As promised, Netflix’s GLOW heads to Las Vegas for a third round that feels like a last hurrah. That means the 1980s spandex is more colorful and shinier, the setting is flashier, and the in-the-ring storylines are more outrageous. All of these things are pluses, and the series still zips by as pleasurably as usual. Yet there’s a drawback to this amplified excess: the stars of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling TV show aren’t hungry anymore. They’re working on a live production with no concern for ratings or unfortunate timeslots, and they know they’re done after a three-month run, so there’s no striving for betterment. As a result, they’re no longer oozing that palpable thirst for success and professional validation. They are running on autopilot with their wrestling characters and maintaining bare-minimum fitness standards to repeatedly do the same shows. So they’re no longer glued to the gym or the budget motel but, instead, they’re living large in the fictional Fan-Tan Casino and Hotel. Oh, those famous Sin City buffets.
That last detail allows for a mini-arc about the ladies losing some of their edge and fitness, but beyond that, the third season is less about action and more about drama. The missing framework (the show-within-a-show) does some damage, but really, it’s the loss of drive that stings. GLOW began with a group of underdogs working on an underdog project helmed by underdog leaders (including an exploitation film director, c’mon), and there was a lot to root for. Now, the group’s living the party lifestyle in luxury with lots of extra time to kill in lobbies, eateries, and casinos. The struggle is no longer real.
I mean, obviously, this devolution was to be expected since the cult wrestling show that serves as the basis for the series didn’t run forever. And without anything to fight for, there’s naturally going to be less baring of the teeth. It’s like when rock stars lose their edge. Remember when Trent Reznor stopped being so angry after the fifth Nine Inch Nails album? I watched him perform live in 1998 and 2008, and one show featured murdered keyboards and ended with a “go f*ck yourself,” and the other filled itself with effusive “thank you”s. You can guess which was which, and one can still love the guy’s music and wonder why he’s sipping LaCroix now, so my point stands. Without a reason to rage and an overarching battle to fight, the series has few gimmicks up its sleeve other than letting the women play each other’s wrestling characters.
This production still ^^^ does come from a standout episode, by the way. Alison Brie’s Ruth picking up Liberty Belle with Betty Gilpin’s Debbie stepping in as Zoya the Destroyer is just as kickass and illuminating for both actresses as you’d expect. The same goes for an episode where the cast goes hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which leads to compassionate and confrontational moments with the group never truly being the same again.
Indeed, GLOW‘s third season packs an emotional punch from start to end. It begins with a great trauma — the Challenger Disaster. The muted response to this tragedy in Vegas (the show must go on, says Geena Davis’ hotel executive) clashes with the devastation that these newcomers feel. From there, the focus on group dynamics and romantic relationships prevails with an emphasis on the latter. Ruth and Debbie are no longer rivals, but Ruth’s struggling in her long-distance relationship while Debbie’s starting to date. Marriages teeter on the brink, including those of producer Bash (Chris Lowell) and trainer Cherry (Sydelle Noel). Carmen (Britney Young) and Wolf-Sheila (Gayle Rankin) turn an eye toward their futures, and meanwhile, Sam (Marc Maron) is phoning in his duties and feeling bored. He lounges about in a hot tub, but he finds time for a new screenplay and grows as a human. Yes, there’s still the will-they-won’t-they thing happening with Sam and Ruth, and they remain an exhausting pair.
Fan of the series will enjoy the new setting, and these characters are still so wonderful, but this season grows aimless and doesn’t do so in a satisfyingly Tarantino way. He’s earned the right to meander, whereas GLOW can’t indulge in such a forgiving way. It feels almost like a montage of happenings without a backbone to unify the whole, although if one loves melodrama, it’s jackpot city in Vegas.