In Season 1 of GLOW, the series’ overall success was tied to that of the wrestling show within it. As the KDTV GLOW got better, so did the Netflix show. Season 2 starts off with the ladies riding high, their show better than ever, which means the same is true for us. GLOW’s second season is essentially one long payoff, and that makes for positively delightful television. It also confirms that Season 1, which I gave a cautiously hopeful review, was one long first act. The gang had to get together and figure out how to make this show, and each personality and their wrestling character had to be established to give us a narrative baseline, sure. But for the first part of that season, I wasn’t convinced by the attention spent on Marc Maron (when there is a huge cast of women), or the way the women were so crude and often cruel to one another. Those problems smoothed out as the season continued, though, and ultimately led to a great finish. Season 2 starts from that place of greatness and only gets better, thanks to our familiarity with the characters and their personas, and everything that is allowed to build from there.
The foundations of the story remain the same: Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) are at the heart of the series, and their success in the ring has helped mitigate some of their personal issues outside of it. But all of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have been honing their craft since we last saw them, which means that there are even more montages of fights with increasingly complicated maneuvers. There are more fans, more buzz, and a cushy timeslot to help GLOW succeed. But the show-within-a-show never loses its edge, or the need to continue to push further. And for every triumph, there’s a loss; Debbie finagles her way into becoming a producer alongside Sam (Maron) and Bash (Chris Lowell), but Ruth is frozen out by Sam when she takes the initiative to film a (fantastic) new opening sequence.
Whereas Season 1 of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch‘s series could at times be sharp and caustic, Season 2 leans much more into quirky humor, and even a genuine sweetness. The women have bonded in a way that has led to true friendships, and the pacing is faster now that the creation of new character interactions and narratives can happen spontaneously without so much setup. As much fun as those scenes in and around the ring are, though, Season 2 also provides more space to get to know the women better in their personal lives, which is where GLOW’s dramatic work solidifies it as more than just a breezy summer series.
Still, with such a massive cast, certain characters and personalities are inevitably going to get more time in the spotlight than others. Ruth and Debbie will always be in the forefront, while some Season 1 favorites take a step back this year (Britney Young’s Carmen) in favor of giving time to someone like Kia Steven’s Tammé (“Welfare Queen”). There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in this season’s stories, particularly around Debbie and her divorce (like Season 1, Betty Gilpin continues to deliver an outstanding performance in every episode). But there’s also Sam, who is now having to suddenly be a father to Justine (Britt Baron). He’s a jerk still, of course, but he’s also slowly admitting to both his strengths and limitations, and letting the women — primarily Ruth — into his confidence. It’s a theme throughout the series among everyone in GLOW’s orbit; that is, the breaking down of defenses and the acceptance of close relationships.
With the success the women are seeing with their show, there is also consideration given to the fandom that is growing around them, and how they should interact with them. Sheila (Gayle Rankin) has (perhaps unsurprisingly) the weirdest admirers, including a man who dresses up like her and yells out, “I drove all the way here from Bakersfield, at least give me a hug! Let me smell your neck!” Those issues of safety and consent are explored in a number of different ways, including a particularly affecting scene where Ruth is asked to take a meeting with a network president who obviously just wants to sleep with her. Her decision in that moment has repercussions for the entire show, and also draws a perhaps surprising line about who supports her and who doesn’t. It’s also an excruciating moment for viewers, especially in the wake of #MeToo, to see how these strong women are so quickly dismissed and brought low by men abusing their positions of power.
GLOW’s second season is full of both sparkle-glitter fun and compelling character work, which is an unusual and potent combination. There’s also an episode late in the season that is a full episode of the show-within-the-show, and it’s one of the most delightful segments of TV this year. GLOW continues to find ways to innovate, and keeps things light while never shying away from real emotional stakes. There’s a genuine fondness and positivity that emanates from the production, which is full of great examples of close female friendships, as well as the pain of fighting to get those friendships back after a break. GLOW is joyous, delightful, smart and funny television that showcases the complicated dance of strength and vulnerability in women, from Junkchains and She Wolves to Vikings and Liberty Belles.
GLOW returns to Netflix on Friday, June 29th.