THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW OF GLOW’s FIRST SEASON
You know how sometimes when you watch the first season of a TV show you’re left thinking, “That was good, but I bet it gets a lot better next season”?
That’s me with GLOW right now. I binged the 10-episode first season over the weekend. In fact, I only realized how far I’d come in my binge when I was already halfway through the season finale. So, this is clearly a compulsively watchable show, built around a fun premise (A League of Their Own but with wrestling instead of baseball and set in the 80s instead of the 40s), stocked to the brim with colorful characters (a rag-tag bunch of misfit women, one of whom self-identifies as a wolf because why not) and carried by strong central performances (by Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin as two actresses desperate to claim some agency over their careers, even if that means thinking outside the box, or, more accurately, inside the ring). Plus:
From leg warmers, leotards, perms and a healthy mix of familiar and unfamiliar songs of the era (get ready to look up Scandals’ “The Warrior”), the costume and make-up departments as well as the music supervisor really did their jobs on this show.
So, yeah, GLOW is a lot of fun, and has the double benefit of advancing gender parity in Hollywood since women wrote nearly every single episode and directed over half of them (that might be why GLOW‘s occasional nude scenes are so mundane and non-objectified). It’s a genuinely empowering show, one which doesn’t push as hard into that messaging as you might expect, instead trusting the audience to pick up on what they’re laying down. It’s also a show which isn’t afraid to feature a slightly unlikable lead, with Brie perfectly toeing that line and making her character’s obvious desperation, annoying determination and occasional poor decision-making ultimatley endearing.
Really, the biggest and simplest compliment I can pay the first season is that I can’t wait for the second season. However, that’s also because the first season leaves a lot of room for improvement. I like the characters and the basic underdog story being told (a dramatization of the real Vegas-based, ladies-only wrestling organization which lasted for 4 seasons in the late 80s), but co-showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie) still need to iron out some tonal inconsistencies.
For example, for a dramedy GLOW‘s not consistently funny nor is it consistently dramatic. There’s also the expected not-enough-screen-time struggles of an ensemble show with over 10 full-time characters and only half-hour running times per episode, which makes it all the more galling when the show continues to devote so much time to Marc Maron’s enjoyable, but one-note character (he’s really just playing himself) at the expense of elevating more of the women (even Brie and Gilpin occasionally take backseat to Maron).
And for a show about women learning how to wrestle GLOW abandons the whole idea of actually watching them learn how to wrestle astonishingly fast, building to one training montage with Brie and Gilpin and then dropping it altogether. That might seem nitpicky, but when we get to the season finale and a side character is shown to perform a truly impressive move in the ring we have been robbed of any notion of that being an important moment in that character’s arc nor we do know how she even learned to do it.
Brie and Maron, whose character is a washed up B-movie director charged with turning this women’s wrestling thing into a cable TV show even though he’d rather be anywhere else, told EW Radio yesterday morning that season 1 was still being written as they were filming, and they haven’t been told anything about story possibilities for season 2, most likely because Flahive and Mensch are still figuring it out. Assuming Netflix moves forward with a renewal, which would seem like a slam-dunk decision after the social media noise this show made this weekend, season 2 could definitely benefit from a little more advanced planning so that we don’t again reach a season finale in which once-prominent side characters are ignored and season-long storylines are resolved without explanation (e.g., a daughter is embraced by a dad because….um, I guess he had a change of heart off-screen?).
And I bet they fix all of that next season.
This first season is about the making of the pilot which launched the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, meaning GLOW has at least several more seasons in front of it to tell the full story of the half-decade in which these bunch of underdogs nearly toppled the wrestling patriarchy until the man in charge cruelly ended things without explanation or advanced warning.
That’s what really happened (seriously, watch the documentary about the real GLOW; it’s great), but since GLOW is a fictionalized version of events with a bunch of fictional characters (albeit ones at least inspired by real people) it has even more freedom to do whatever it wants. And I have a feeling that the women behind the show have only just scratched the surface of what they’re capable of doing with that freedom.
Have you watched GLOW yet? If so, how far into the season are you? What do you think of it so far? If you’ve finished it already do you think I’m right about it leaving a little room for improvement? Or do I just not get the greatness of this enjoyably scattershot slice of feminist storytelling?