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Much like its infectious 80’s motifs dotted throughout, GLOW is undoubtedly one of the most charming and joyous pieces of television Netflix has produced. The story of the titular Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling mastering a sport made famous by hench, oily men, while paying homage to the real-life GLOW roster is endearing and wholly inspiring. Both the creators and actors wear their influences earnestly, subverting expectations, and using wrestling as act of empowerment.
Since its initial release in 2017, GLOW has proven to be much more than a wisecracking, spandex-inspired nostalgia rush. It has revealed itself to be highly introspective, cognisant of the challenges that faced so many during the era, and the drive and passion needed to overcome it all. All of which is foisted directly into your face early on in season three.
Previously, The Gorgeous Ladies – along with Bash (Chris Lowell), Keith (Bashir Salahuddin) and Sam (Marc Maron) – were on a bus, heading for Las Vegas to begin the next chapter of GLOW. Season three opens with Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) conducting an interview to promote their live show, when a particular historic event occurs, in which Ruth mistakenly mocks its victims as her Zoya persona – some elite heel work by the lead actress, in fairness. The series’ subversive nature never fails to impress, and its presentation of such a tragedy is just a teaser for how it handles further complex, ultra-sensitive themes.
GLOW has reached an interesting landmark, where it has developed three seasons worth of characters and narratives to traverse. To a point that showrunners, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have surprisingly forgone the show’s initial hook – wrestling – to explore the unexplained idiosyncrasies of not only Ruth, Debbie and Sam, but she-wolf Sheila and the sexually-repressed, closeted Bash. And while the heart of GLOW is, of course, wrestling, the relationships the characters share with each other is equally as powerful.
The Ruth and Debbie will-they-won’t-they entanglement remains the heart of the show, and with each passing episode the relationship mutates; from a duel impersonation of Barbara Streisand to a hilarious showgirl-esque strip tease. With their cold war defrosting, both characters are still given space to develop their own sub-plots.
Both actresses, Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin need to be celebrated for their ability to continually deliver performances that are simultaneously emotionally resonant and effortlessly humorous. Alison Brie is a particular standout, especially during some of the heart gnawing scenes with her prospective love interest, Sam. In other words, she’s acting her face off, as is her opposite number Marc Maron. It is also impressive to see how much the comedian has progressed as an actor; his delivery as the belligerent, coke-fiend director was obviously enjoyable, but seeing him act which such vulnerability, as the utterly lovesick Sam is borderline Emmy-worthy.
The chemistry between these two is unmissable and it’s a shame so many fans are rattled by their age gap, when everyone should be applauding the work they’re putting in – not many actors can simply stare at each other and have you completely invested. (By the way, it’s not like she’s 18 and he’s 72. Get a grip). Plus, it’s great to see the men of GLOW aren’t being ostracised or needlessly lampooned, purely because they’re playing the supporting role, instead Sam and Bash champion their leading women.
This season is markedly different in content than it is in tone, dialling the camp up to Liberace levels of lunacy. Suffice to say, this season has become an issues-led ensemble piece. Little is left untouched throughout the ten episodes: racial identity, sexuality, eating disorders, immigrant trauma and the ever-recurring sexism and misogyny have become the primary focus. In weaker hands, tackling so many societal complexities in a single series could feel like contrived box-ticking or emotional fodder, but each respective torment is confidently weaved through characterisation and well-written dialogue – similarly to how Ruth’s abortion episode played out in season one.
Of course, less wrestling is perturbing, which will disgruntle many watching, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. Between “Freaky Tuesday” and “A Very GLOW Christmas” your suplexing needs will be somewhat fulfilled. For instance, the former climaxes with one of the most nutty, effervescent and fist-pumping wrestling-focused episodes we’ve seen so far. And demonstrates just how brilliantly diverse and talented all these women are as actors.
Narratively, however, it makes sense that we’re seeing less wrestling, since the ladies are repeatedly performing the same show every evening. This way when a new piece of wrestling unfolds it holds resonance, as we, the viewer, and the wrestlers have become jaded by the lack of new content – one character even announces “I can’t remember the last time I actually wanted to watch the show.”
Admittedly, the Vegas backdrop becomes stagnant nearing the final episodes and you find yourself craving the ratty, rundown LA gym where it all began. Though this could be an intentional trait of the season, compounded by the wrestlers growing weariness and desire for change, while others feel stuck. All these intersecting storylines could pay off massively, if Netflix sees sense and commissions a deserving fourth season.
Seeing a series moonsault wholeheartedly into almost every issue plaguing not only the 1980s, but today, regardless how cheesy or complex it may be, is incredibly nourishing. The lingering, final scene leaves the door busted open for a fourth installment, though many fear this might be the last time we see of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – let’s hope that’s not the case. If Stranger Things is Netflix’s undisputed champion, then GLOW has all the heart, drama and perseverance to challenge for the title.