Tuesday, July 3, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'GLOW' - Season 2

Netflix's GLOW returned for its ten-episode second season on Friday, June 29. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The comedy stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Britt Baron, Kate Nash, Sydelle Noel, Gayle Rankin, Kia Stevens, Jackie Tohn, Britney Young and Marc Maron.

201. "Viking Funeral"
Written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch and directed by Lynn Shelton

The first season of GLOW forged the bonds of female friendships amongst the core cast while also building to the taping of the pilot episode of the show-within-the-show. And now, the second season promises to have even more wrestling and drama. This is such a strong and compelling premiere. It puts the audience right back into this environment highlighting how these women have actually gotten close as friends. It puts them at odds when Sam brings in someone new to replace Cherry while also having lackluster ideas about how to produce the show. But more importantly, the show is truly questioning if Sam understands what type of show he is directing. He comes to work all prepared while also stressing about being in charge of everything for the next 20 weeks of tapings. And yet, he basically just wants the same formula every week while also being incredibly paranoid that either Ruth or the executives at the network are trying to replace him. Throughout the first season, he came to rely on Ruth quite a lot. She just wants to put in good work in order to keep the show a success. Everyone understands that she doesn't have aspirations of directing or believes she can run GLOW better than Sam. She's just pitching in where she could be helpful. It's a position she has frequently been in as well. She has had to become the unifying force of the show because she could help focus the women when Sam couldn't communicate what was actually going on. But it's also so surprising and dramatic to see everything turn completely once Sam starts lashing out at Ruth for delivering this fun and light title sequence. Sure, it's amusing that the premiere is about the creation of a title sequence from a show that only airs its title sequence during its premieres. I'd love to see GLOW's titles more often this season. But it's also just a fun montage that highlights how the show captures the spirit of the '80s while also being very modern with its depiction of female friendships. But it's all building up to that moment where Sam calls Ruth replaceable just as he is reading that Debbie has negotiated her way into becoming a producer on the show. He is absolutely wrong with that statement. And yet, Debbie is the one actually putting things into motion to ensure that she has a stake in the show. She has the power to do so. Sure, it could also alienate her even further from the rest of the cast. She does feel superior to them despite also having a good time at the mall. But she's also just aware enough to know that she can negotiate a better deal instead of just signing the contact given to the women just like Ruth did. B+

202. "Candy of the Year"
Written by Nick Jones and directed by Mark A. Burley

Alison Brie is the star of GLOW but Ruth is not the star of the show-within-the-show. That is such a fascinating dichotomy. The first season certainly framed Ruth's story with importance. It was all building up to that big match in the finale between Zoya the Destroya and Liberty Belle. Ruth and Debbie were going to have this epic rivalry in the ring. And now, that narrative has largely been taken over by Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen. That's providing the show with its narrative spine as Sam continues to figure things out. Right now, the production team is slowly just making the appropriate adjustments in order to keep the audience engaged by delivering the most exciting matches. Storytelling is still important as well. But it's also clear that Sam is still punishing Ruth. She still desperately craves his approval and to know if there is anything more that she can do. That has always been her role on the show. But now, she's at a loss after realizing that she really is nothing more than a member of the ensemble. Debbie is the star of the show who was able to negotiate her way into a producing credit. Of course, Sam and Bash don't take her all that seriously in that role. They just see it as a vanity title instead of something of actual merit. Sam is directing the show while Bash is performing and putting money in the production. Debbie is nothing but the star who gives the show its narrative spine of the episodes in the early going. Of course, she is still alienated from everyone else. She cares about this job while still seeing it as incredibly silly. In fact, it's moving when Tammé actually shows up to the producer's dinner to actually form a relationship with the woman she is now in a grudge match with. They can genuinely connect as mothers even though they have their differences as well. Debbie can't completely relate to all of the crummy jobs that Tammé has had to work. As such, there is still some distance between them. And yet, it also proves that the people actually willing to put the work in to make an impact are actually being rewarded. This is apparently an environment that rewards risk-taking. For Debbie, it's simply inspiring Bash through candy. That gets his respect. For Stacey and Dawn, it's actually going all in on the costumes and effects when pitching their idea for a change to their characters - even though they stole the idea from Arthie who wants approval before making Jenny create the costume. And then, Ruth actually finds inspiration through Yolanda's breakdancing in order to find a new gimmick that will allow her to get back on the show. Sure, it's completely ridiculous and shows that the white characters succeed over the frustrations of their co-workers of color. But that's the pointed commentary as well. B

203. "Concerned Women of America"
Written by Sascha Rothchild and directed by Kate Dennis

Ruth wants to be a well-respected peer to Debbie and Sam. She is willing to work hard to prove that she does have some great ideas that can actually help the show. And yet, it's also fascinating to see Sam and Debbie exploit those talents while also making sure that Ruth is put in her place as well. Ruth wants these friendships to work out. The audience is probably invested in them as well. We see just how easy it is for Ruth and Debbie to slide back into being friends who finish each other's sentences in their big brainstorming session here. That moment has a terrific punchline with neither of them knowing how to use a typewriter. But it's also clear that Debbie is keeping Ruth at work in order to disrupt her date with Russell the camera guy. She just doesn't want Ruth to be happy. As such, this relationship almost becomes abusive. Ruth believes she sees hints of loneliness and depression within Debbie. She wants to become a friend and not just a work colleague. But Debbie still needs to reject that invitation by saying that she has more priorities in life than the show and this friendship. She needs to be a mother as well even though she is returning to a lonely house. All of this work is being done to craft a PSA for teen abstinence from sex in order to appease a concerned watchdog group of parents. It's such an '80s story with the idea that a simple PSA can suddenly appeal to these viewers concerned about the messages the show is sending out to young children. But at the same time, it's also just fun watching the girls try to build on their fame and actually get some sex after weeks without it. That's just such an amusing storyline. It then balances nicely with Cherry's struggles on the set of her new show. She is finally hired to be a lead actor. And yet, she's still not treated with the respect that she deserves once the producers have a problem with her performance. They would much rather change things without informing her even though it's so crushing to her identity as a performer and a woman. Sam is the only one who speaks frankly with her. She just can't act right now. She may need some classes in order to better ease into this transition in her career. It's so emotional and dramatic. But there's also the sense that the family is being reunited now that Cherry has been rehired by GLOW. As such, there is still hope that things will be able to work out amongst the show family. B+

204. "Mother of All Matches"
Written by Kim Rosenstock and directed by Mark A. Burley & John Cameron Mitchell

So far, this season has been building to the big match between Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen for the crown. That match finally occurs here. It's so absolutely thrilling and exciting to watch as well - especially considering the impact the show is already having with the viewers and the characters. Debbie and Tammé have so much in common in their regular lives. Of course, there is plenty that differs between them as well. Right now, they feel connected as mothers and are worrying about how their actions will eventually impact their children. Debbie is worried that her career and her divorce will scar Randy. And yet, he's still too young to really understand what's going on. It's still such a moving moment when it's revealed that she made sure to keep his room untouched even though she sells everything else in her house. That sale was to spite Mark for being the worst. But it's also a freeing moment for Debbie as she gets a way to start over - until she's hit with the realization that she forgot to pick up her son from daycare. Meanwhile, Tammé actually has a son in college who understands the world and the importance of telling stories about people of color in a positive and strong way. She is afraid of what he will think about her new job. She understands just how offensive all of the stereotypes can be. She wants to justify it by saying that everything is so over-the-top, ridiculous and offensive. In fact, that fuels the excitement and joy of the title match between Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen. It's an exciting moment for all involved. It's so thrilling to watch more of the produced episodes of the show knowing that the women all have the skills to be paired together in various different ways to create new storylines. Here, it's easy for Debbie and Tammé to just embrace their characters during the match. But it's still absolutely heartbreaking when Tammé is being berated by the crowd to get a job in front of her son. Those tears and fears are real and genuine. Her running off the stage is a pure reaction to wanting to do right by her son. But that moment also highlights how Welfare Queen has actually become quite an entertaining heel for GLOW. She has more fans than Zoya - who was the initial heel to Liberty Belle and who gets inserted into the conflict here to engage the audience once more. People still have sympathy for Welfare Queen even though they get into the moment too much to aid in Liberty Belle's taunting. Again, it highlights the extremes of this world while also showing just how destructive it can be because it is still playing with some absolutely horrifying stereotypes. Tammé and Debbie are both working hard to be mothers who provide for their children. They are feeling the need to put them first in their lives. But it's also so much fun to see how this job wrestling on television is affecting those relationships as they try to keep things from spiraling out of control in their personal lives. A

205. "Perverts Are People, Too"
Written by Rachel Shukert and directed by Claire Scanlon

That final conversation between Ruth and Debbie is so absolutely devastating and destructive. This could easily be labeled the #MeToo episode where the show tries to shoehorn in a typical story that plays differently to today's audiences. And yet, it also makes sense for the show to tell a story about Ruth being lured into a hotel room by the head of the network who wishes to have sex with her. It's also so incredibly fascinating to see what the show is hoping to get out of that conversation. It's such a format-breaking show because it's about this huge ensemble of women and is both written and directed by women. This is an incredibly feminist show that still acknowledges that the '80s and the present day aren't all that different after all in regards to sexism. Ruth is absolutely stunned when she learns what Grant's true intentions are with her. She felt so proud to say that she was strong and independent in her career for the first time as well. Then, she was immediately belittled. That led to the show in its entirety being punished. Debbie, Sam and Bash had a meeting scheduled with Grant to pitch the stories for the rest of the season. And now, Debbie believes that Ruth is responsible for turning the head of the network against the show and pushing them to a time slot absolutely no one will see. This episode proves that the show has had an impact on the world. The girls have their fans. But it also inspires a conversation about how much they should play into this narrative of demeaning themselves for the perversions of others. Yes, it's a great way to earn money for the show in staging this meet-and-greet. But Ruth has such a different reaction seeing Sheila actually be a part of the event then before when Sheila was raising all of these concerns about her privacy being violated. Ruth has newfound respect for her. Even when she has been living as a wolf for years, she is still made uncomfortable and afraid by people who just want to judge and demean her. Ruth can't understand how that hasn't gone away with time. As such, it could be predictable that she too is put in a situation where she is made to be nothing more than a sexual object. But it's even more devastating watching Debbie belittle Ruth for now suddenly having morals even though this is the way that the business has always worked. Yes, it sucks but it's what actresses have to do to survive. That moment is incredibly telling because it reinforces the idea that Debbie now sees Ruth as nothing more than the stereotypical actress with no moral conscious who is willing to do anything to succeed. As such, her leaving that room is the only thing that could possibly motivate this decision by the network. And yet, Debbie's advice is so contradictory to what she is preaching for herself. She is pushing for more responsibility and ownership of the show and the character. She is breaking the norms for herself while also belittling anyone who is trying to do the exact same thing. That's especially devastating. B+

206. "Work the Leg"
Written by Marquita J. Robinson and directed by Lynn Shelton

Debbie and Sam have such completely different reactions to hearing Ruth's story about what happened in the hotel room meeting with Grant. That's not completely surprising either. Ruth is afraid of how Sam will react when she tells him the truth about why the show was suddenly punished by the network. Debbie and Sam have had so much animosity towards Ruth this season. They wanted to ensure that she knew her place even though she is an essential component of producing the show. And now, Ruth is second guessing herself in every interaction when she goes to see one of Sam's old movies in a basically empty theater with him. It's somewhat odd because the show just makes it seem like Justine only invited Ruth even though she should have been trying to fill the theater up with as many people as possible. The show could have still produced the same end result with the rest of the GLOW girls simply not wanting to attend. The power is in Sam and Ruth interacting. In that moment, she's afraid of how he'll react. She doesn't want to be judged and yelled at again. But it's surprising that he's supportive of her while clearly seeing Grant as this despicable person who should be punished. Sure, it's still not a great reaction. Sam mostly just enjoys the clarity it provides him regarding the show. But it's still a reaction that seems to thaw the tension between them as well. However, things are much more complicated between Debbie and Ruth because they are actually wrestling in the ring together. There has to be some level of trust in that relationship. Right now, there isn't. Even Carmen is able to point out that their weird friendship is more distracting than usual. And yes, that's highlighted throughout the training montage as well with it seeming like it takes awhile for Ruth and Debbie to get comfortable fighting in the ring once more. And then, everything goes completely out of the window once the show starts its taping. Debbie is hitting her breaking point over the divorce. She doesn't really have anyone in her life who she can just genuinely be herself with. There is just too much that isolates her from the rest of the girls. And yes, those are barriers that she put in place. But now, she is choosing to take comfort in snorting some of Sam's cocaine. That's so dangerous and proves that she's out of her mind while in the ring. She's suppose to be this symbol of Reagan patriotism. Instead, she's high on drugs and taking out her anger in the match. That pushes Ruth to her breaking point - literally. Debbie is essentially snapping her leg. In that moment, they aren't just characters in a show trying to entertain the masses. Instead, Ruth needs to drop the facade to let Debbie know that she has done significant damage to her body. But even then, it's unclear if Debbie actually hears it. A-

207. "Nothing Shattered"
Written by Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch & Sascha Rothchild and directed by Sian Heder

At times, it seems like Ruth, Debbie and Sam get all of the focus and attention in this series. Sometimes, the other characters are just there in the background for a collection of really solid jokes. This season really hasn't done a whole lot to deepen the audience's understanding of Cherry, Carmen, Rhonda, Arthie, Jenny, etc. As such, the show runs the risk of the story here not working out. This is a show that celebrates female friendships. This job means so much to Ruth because it is so much more than just a job acting. She actually has people in her life who care when she gets injured. She spends the majority of this episode either being carried around or in a hospital bed. And yet, it's so thrilling and amusing to watch all of the characters care for her at the hospital while also trying to entertain her. Her future on the show is the furthest thing that they care about. They just want to know that she's safe. And yet, it's also important to note that Ruth has so much love for this job because it has been so completely life-changing for her. As such, people's attempts to undermine its importance or her injury are so devastating to her. Sam keeps saying that she's not going to die even if her ankle is broken. Debbie wants to say that it's no big deal because the show is getting cancelled anyway. However, this is a huge deal for Ruth because this show has given so much to her that she never would have gotten. She spent a decade of her life trying to get her career started. And now, she has a job that she loves as well as friends who care about her. She has lived amongst them and is genuinely invested in their lives. She wants to help others succeed. She has the confidence to stand up for herself. And now, this injury forces Ruth and Debbie to have an epic fight. It's what has been brewing all season long. It's so vital that Debbie says that there is nothing that Ruth can do that will ever make her forgive her for sleeping with Mark. That's all that Ruth needed to hear this entire time. Now, she can actually stop trying to restore their friendship to what it once was. But it's also so crucial for Ruth to call out Debbie's own power complex. No one knows that she was high on cocaine during that match. That's something that Debbie is choosing to keep a secret. And yet, her need to always be seen in the power position no matter how lonely and isolating it becomes for her has alienated her from the rest of the show. She just doesn't understand the bonds of friendship as well as the rest of the girls. This may be the first time she has had a genuine conversation with Sheila. Even then she still finds a way to put her down by saying it's difficult to imagine her having parents. But that moment still allows Debbie to see that she has acted wrong in the past and needs to apologize to Ruth. But again, her writing her apology on Ruth's cast doesn't ultimately fix everything better them. The show will still be ambiguous about whether or not they should be friends again. Here, both are able to say that it had problems long before Ruth slept with Mark. They are being more honest now. But it's just much more rewarding for Ruth to have developed and strengthened so much across two seasons while Debbie is still holding onto her resentment. A

208. "The Good Twin"
Written by Nick Jones & Rachel Shukert and directed by Meera Menon

This is such a fun and joyous episode of television. It's the pinnacle of everything that GLOW is aspiring to do. It's just so inventive to see the season just produce an actual episode of the show-within-the-show. It's a concept that didn't need to be done at all. The show had already shown enough of the series that everyone involved was working on. But this episode truly highlights just how weird and eclectic the series can actually be. The wrestling is really just one aspect of the overall show. In fact, this is the kind of storytelling that everyone involved feels the freedom to produce now that they are on the road towards being canceled. They can do whatever they want right now in order to feel empowered. It's so brilliant to watch because it's clear that this was the episode pitched by the actresses in order to highlight the stories that they actually want to tell. Sure, it's still all completely ridiculous with the numerous '80s stylized touches. But it's so bold and imaginative as well. It's easy to see the breakout potential of so many in this deep ensemble. This is the episode that truly lets everyone shine. Yes, Liberty Belle and Zoya are still front and center to drive the main plot forward. In fact, the show produces even more work for Ruth to do by giving Zoya a twin sister who is actually good and who comes to America to help Liberty Belle reunite with her daughter. It's fun and playful while still being a strong workaround for her recent injury. But it's all of the minor details that mean so much in the grand scheme of things - the return of GlowBot, Melrose's music video, Welfare Queen selling action figures, the fake commercials of other programs on the network and the new corporate sponsor, the silliness of the lock combination, etc. In fact, it's impressive that the production was able to get a goat for this episode. It's a goat that largely interacts with Ruth and Sheila. But that moment with Sheila is so powerful while also feeling like such a satisfying response to everything that happened between Ruth and Grant earlier this season. It just tells the simple story of Sheila the She Wolf eating this goat after it gets too handsy with her. That's so inventive. It's also just terrific watching Arthie be able to break out of her Beirut the Mad Bomber persona even for just a little bit. It's such an absolutely gorgeous dance fantasy that shows that both she and Yolanda are insanely talented. It proves that every idea is currently being validated and heard amongst the show. As such, things are simply allowed to just go for the silly. The plot with Britannica wanting to bring her mannequin lover to life is so strange while still paying off the randomness of Rhonda's obsession with it to spite Sam earlier this season. Plus, it serves as such a strong introduction for Cherry's new wrestling persona Black Magic who enters the ring and is able to produce a match unlike anything the show has shown so far. The show is absolutely winking with all of the references to the production values and how the team has to make due with what they have. But it's so collaborative as well with Debbie opening her home for the Griefercize moment and Sam actually using the opening credits that Ruth filmed in the premiere. It shows the collaborative nature of the ensemble and how everyone wants to make the best show possible even though they know that they will likely be canceled soon. They are just making the most of what they are given. But that means the entire cast putting on an epic "We Are the World" parody to sing about why people shouldn't be kidnapping children. It's just so brilliant and a true delight. A

209. "Rosalie"
Written by Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch & Kim Rosenstock and directed by Phil Abraham

For two seasons now, it's been unclear if the show was actually telling a will-they?/won't-they? story with Ruth and Sam. Their relationship has always been so complicated. It definitely felt like there was romantic tension between them. It could have easily made the pivot into a full-on romance at any point in time. And yet, it's also important to note that they are so codependent of each other in regards to this job. They don't believe they could have gotten any of this without the support from the other person. As such, it's easy to see why they would confuse that with chemistry even though it's still a boss trying to have sex with his employee. It also highlights the growth of the characters this season. Yes, it still produces that moment where Sam goes in for the kiss. But it's also rewarding for Sam to realize that Justine was just using him as a way to fuel her teenage rebellion with her mother with life in Sacramento not being that bad at all. He wants to motivate her to find her own path in life and not simply be chasing a bunch of loser guys. Meanwhile, Ruth is able to recognize that she needs to break her pattern of being attracted to dysfunctional men. Nice and consistent isn't really bad in the grand scheme of things. Of course, it also seems unlikely that Sam and Russell will work out because rom-coms typically dispatch the nice guy in favor of the male lead during the end game of the story. But it's still a pretty fascinating development even though this episode is mostly a come down from "The Good Twin" while setting things up for the finale. It shows that everyone is operating with the understanding that GLOW is ending but they'll still be a part of each other's lives. It highlights how the cast will still have lives outside of the show even though they may not be as exciting as what this time together was. Sure, that also produces a destructive moment for Rhonda where she listens to the other girls' advice only to learn that she has 30 days to leave the country. As such, the big finale will be her marrying her biggest fan who already comes across as a creep who would probably stalk her around everywhere she goes. That's bound to have an unfortunate ending too. Meanwhile, Debbie and Sam are trying to save the show by getting another network to pick it up. That's timely and relevant even though the convention they attend is incredibly dated. Their whisper campaign works though. Throughout that entire sequence in the bar, it seems like something is bound to go wrong. But the buyers are actually interested in the show and want to come to the finale taping. The true devastation comes when Bash gets the news that Florian has died from AIDS complications. That's a heartbreaking moment that shows that he is one of the few characters who is simply refusing to look within and accept what is true about him. He is devastated by this news but he also needs to run away from it only to find a bar filled with people whose lives haven't just been shattered. B+

210. "Every Potato Has a Receipt"
Written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch and directed by Jesse Peretz

GLOW produces some terrific finales. Sure, a lot of that can be attributed to the rush of adrenaline that comes from watching the final wrestling match. Once again, the show follows the pattern of just adding twist upon twist in the hopes of surprising not only the characters but the audience. And yet, it's so absolutely rewarding as well. The focus of this finale for GLOW is Rhonda marrying her biggest fan, Cupcake, in the hopes of getting to stay in the country. The production is going all out because they believe this could be their final show ever if another network doesn't buy it. But the wedding is the center of the first massive twist with Bash stepping forward to say that he will marry Rhonda instead. It's a moment of pure desperation as he's afraid of being alone. This show is fundamentally about this group of outsiders finding a community where they belong and have the freedom to experience themselves without being judged. This finale still produces that moment where Arthie and Yolanda kiss. That's very empowering and inspirational even though the live audience doesn't seem to react very much. But it's so absolutely devastating to see Bash latch onto this narrative of what being an adult must be like in his desire to avoid processing his true feelings about Florian and his death. He scrubs the entire house in a gay panic. He fears about what all of this actually means. He's terrified that he could die the same way. As such, he refuses to address the reality of the situation. But it's so absolutely cruel that he allows Rhonda to believe that he has actually fallen in love with her. She is going to absolutely clean up once Ruth also points out she's marrying a millionaire without a prenup. Of course, that too could be complicated since they'll need to get an updated marriage license that reflects the two people who actually got married. But that's mostly just gleaned over amongst all of the chaos. The same is also true of Cherry and Keith talking about having a baby while Debbie and Mark have finalized their divorce and seem to be healthy co-parents now. Those seem like rushed developments. That's in contrast to Sam watching Justine and Rosalie leave even though he knows he won't be present in much of their lives moving forward. But the true greatness of this finale comes from the pure chaos in the ring. The wedding descends into a group wrestling match with everyone battling for the crown that is now symbolized through the catching of the bouquet. That, in turn, dovetails into resolution to Carmen and Cherry stealing wrestling moves from some male stars. As such, all of this becomes a true battle of the sexes that proves just how much Debbie has come to enjoy this show and her skills as a wrestler. She was so reluctant to do all of this. And now, she's working with a complete stranger in the heat of the moment to craft a really entertaining match for the audience. It's all capped with Ruth being able to fly in and steal the crown for herself. That's such a rewarding moment because it gives Ruth such a happy ending after a season of such personal turmoil for her. Of course, none of this saves the show because Glen and the network own the rights to broadcast these characters thanks to the contracts they all signed. But there is also the convenient solution that pops up immediately with the show moving into a complete live format every night in Las Vegas. That's very exciting because it promises a change in venue and sets in the third season. That's promising while also having the potential to send this cast of characters into even more chaos and personal difficulties. A