Available on Netflix
TV shows and movies about female empowerment always seem to fail in some way as dramas. Maybe it’s because we generally expect everyone in a drama to be at each other’s throats or maybe it’s because we expect real-life to be full of failure, but anything in which everyone is heart-warmingly co-operative and in which the plucky underdog manages to triumph against the odds – and those who would oppress her – never feels truly authentic.
It doesn’t help that ’empowerment’ has been co-opted as by marketers for just about anything. What Women Want is ruined by many things – including Mel Gibson – but its relentless attempt to persuade you that Nike Women is really all about empowering women rather than extracting cash from them in exchange for over-priced trainers is downright nauseating. And that’s before we get onto anything in which stripping, pole-dancing, posing for naked calendars, beauty competitions et al are portrayed as actually completely liberating experiences, not exploitative, you sexist.
The first season of GLOW was therefore something of a rare beast. At first, little more than a sub-comedic drama set in the 80s world of women’s wrestling – being very loosely based on the genuine show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – it rapidly evolved into a hymn to ineptitude that sees failed actress Alison Brie (Community) working with equally failed schlock film director Marc Maron (Maron) to try to put together a viable pilot for a show about female wrestlers that, really, just isn’t that good. There are terrible storylines, all the women end up playing terrible stereotypes (eg suicide bombers, ‘welfare queens’, evil Russians, members of the Ku Klux Klan) and no one’s actually any good at wrestling or even acting. And at no point doesn’t anyone try to argue that what they’re doing will close the pay gap and end discrimination as we know it
The first season took a little while to get into gear, it has to be said. Mild guffaws, for sure, but it wasn’t until episode seven when they’re actually shooting the pilot that we got some genuine comedy and the season started to come together.
So expectations were… mild for season two. More gentle comedy while a group of slightly diverse women learn to get along together while fighting one another?
Pretty much, yes. That’s what season two is. But let’s not knock that. There are worse ways to spend your time by far, and there is one episode of absolute genius, too.
While season one was all about getting the pilot made and the show picked up, season two focuses on the success – or lack thereof – of the show once it starts airing. Here things continue much as before. Brie’s best friend and the show’s supposed star, Betty Gilpin (Nurse Jackie), still hasn’t forgiven Brie for sleeping with her husband, making ‘Liberty Belle’s on-stage fights against ‘Zoya the Destroyer’ a touch more authentic than they should. Maron’s storylines – and self-hatred – still aren’t great and he increasingly relies on Brie and his daughter Britt Baron to get things done behind the scenes. Meanwhile, we have new arrival Shakira Barrera, who replaces Sydelle Noel as ‘Junkchain’ when she goes off to another TV show, causing problems when Noel returns after learning she has no acting talent, just a gift for stunts.
But just a year on from the first season, empowerment is a slightly different beast from what it was, so don’t be surprised that Brie finds herself in a ‘Weinstein situation’ with a top network executive with the power to launch – or crush – her TV show. On top of that, Gilpin gets a producer credit yet still ends up being patronised by both Maron and ex-rich boy producer Chris Lowell (Enlisted).
Finding its legs
Wrestling is actually less of a concern than in the first season, acting more as a background to the drama and comedy for most of the first season. This could be a TV show about more or less anything – all that counts is that its a group of inept, diverse misfit women getting to be inept and diverse together, working out problems but also coming into conflict, as you might expect with human beings, rather than agitprop.
However, as with the first season, once we get to episode seven, the show takes off. Indeed, arguably episode seven is a work of comedy genius. It’s the point in the storyline when everyone decides to ‘let Bartlett be Bartlett’ and instead of trying ever so hard to be what others want them to be, the show-within-a-show decides to be as insanely wacky as it would like to be. Said episode of GLOW is then simply the episode of ‘Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’ that they make and it’s a glorious pastiche of everything 80s, taking everything from sitcoms such as Perfect Strangers through to generic 80s MTV videos through to ‘We are the world’.
It’s probably one of the funniest half-hours you’ll see this year on its own terms, but it’s a needle-sharp pastiche at the same time.
After that, we get to see how well all of that went down with the networks. Don’t be too surprised that GLOW, as always, takes things up a notch in terms of its ludicrousness, while simultaneously maintaining a certain air of plausibility about just how talented the people involved are.
Season two of GLOW is a warm, silly and occasionally pointed comedy-drama about people who aren’t really very good at very much and how they have to live with that. As well as some good laughs, largely from some deliberately hideous stereotypes, it’s also got a good, well-drawn roster of characters who you will end up caring about by the end of the season. It also surprises with some of its twists and it’s got a brilliant soundtrack – it’s the 80s, so of course it’s brilliant. As usual, it’s Brie and Maron who make the show – and get the best lines – but the supporting cast are still a source of plenty of entertainment, and all get something to do, even that Kate Nash, who gets to ride a unicorn at one point.
It’s 10 half-hour episodes, making it a lot easier to boxset than most shows. Give it a watch. It’s not The Americans but it’ll leave you feeling a lot more empowered afterwards.