The next time you want to waste a couple dozen minutes, take a look at “future original TV shows” on Netflix’s Wikipedia page. It’s both intriguing and exhausting. There’s everything from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (think Riverdale, but Sabrina the Teenage Witch), to The Umbrella Academy (based on the comic book series by My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way), to Carmen Sandiego (which answers the eternal question: she’s on Netflix), to Untitled Formula One docu-series to Untitled Dolly Parton series to Untitled docu-series about the murder of Grégory Villemin to… you get the idea.
Netflix wants something for everyone, and they’re succeeding. (I don’t know why we need a new She-Ra animated series, but I’m happy for the target audience of, like, five people.) This strategy of throwing a bunch of shows at the wall and seeing what sticks allows niche (i.e. not four quadrant) programming like American Vandal and BoJack Horseman to flourish, but the #content oversaturation also makes it tougher for things to break through. And even if do, the shelf life is only a few days before the next Marvel season comes along.
That’s what makes GLOW so impressive. It’s one of Netflix’s few proverbial water cooler shows (said water cooler would then be thrown at a charging wrestler), and, perhaps not coincidentally, I’d argue the ideal Netflix show.
I watched all of GLOW season two, which premiered last Friday, over the weekend. This is an extreme rarity for me for the same reason I eat all my french fries before my burger (I’m a monster, so what): I want to savor it. I didn’t consume entire seasons of BoJack or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, my two favorite Netflix shows, in two days, but I couldn’t help myself with GLOW. It’s addictively good (season two is a step up from season one, and season one was really good), but there’s more to it than just quality. It’s also the format.
But before I go any further, I should explain what I mean by “ideal Netflix show.” It should be something that’s easy to watch, but not so easy that it becomes mindless fluff, like Friends reruns. The episodes should stand apart but feel like part of a whole, the season should not be unnecessarily long (looking at you, every Marvel show), and you should want to re-watch episodes, if not the entire season, to either pick up plot points you missed or because they were so delightful and/or powerful. (Can you imagine watching literally any episode of House of Cards more than once?) Netflix would also, I imagine, want the show to transcend TV and seep into the real world, with GIFs, think pieces, BuzzFeed quizzes (“Answer These 7 Questions About Yogurt, And We’ll Tell You Which Ozark Character You Are”), Halloween costumes, etc. In other words, “ideal” equals the series that best epitomizes what Netflix wants and strives to be.
With all that in mind…
Simple math dictates that half-hour-long (or thereabouts) episodes are easier to watch than hour-long episodes, so GLOW already has an advantage over Orange Is the New Black (created by GLOW producer Jenji Kohan), House of Cards, 13 Reasons Why, The Crown, etc. (I left Stranger Things off for a reason — we’ll get there.) Marvel shows, from Daredevil to Jessica Jones to Luke Cage, tend to run out of steam with too-slow plotting halfway through every season, so they’re exempt. As previously mentioned, BoJack and Kimmy Schmidt are my favorite Netflix shows (BoJack is my favorite show, period), but the former can be emotionally exhausting to take in one sitting, and the gags on the latter fly so fast that you run the risk of joke burnout. American Vandal (while great!) is too specific, Master of None is too erratic (not in terms of quality, but who knows when/if it’s coming back), and Everything Sucks! is too canceled.
Among the Netflix heavy-hitters (I’m not going to compare GLOW against every show, although I would love to see GLOWbot make a cameo on Big Mouth), that leaves One Day at a Time, Dear White People, and Stranger Things. You can’t go wrong with any of those shows (two of which made our Best Shows of 2018 So Far list), but in a sense, GLOW is a shrewd mixture of all three. It combines the diverse cast and relatable characters of One Day At a Time… with the racial politics of Dear White People… with the genre mish-mash of Stranger Things (it’s a comedy that’s also a drama that’s also sports; it’s also set in the 1980s). It’s also something that could only exist on a streaming service. I can imagine Stranger Things on SyFy or One Day at a Time on CBS (because that’s where it aired from 1975-1984), but what network would take a risk on the empowering female wrestler show? Certainly not the WWE Network.
GLOW is many things — it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s inspiring, it’s bingeable with memorable hooks (“The Good Twin” is The One That’s An Episode of GLOW, and “Mother of All Matches” is The One With Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen), it’s (briefly) a musical — but it’s also one thing: the ideal Netflix show.