Anticipation is one of TV’s most underrated attractions. Whether it’s the weekly break between episodes, the months (or, more and more often, years) between seasons, or even long-gestating payoffs in will-they-won’t-they romantic couplings, the wait can not only elevate the experience; it can become its own form of entertainment.
The only period of time when this doesn’t apply is the limbo after fans have finished whatever’s put in front of them and await word on if there will be more. With a cancellation, all that built-up excitement can come to an abrupt, heartbreaking end, while a renewal can mean one more year of safety, before being asked to go through it all over again.
But at least you were safe. Part of what’s made the recent string of COVID-cited cancellations so crushing is that series like “Stumptown” on ABC and “I’m Sorry” on truTV had already been renewed. They weren’t in production because there were no productions, but fans didn’t need to worry: It was just a matter of time until they would see their favorite characters again. Like so many logic-defying moments of 2020, such guarantees no longer apply. Due to financial burdens incurred during the shutdown, overlapping commitments of various cast or crew members, questions of production safety, and yes, the reduced attention spans of an audience constantly hungry for more content, networks have been pulling the plug after promising to keep the lights on.
Who’s losing power is an issue all its own, but the latest and most egregious casualty is “GLOW,” the Emmy- and SAG Award-winning original series from creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. After three critically acclaimed seasons tracking the rise and renovation of an all-women wrestling league, Netflix renewed the comedy for a fourth and final season in September 2019. Production even got started earlier this year, before “GLOW” suspended shooting in March due to safety concerns surrounding the global pandemic.
On Monday, October 5, Netflix announced production would not resume. “GLOW” had been canceled, one season shy of completion.
In many ways, the writing was on the wall. Each subsequent season of “GLOW” lost momentum at the preeminent awards shows, and what little we know about Netflix viewership indicated the series wasn’t a huge performer. Also, as cited by a Netflix spokesperson, “a physically intimate show with [a] large ensemble cast” could be “especially challenging” to shoot under COVID safety guidelines. Scenes with wrestling and romance, as well as the large crew required for a period-appropriate ’80s story, are all elements that are more difficult to shoot right now. Rewrites to avoid such things take time and could be costly, depending on contracts and union agreements. Toss in the streamer’s quick trigger for original series once they’ve hit a third or fourth season, and “GLOW” appeared an obvious target for cancellation.
Appearances aren’t everything. For one, I don’t necessarily buy that “GLOW” would be impossible to shoot right now. If an ’80s sci-fi spectacular like “Stranger Things” can continue on with its large ensemble cast, than so could “GLOW.” And if scheduling conflicts were to blame, it’s hard to believe the cast and crew wouldn’t have carved out time from their sure-to-be complicated schedules to provide even a half-season of closure for a show this beloved. Studios have limited lot space and must prioritize titles accordingly, but waiting isn’t an issue when it comes to “GLOW.” Fans are used to it.
Each season of “GLOW” was like a little miracle. As much as you wanted to marvel at each individual episode, the compulsion to keep watching was undeniable. “So addictive in its storytelling, yet so rich in its messaging, ‘GLOW’ demands to be savored one episode at a time and binged 100 times over,” I wrote in my Season 2 review:
“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.”
Together, though, all three seasons are even more remarkable. “GLOW” managed to get better, year after year, despite starting off with all the pieces in place. Plenty of shows adapt and grow, but Flahive and Mensch came out of the gate with an intimate understanding of their characters, their pace, their tone, their goals, and their overall voice. The exact opposite has been a recurrent problem of series in the streaming age: Shows take too long to figure out the best version of themselves, and viewers get tired of waiting and quit. That “GLOW” was able to turn out even better subsequent seasons after nailing its debut is a feat reserved for TV greats.
More to the point, when you’re watching something that good, watching anything else is inconceivable. Your brain becomes so wired to the narrative rhythms and absorbing characters that spending time in another story is practically painful. Credit to the “GLOW” creators that even if you plowed through a season in five hours flat, re-watching proved just as satisfying. Not only could you appreciate the craft and cast, but those now-familiar episodic arcs allowed you to live within them, instead of focusing on what might happen next.
Such sustainability proved vital to surviving the long down time between seasons — especially an extra two-month delay on Season 3 — and it’s even more crucial now that it’s over. While the forever unfulfilled promise of Betty Gilpin’s Debbie Eagan taking control of a TV network is criminally tantalizing, these seasons provide enough closure to be satisfying on their own. Prospective viewers shouldn’t fear watching a series with no official ending, just as established fans should look forward to revisiting the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling anytime they want. Three seasons are more than enough for cult classic status.
Perhaps the heartbreak is too fresh for me to hope another network can revive “GLOW.” Perhaps the fanbase’s established patience as well as the show’s qualitative persistence can work to its advantage yet again; Netflix contracts prohibit their original series from airing on other streaming services for years, with shorter restrictions on cable networks, so being off the air since August 2019 could help it find a new home. But anticipation shouldn’t be the focus anymore.
“GLOW” always left us wanting more — as the best TV tends to do — and just like in prior years, the key isn’t waiting for what’s next. It’s appreciating what’s in front of you.
“GLOW” Seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Netflix.