Crossing the Stream: Part 58 - "GLOW" Sn 1, Ep 10

Hey there, sorry I've been on radio silence for, like, an entire month. Don't worry, I'm not dead. I've just had a lot of stuff going on, both inside my head and out in the world. For starters, it's podcast season over here at Media Sandwich, with our new show DRAT landing this last week and the main Media Sandwich show returning soon. But also, I've been having a rough one the last few weeks with illnesses, stress, and bouts of unchecked narcissistic indulgence. I have managed to go to the gym at least a few times a week, but the struggle continues. The seemingly permanent plateau of the weight loss filled me with a sense of futility, even if I am succeeding in maintaining my weight. Feels like I'm spinning my wheels. But never fear...I'm still here. I'm sorry to the folks who show up for the television portion of this project, it's really strange of me to get to the very last episode of the season I'm reviewing and then vanish. It didn't feel very good to leave you hanging, but believe me that I kind of needed the break.

I feel like hammered shit today, though. Roiling, lurching stomach pangs and a pounding headache greeted me at my desk after the long holiday weekend, and no amount of cold water, black coffee, or Tylenol can slay it. I'm out of paid leave hours, unfortunately, so I had to stick it out. I hope I'm not the very first person this Autumn to present signs of the flu, but it would be a fitting end to the Summer of Problems that followed my initially inspirational drop from a dangerous weight to a merely concerning weight. Perhaps I'll be able to dive harder into the exercise regimen once this cursed whatever-it-is passes, but today I feel entitled enough to take it easy and merely watch what I ingest.

That's really what today's entry marks: today is the first day of coming back. Funny enough, it's the first day of school in my area, and I have that same visceral "Man, I don't wanna go" feeling that lots of students and teachers have today. I got complacent over the summer. I lost that first 40 pounds and got super cocky, started shoveling sugar and greasy meats down my gullet, and shrugged it all off as "Well, I've earned it." Except, I really haven't. So, despite my convalescence, today is the first day back on the sensible eating habits, beginning with my coffee staying free of sugar and dairy, and hopefully leading to meals being half the size and a little more vegetable-oriented. Truth be told, I can't imagine eating anything as I type this. My stomach keeps threatening to revolt, and I'd best not anger the beast.

So, let's talk about sustainability. Crossing the Stream turned out to be one of the most outwardly rewarding personal projects of my adult life, if anything just because it proved that I'm capable of succeeding at my own casual pace as long as I keep accountable. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your point of view) the writing portion of the project got really labor-intensive and started to become the real chore instead of the exercise. If I'm going to be rocking several podcasts and a few written pieces a week outside of this recurring project, I'll need to budget time differently. Here's the plan going forward: Crossing the Stream will continue as a weekly check-in, with something closer to the review structure that I developed for the sitcom seasons I've already done. So, maybe four or five episodes at a time...a week's worth. And hopefully much less repetition of whiny stream-of-consciousness despair filled with a lot of therapy buzz words. This way Media Sandwich can hopefully thrive off more variety in content and not just become the "television and weight loss" block that it has been for the last few months.

If you're still with me, there's always an implicit "thanks" attached to these posts. The dozens of you who click on these are direct contributors to however much I've added to my lifespan. So, if I occasionally say or write something you aren't fond of down the line, blame yourself I guess. Wasn't that a slick abdication of responsibility on my part? You cannot teach that shit. It's one of the few natural talents I have.

"GLOW" Season 1, Episode 10 - "Money's in the Chase"

At long last, that sparkly free-for-all with the roaring crowd and the flashy costumes that existed only in Sam's imagination came to fruition. Kind of. Gone are the trashier "foxy boxing" and burlesque plays to the audience, and the production is decidedly less glossy and professional. But even though Sam's fantasy vision from the first episodes is better on a technical level, the actual first matches of GLOW work even better. It could be the wrestling personas doing a lot of heavy lifting. It could be that I totally adore most of the wrestlers by now, so I'm way more interested in everything they do. And it might just be that I'm a sucker for any story about a surrogate family wringing some entertainment value out of pure pluck.

How about this? Let's get all the dudes out of the way so we can go back to the fantastic in-ring material in this, the final episode of the season that drops really hard on every side plot it can fit in. Sam, a professional in the art of pushing people away before the sting of rejection can land on him--as we saw with his breakup with Rhonda--takes a few bounding steps toward becoming a functioning human and goes looking for Justine, his long-lost daughter. Which, let's give some credit to the writers of "GLOW" in that they worked such a standard soap opera and wrestling plot into their prestige streaming program and it doesn't feel hokey at all. Especially when Sam barges into the home of Billy the Pizza Punk and then immediately tries to downplay how emotional he is. The secret estranged daughter plot might be cornball, but it succeeds in presenting the character of Sam with a bad situation that he can't just asshole his way out of, and more importantly one that he wouldn't necessarily want to. That, plus the easy way in which Sam begs a cup of coffee and dispels Billy's posturing protective stance, keeps this plotline funny and poignant at the same time. Sam has a kind of command over other people due to sheer audacity and lack of shame, but not the people around him who bring out the best in him, like Ruth and possibly Justine.

Then we have Mark. Big man, finally got back in his house and got his wife to forgive him, immediately makes no effort to hide his churlish dismissal of her chosen craft. Not just the wrestling, mind you, but this was his same thought about "Paradise Cove." He brands GLOW as "so silly," which...yeah, it totally is. That's how performance art works. Especially if it's live. He thinks wrestling is silly, I guess he's never been to see some children's theater. Or dinner theater. Or...most of the shit he probably watches on television without feeling self-conscious. Ever actually sit and watch a "Dragnet" episode? It's twice as garish. But that's the main takeaway with Mark here, not just that he has no respect for Debbie, Ruth, and the rest of these dedicated performers, but that he can only contextualize sitting in the audience as something affecting him. He feels silly watching a wrestling match, and evidently feeling silly is a deal-breaker. Man, does he suck.

Finally, we've got Bash working on-camera as the announcer, which is the biggest no-brainer that slipped past me the entire season, but of course it makes sense. His enthusiasm for the genre is palpable, and his salesmanship is nicely suited to suggesting the proper audience responses as he doles out the in-ring narratives. I don't know from wrestling at all, but I gather from this show and what little snippets I have seen of the genuine article that the whole production doesn't really work without a proper emcee and commentator. It's a big bouncy success for the guy who probably anguished at the thought that he was merely the money factory, and it's a platform on which to build a three-dimensional character.

So, now for those aforementioned Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I'm a wrestling neophyte at best as I've said, but I can appreciate the admirable powerbomb from Carmen after a tense moment where her stagefright threatened to return. The hotel ballroom venue also lends some great ramshackle production elements, such as Florian appearing in a bellhop uniform, or Sheila's entrance on a luggage cart decked out to act as her "cage." Rhonda, as Britannica, doesn't get her fabled horse but just...of course, of course she gets Bash's '80s house robot as a sidekick. The real success of their premiere comes from how plainly it was created through collaboration. The matches go off pretty well, because these ladies are professionals, but the actual production itself is all the more impressive without Sam around calling the shots. Like any good theater troupe, everyone knows what their jobs are outside the ring and the entire show can be run independently without the watchful eye of the director. Even when the crowd size doesn't meet standards, it takes the iron cajoling of Melrose to draw moviegoers away from the Back to the Future line and into the ballroom (and thus vindicating Sam in absentia, after his rock bottom moment regarding time-travel cinema).

Confession time: Debbie's flying cross-body, which she previously aspired to in her desire to "fly," made me shed a few tears. Even though Ruth and Debbie are not burying any sort of hatchet yet, the mutual gushing between them after pulling off their elaborate work and that big finale is the stuff of performing arts nirvana, and it's quite heartening to see them sell it. Debbie's ability to seemingly abandon the show only to dive out of the crowd and literally take center stage hopefully is not lost in the choreography. Debbie is willing to look awful to the other ladies for quitting (though, tellingly, none of them seem to begrudge her the decision) and endure Mark's incessant jabs throughout the show all for the sake of showmanship. She's taken a page out of Ruth's book and simply jumped into the world head-first, and I love her for it even if she's still realistically reluctant to engage with Ruth outside the show.

One thing I really noticed from this finale is that the plot doesn't come close to revolving around Ruth. There are so many self-sustaining plots and dynamic characters at play that the creative team behind "GLOW" has wisely already pivoted the show into an ensemble format. It took "Orange is the New Black" a little longer to figure this out, and that's really the takeaway of this first season of "GLOW," that it seems a more polished, stylish, smarter variation of Jenji Kohan's prison dramedy's structure and tone. I'm curious how the whole "let's put on a show" gee-whiz aspect continues, assuming the wrestling program found a dedicated audience on Saturday mornings. As I jump into Season 2, I expect that characters like Carmen, Sheila, and Melrose might get some more to do beyond injecting some levity into the melodrama. The show is definitely aimed in the right direction, and I think all who are involved can see that.

Random Notes:

-"Invincible" by Pat Benatar is not only the perfect music choice for Liberty Belle/Zoya, it's the perfect choice as a thesis statement for "GLOW" itself. It's an '80s song as shamelessly cheesy and airbrushed as, say, "Don't Stop Believing," but there's a fierce, revolutionary fire to it that conjures the previously meek standing tall, redressing grievances, and doing epic battle.

-Arthie is the one character who gets a lasting disappointment when her heel character starts catching more than boo's. I'm glad this isn't shied away from, as it's part of pro wrestling that kept me uninterested for decades. It's one thing for Ruth to savor her status as Queen Heel (even if Tammé clearly is coming for her there), as her character is easy to put on and take off. But Arthie, Tammé, and Jenny are trapped in real-world mindless hatreds even in the glitzy fantasy of GLOW.

-BTW, Billy the Pizza Punk-Hunk lives in what Sam confirms is one lovely home, with his adorably milquetoast mom. What a world-class poseur Billy is. Don't be like Billy, punks.

Rating: A

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