There are several dramatic dropkicks throughout the excellent second season of Netflix’s GLOW. You’ll notice them, because they’ll knock the wind out of you – each one acting as a rude awakening to the world outside of the wrestling ring.
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The most affecting – and timely – sees Ruth Wilder, the scrappy, striving actress-turned-pro-wrestler played by Alison Brie, embroiled in an uncomfortable dinner with a TV network head, which unexpectedly takes place in his hotel room. Their ladies wrestling show has become a runaway hit, and he wants to “discuss her character”.
You can see where this is going, as I did – nonetheless, it’s an excruciating watch, as Ruth’s eyes fill with sadness and resignation as she realises what is happening.
This #MeToo movement leaves a major mark on the season’s halfway point, yet, a couple of episodes later, we’re fully immersed in a wildly entertaining episode of the women’s wrestling series that they’re making, in full.
It’s upon this type of juxtaposition that GLOW thrives, as reality in various forms – sexism in the industry, the exploitative nature of some of the characters such as Welfare Queen and The Terrorist – brings us thudding back down to the mat.
Season 2 picks up a few weeks after season 1, as the gorgeous ladies of wrestling head into their first few weeks of shooting their newly picked-up TV series.
Ruth and Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) friendship is still on the thinnest of ice, though the time they are forced to spend together as wrestling adversaries Stoya and Liberty Belle seems to be helping. Justine (Britt Baron) is living with Sam (Marc Maron), in the wake of the revelation that she is his daughter, rather than an obsessive fan.
Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) has left the show for a shot at mainstream TV, and newcomer Yolanda (Shakira Barrera) has been hired to replace her as junk chain.
The rest of the ensemble is back in full, too – and, impressively, most of them are dealt enough screen-time for significant character development.
The real winner in the supporting cast, though, is Kia Stevens, who has almost an entire episode to herself, which explores the complexities of taking on the degrading job of portraying Welfare Queen, a token “lazy” black woman on a white-run show for the amusement of a predominantly white audience. It sees her reckon with her position in front of her disapproving son, whom she is putting through an Ivy League college.
Over the course of the season, she develops an unlikely friendship with Debbie – who, in the throes of a divorce, is not doing all that well, herself – as two single mothers who recognise one another’s struggle.
But, in truth, everyone is struggling. Ruth is still confronting the deep sense of loneliness that pervaded much of season 1 – and led her into bed with her best friend’s husband. Arthie (Sunita Mani) is increasingly uncomfortable with the offensive character, “The Terrorist”, that was forced upon her by Sam. “Mine still smells of beer… and racism”, she says of her costume after she was pelted with abused by a crowd of angry white men in the season 1 finale.
Yet, remarkably, none of this extra baggage weighs the series down. It gives the characters depth – and leaves us with a greater incentive to root for them when things take a turn for the worse in their professional lives – the only area where things seem to be going ok – in the back half of the season.
Crucially, these dramatic shifts are pulled off without the loss of season 1’s joyous 1980s underdog story vibe. Bumps and bruises are taken as par for the course along the way – and the resilience of the women gives us hope that, in one way or another, everything will be alright in the end.
GLOW season 2 arrives on Netflix UK on Friday 29th June 2018