Crossing the Stream: Part 71 - "GLOW" Sn 2

Don't worry, I'm not dead. I apologize if anyone was waiting on baited breath for an update about how tragically difficult it is for me to deal with life without the help of the devil sugar. It's been some kind of week. I work in insurance, and January is the busy time of year. If you're a tax professional, understand me when I say that January is to me what Feb-April is for you. If you work retail or something in the service industry...well, let me start by saying thanks. But yeah, January is kind of a low-amperage, slow-burn Black Friday for 30 days. Too much at once. On top of that, my little girl has a kidney thing. A kidney situation. A urinary tract goof, if you will. So that's just a barrel of fun, too. Hence, this is a day or two late and the blog has been pretty quiet. I'm sorry about that. Not to you, to me. I'm sorry to myself for not getting this type of exercise, too. It's just as important to me.

You'd think I would have sunk deep into a depressive state, covered in chicken grease and artificial caramel-flavoring. I would have thought that, too. But actually, I'm doing pretty well internally under the circumstances. I'm right back down to where I was a few months ago, with my weight at a total loss (since March of '18) of 45 pounds. That feels pretty damn good. Positive results certainly buoy the troubled soul, and the exercise has gotten somewhat cathartic. For instance, someone says something to me on social media that makes me want to beat the ever-loving shit out of...well, not that person, but like an abstract concept of cruelty? Something like that. That happens, and I go to the gym and stomp and push and lift all that out. By the end, I feel better.

Yeah, you read that right, don't go diving for your bifocals. Kyle is starting to enjoy his gym time. Well, it was bound to happen eventually, right?

As far as food goes, I have been rewarding myself with tiny indulgences every now and then. Leftover holiday treats are streaming in and out of every space I dwell in, so sometimes I succumb. But I'm starting to indulge myself the way a normal, functional adult does: like, oh I can have a cookie. One cookie. I'll eat that one, and then walk away. Past Kyle? That big hug-bear can't do that. He needs ten cookies. Part of the situation is that I think my stomach is shrinking. I can't pack food away like I used to. My kids got a pizza dinner reward for helping clean the house, and ol' daddy gorged himself on...two slices. That was it. This was a Little Caesar's pizza, and I worked at Little Caesar's in college. There were many nights I took home a full pie and ate that sumbitch whole, in one sitting, before the end of even one episode of "Scrubs." Ah, good times.

Have you, dear reader, had enough cursed imagery of orange-haired narcissists gleefully talking up their favorite garbage foods? I. Thought. That. You. Might. Have. So let's talk about television!

"GLOW" Season 2, Episodes 1-10

I can say wholeheartedly that the already announced third season of this show is one solid reason why I will continue to stick with Netflix, despite their outlandish price hikes. A show like "GLOW" should exist, and I'm happy to help foot .0000001% of the bill for it.

Now that the "let's put on a show" charm of Season 1 has graduated into a more repertory organization, Season 2 succeeds in spending more time highlighting how each wrestler's story is changed by their contribution to the show. Mere peeks at their inner lives have sprouted into actual character traits and dynamics. Tamme's pride in her son's academics, Shiela's protective feelings toward Ruth, Cherry's struggles with the non-physical portion of the job. This is what the show is about. The show is about women, obviously, but it's about how each woman approaches the world around them. The fun, heartwarming side of this is how each of these talented, spunky characters contribute to the project and the little family in their unique way. As the season winds on we see Jenny as the costume master, Carmen and Cherry as the trainers and choreographers of the matches, and Justine finds herself in the control booth during filming. If there's one satisfying thing about a "show within a show" like this one, it's competency-porn. The satisfaction of watching a group of likable people do good at something cool.

But if we're being honest, that's all really the sizzle to the steak of "GLOW." Again, just like pro wrestling narratives, the characters and their ongoing plots are the scenery and the production value that sells something more fundamental. In wrestling, all that stuff is to sell the realism of the fight, to lend credence to the choreography and consequence to the outcome. On "GLOW," the soap opera structuring of the plot helps to connect an audience to the characters, which in turn lends gravity to its commentaries on show business from a female perspective. The show's jaded eyerolls at casting couch culture, the looming presence of the porn industry just over in the next valley, and the prim nostalgia culture of the Reagan years trying like mad to suppress "unconventional women" feel even more pronounced when concocted at the height of #MeToo.

Not only the many jabs at the white male's uncanny ability to fail upwards in the industry, but the vice-like tension of Ruth's long walk past the "water feature" to uncertain terms with the network head in his bungalow. Almost beat-for-beat the often repeated story of Harvey Weinstein's disgusting entrapment of young actresses, it is a breathless look inside the head of every woman in show business. It's disgusting and heartbreaking that Ruth knows in the back of her head what she is likely walking into and goes anyway. An argument against this sequence is how starkly on-the-nose it is, but on the other hand, this is "GLOW." if you expected subtlety, you're on the wrong 2:00 AM cable channel. This is a show that wants to talk honestly about that stuff, but it's going to tell it LOUDLY, and through as many different female experiences as possible, because context matters.

Ruth and Debbie are our chief examples; it just so happens that Ruth's talent is sanding off the rough edges of Sam's dictatorial directing technique by encouraging collaboration, while Debbie applies her experience as a contract player to the production side of G.L.O.W. It's a very sly development. All through Season 1, I struggled to see how Debbie and Ruth were going to become equal protagonists. While we are immediately sympathetic to Ruth's desperation and artistic zeal, Debbie was painted in the early episodes as something of an adult prom queen confronted with her first actual life problems. She was entitled, icy, and she treated G.L.O.W. and her costars like jokes. Now, with the benefit of her newfound confidence, we see how that character naturally progresses into a leader of the ensemble without losing that more edgy demeanor. It's a smart way for the show to inoculate the audience against Ruth's sometimes too-earnest love of her craft with a dose of ruthlessness (sorry, sorry) that does not come from the men in charge. While Ruth tries to push her way into everyone's heart through enthusiasm and inventive ideas--like the prototypical actor she is--Debbie takes a very character-accurate approach in the opposite direction by intertwining herself with G.L.O.W. on a business level, which she knows is the only level that puts her above Sam's penchant for temper tantrums and cheap power moves like Reggie's firing.

And to think, all that Sam hired them for was to wear skimpy outfits and pretend to beat the shit out of each other. But by the end of the season, Sam fully admits that he doesn't want the show any other way, that it is more fun, more creative, and more fulfilling for everyone to do their part in tandem. Retooling Sam as more of a surly adversary for Ruth in the front half of the season is kind of fine with me, since their friendship in Season 1 never managed to leave behind the uncomfortable power dynamic. It is inevitable that Marc Maron's venomous schlock auteur character would soften over time, but luckily the writing staff of "GLOW" make a point to show how glacially paced his progress is.

Sam and Justine's perpetually apprehensive father-daughter situation seems stuck in suspended animation until we need a convenient place for Sam to become endearing and Ruth to become helpful and giving enough to patch things up. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of ways for a character like Sam to organically ease into an honest, open relationship with anyone. It's kind of fun that such a nakedly artificial plot like the long-lost child (one that pops up with amusing regularity in pro wrestling) is kept on a slow burn for fear of ruining the truth in it. Similarly, this Sam/Ruth romance nonsense that crops up for a few minutes seems designed purely to satisfy some kind of television writing algorithm, and you can miss me with that entirely. No. Effing. Thanks. That relationship, built on the foundation of mutual trainwreck-self-loathing kinship and artistic collaboration, does not need to go in that direction just because they spend the most time on-screen together. I'd rather have something even more contrived, like Sam finding love with new co-parent Rosalie.

But speaking of "GLOW" having a penchant for wrestling-inspired silly plot twists told in as organic and natural way as possible, the finale of the season has quite a few. Bash's surprise objection and proposal at the strange in-kayfabe wedding, to KTLA dropping the bomb that the contracts from the beginning of the season prevent the show from living another life on another network, to Horatio Sanz appearing as a deus-ex strip club owner with a great idea for a Vegas floor show. The contract twist really bugs me, because it immediately devalues the entire "Bash and Debbie hustle the show to other networks" segment that comes earlier, and also implies that no one--not even Mark, the actual honest-to-goodness talent agent--actually read the contract hard enough. That's pretty sloppy, but to be fair I can't quite tell if that's on purpose or not.

"GLOW" seems to keep a running theme of "things never work out exactly how you would expect," which spreads a melancholy streak through the otherwise triumphant bus trip to Vegas that ends the season. A lot of uncertainty and a lot of unspoken feelings, but ultimately what binds the show together is not what will happen, but who will be there to be the star of it. Just as in the wrestling ring, the plots are largely interchangeable and exist merely to tell you why you root for the face and hiss at the heel.

Notes & Quotes:

-"I don't want to put this on. It still smells like beer...and racism."

-The full in-universe episode of G.L.O.W. is a lot of fun, making that a new staple of the current television landscape after "Rick and Morty" and "Atlanta" both succeeded with similar episode gimmicks.

-"More American than a fresh apple pie baking in the backseat of Bruce Springsteen's Chevy on the Fourth of July...Liberty Belle!" I love that Bash is low-key really good at his part of the show.

-Bash's tragic search for Florian seems purposefully written to ride a fine line, as if the introspective look at his own sexuality and his grief and loneliness might be dropped or developed much further, depending on what reaction it gets. How this personal story for him leads to his big dramatic proposal to Rhonda/Britannica I honestly haven't the foggiest, other than it being cleaner than bringing Patrick Renna along as a bumbling husband/slave to Season 3. As a backpedal from the development of the Bash/Carmen relationship, I was not a huge fan of any of this.

-"I'm an insecure old man. I get defensive. Sue me." I feel like a lot of guys should be issued t-shirts with this printed on it.

-There's nothing more heartwarming than Justine and Sam telling each other to finish their screenplays.

-"Where we're going, you don't need legs."
"You DID see Back to the Future!"

-Cherry's husband, Keith, is played as such a supportive, affectionate, strong presence by Bashir Salahuddin. He's not just one of the more consistently funny parts of all the wrestling match sequences, he's a very positive picture of masculinity done right.

Rating: A-

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