Last night, for the first time since Big Mouth (so, about a few weeks ago), I was seduced to binge-watch. Now, for those of you that do not know me well, I gravitate towards fussiness. Always itching to do something. I juggle working towards high-standard goals and staving off urges to re-pick up a childhood hobby. Because of this, binging is a tough sell for me. There are few and far-between shows to stream that have compelled me to binge, and last night's mistress was the second season of Netflix's GLOW.
GLOW, for all intents and purposes, is a regurgitation of many of the bloviated trends we are seeing in our streaming carousels. But it's just done so well. It is a revived adaptation from the 80s, and the show choreographs a time-bending dance that touching on issues of its time and its contemporary echoes, something that is executed masterfully in both writing and performance. The acronym G.L.O.W. stands for the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling," which was the name its predecessor ran from 1986 to 1990. GLOW is only very loosely based on the realities of the original, as I've come to learn. A bummer, for sure, because my palate has found the remake to be not just compelling, but exactly what I needed in a tv show of its genre.
Perhaps it all starts with its partnered show-runners and "individual writers" Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. Their cumulative writing CV includes Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Orange Is the New Black, and Homeland, where topical comedy meets punchy banter and empowered, dimensional female characters. In a world where female show-running is grabbing back a moment of its own, Flahive and Mensch (and I) are there for it. What GLOW does differently from its female-led contemporaries like Jessica Jones and West World, is that its premise can actually hold a mirror to a woman's experience in Hollywood, and thusly the #MeToo movement... at least fictitiously. The morality of its representation in the first place does not only appease me but absolutely quenches me. But the brevity and its manner of briefness in its stances on these matters are what distinguish it from being a gripping tv show to being a gauche LUSH holiday soap box.
Not to say it doesn't lend itself favors to its male characters as well. And for some, well, this simply just won't do. Sonia Saraiya of Variety points to the second season, saying that despite lissome babe-star Alison Brie's claim to GLOW being a "feminist oasis", its male characters' storylines "are fine, but they take up precious space—and have nothing to do with wrestling or women." Their storylines are "easier." To this, I would like to point out all the gradations of feminism, in which some forms of it encompass the inclusivity of men and the redefinition of masculinity for the better. But I think that their storylines, though we have had a fair amount of white privileged cis male stories produced and funded, are not your typical definitions of masculinity. And in here, we actually do find the feminism. At least I do. Allow me to explain.
[The following paragraph contains spoilers for the ending of the second season of GLOW].
Towards the end of season two, winsome and incongruous (read: asshole) director Sam Sylvia, played by Marc Maron, goes to see one of his cult-classic indie-horror slasher flick at a small film festival. Ruth Wilder, a polemic and ride-or-die actress, goes to support him in an almost pity-peace-offering type way, as they had not been on the best of terms immediately before this scene. When Ruth asks if he was still mad at her, he pauses, and says "I was never mad at you. I'm an insecure old man." Inclusive intersectional feminism defining modern masculinity can chalk one up to the scoreboard for this line. Here, Sam is recognizing his own stereotype (in a show that satirizes stereotypes) and how the truth of it is harmful to his relationship with Ruth. And he fucking owns it. If this is not hetero white-male apologetic enough, let's talk about the homo white-male. In trust-fund child, wannabe-producer Bash Howard's storyline (played by Chris Lowell), we find out in the penultimate episode, that his best friend/butler (read: gay lover?) had "technically passed away from pneumonia," (read: AIDS). This death (which felt, like, GOT-level brutal to me) comes out of left field, for one, and two, Bash cannot share his grief with anyone lest they follow the coke trail down his road of sexual-self-discovery. So Bash's storyline posits the question: What does it mean to be a gay or bisexual man (in the 80s)? Even when you've had every privilege imaginable, what does it mean to be a gay man?
I think that these stories belong in a feminist oasis. And the new wave of stories and entertainment that GLOW is, is not something to sleep on.