If you behave like any responsible adult and start re-watching “GLOW” Season 2 the second you finish “GLOW” Season 2, you’ll notice the highlighted line in the opening scene is aptly meta. “It’s just a picture,” Alison Brie’s Ruth shouts at Sheila (Gayle Rankin), as she sits precariously on the roof to get the best angle on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. “No, it’s not,” Sheila says. “It’s history.”
“GLOW” is not just a picture, either. It’s a jubilant retelling of a largely forgotten corner of the TV landscape, sung more than said from a modern perspective as sharp-eyed in its big picture feminism as it is in its personal grip on characters. And by the end of the season, it feels like a piece of history; a landmark comedy that’s not just a comedy, but a time-bending, heart-filling, eye-opening burst of light in ever-darkening times. If these ladies can do it in the ’80s, there’s got to be hope for 2018.
Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s series is meta on so many levels they’re hard to track, yet easy to overlook. “GLOW” doesn’t smirk at its own ingenuity as it connects the outside world of making a Netflix streaming series to the inside narrative of making a broadcast wrestling show; that, in itself, would be too familiar for these rule-breakers. “GLOW” doesn’t fit neatly in a box because it’s actively ripping them apart in the narrative. It’s a comedy and a drama, sure — what half-hour series isn’t? — but a show that would be R-rated for language, nudity, and drug use still feels wholesome enough for PBS. Episodes run from 26 minutes to 36 minutes in length (plus a 46-minute finale), and yet there’s no bloat here, like other Netflix entries.
Season 2 takes on key topical issues like immigration and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as ongoing problems like minority representation and across-the-board equality. With all of this swirling through 10 episodes anchored by an exceptional ensemble cast, “GLOW” is still about saving one fractured relationship. Early in the season, Ruth and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) are still trying to recover from their platonic break-up last season, and power dynamics at work force compelling confrontations. As with most disputes in “GLOW,” viewers are made to see both sides because each side is multi-dimensional: Ruth loves the show more than Debbie, but Debbie is still hurting from what Ruth did. Ruth is filled with passion and ideas, but Debbie knows how to get things done (especially in a man’s world).
There are more than a few key moments — almost all of which occur at the heart of the season, in Episodes 5-7 — where the audience will flip-flop between who’s in the right, but what makes “GLOW” so damn good is the same thing that makes it feel so damn good: You’re never rooting against anyone. You’re always rooting for Ruth and Debbie, as well as the rest of the “GLOW” team. Even when a character is making a bad decision, there’s such strong motivation for it that viewers can’t roll their eyes or otherwise disconnect from the moment.
With that in mind, there’s also a bold choice regarding workplace romances, one that pushes the audience to root for a couple while identifying the very tricky terrain they’re both walking. (Even better, neither character is self-assured enough to carry the other over the landmines — their mistakes, a.k.a. the explosions, will be more relatable, entertaining, and informative.) In a season that also acknowledges the disgusting history of trap hotel room meetings between a male boss and a female employee, it goes to show how wide-ranging the Season 2 subject matter gets.
Herein lies the game-changing aspect of “GLOW”: It’s the rare series that tries to have it all and succeeds. It’s topical and fun; it’s exciting and poignant; it’s got long episodes and a short episode total; it’s got a standalone episode told from one viewer’s perspective and fully drawn supporting arcs; it’s inclusive from every angle, addresses issues of inclusivity, but doesn’t define its minority characters by those issues. Everyone is invited to the party, and “GLOW” is one helluva party.
“GLOW” shows what’s possible when great filmmakers are given free reign to put on a show while instilling a narrative with their fiercest beliefs. It deserves to be watched 100 times over just as every episode needs to be appreciated on its own, so when old men (like yours truly) shout about binge-watching eroding our culture, “GLOW” will be the show that shuts them up. When critics complain about bloated Netflix runtimes, “GLOW” will be the exception people point out. When executives claim people won’t watch a story about women, “GLOW” needs to join the evidentiary ranks of “Wonder Woman,” “Girls Trip,” and so many others that say, “Go fuck yourselves.” So watch however you like; just watch. This is not just a picture. It’s history.
“GLOW” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.