As the Gorgeous Ladies grow apart, the show itself is more confident and sure-footed than ever.
These days we say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. In the 1986 during which GLOW season three unfolds, that slogan may be close to three decades away, but you can feel that hermetic seal. Even as the show opens with what has to be its absolute darkest joke to date, there is a sense of disconnect between the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and the rest of the world.
For some, that’s a benefit. Melanie (Jackie Tohn) gets to live it up free from the responsibilities of the outside world and the surprisingly deep well of family pain. Ruth (Alison Brie) has job stability, endless time to read, and loves the food.
For others, however, it is becoming a prison. Debbie (Betty Gilpin) cannot stop feeling like an absentee mom or comparing herself to the impossibly tall and thin showgirls. Tamme (Kia Stevens), meanwhile, feels great about the opportunity but is finding her body can’t keep up to the rigorous schedule, which doesn’t grant her time to heal.
Insofar as GLOW was ever about women’s wrestling, this season it matters the least it has yet. With the same show being done every night, we only check in for anomalous moments or special events. GLOW ‘s interest in the Vegas show mirrors the women’s own. It has become so routine, they barely care about keeping themselves in shape for it anymore, nevermind spending all day thinking about it or practicing for it.
Instead, we see the group begin to fissure. Despite all living in the same hotel and rarely, if ever, leaving, the wrestlers have grown apart. Gone are the days of poolside hangouts and mall excursions. Somehow bringing them together in comfort and security has fractured them. Living inside the hermetic bubble has somehow let more of the world into their lives — be it the Challenger explosion, the rising profile of AIDS, or infancy of the nightmare that is modern media consolidation.
And yet, the focus remains firmly on the collection of misfits and dreamers. In fact, Glow has become smarter and more insightful than ever about its characters. While the show always seemed to get the likes of Sam (Marc Maron), Debbie, and Ruth, this year it goes deeper on the rest of the cast. There is simply too little space here to highlight the challenges each character faces. However, Bash (Chris Lowell), Sheila the She-Wolf (Gayle Rankin), and Jenny’s (Ellen Wong) attempts to grapple with their identities register as especially affecting.
New characters like Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis) and Bobby Barnes (Kevin Cahoon) provide new opportunities for the characters to question and realize aspects of themselves. While Davis is the headline grabber — and it is great to have her back in a good-sized role — it is really Cahoon that demands attention. In just a handful of scenes, he makes Bobby warm and humane.
Somehow, GLOW ’s editing has become even stronger this season.
Visually, GLOW has always looked great. It realizes period accuracy in simple straightforward ways. It does not mean to make a joke of ’80s fashion, only to show it. That restraint makes the show feel more “organic,” less a tourist of ’80s kitsch and a document of the moment.
The camera responds well to the new locale, capturing Vegas’s false decadence in its rapidly fraying ’80s glory. Again, it doesn’t mock the Strip, but holds up its facsimile of class without comment. For a season that is concerned with our lives beyond our well-managed facades, setting it in the paper-thin but pervasive fantasy world of Vegas is a wonderful bit of setting mirroring theme.
Somehow, GLOW ‘s editing has become even stronger this season. It is not flashy, but confident. I especially appreciate how the editors shift to reflect the action they are bringing to the screen. In-ring editing is quicker, choppier, seemingly less assured. Out of the ring, scenes go longer, transitions are cleaner and more fluid.
GLOW season 3 builds on the strong foundation of the previous 20 episodes. It is deeper, smarter, and more expansive. However, it still feels like GLOW. It has not yet lost its jangly energy and rough edges even as it improves. As with the stage show, the streaming series retains its anarchic flair even as it gets more comfortable in its skin. GLOW ‘s characters might struggle with maturing, but the show gets it just right.
GLOW steps into the ring for season three August 9 on Netflix.