughter) helps push the grizzled director in a new arena. There’s a host of other intriguing characters surrounding the father/daughter match.
Still, it’s the women in the ring who prove irresistible. “GLOW” isn’t the laugh-a-minute comedy you might expect, but a stealthy character study just waiting to pounce.
“GLOW” begins its second season this month on Netflix.