Third seasons are often make or break years for a TV series. That’s especially true in this age of bingeing and big gaps between 10-episodes runs. The Netflix comedy Love turned stone cold in Season Three. Amazon‘s Transparent started to drag long before the series became mired in controversy. Showrunners sometimes lose their way or simply flame out after a brilliant season or two and Year Three either becomes more of the same or take too weird of a left turn.
That was my fear with GLOW as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling packed their sparkles and spandex and headed off for Las Vegas. Would this delightful, set-in-the-’80s series simply jumpsuit the shark?
No way casino breath. GLOW is still game and comin’ atcha, even as it stretches well beyond the boundaries of the wrestling world. Ten new episodes are currently available for streaming on Netflix.
Now, not that there aren’t plenty of unsettling warning signs. Season Three brings us the often dreaded Big-Name-Guest Star story arc, with Geena Davis as club owner and former showgirl Sandy Devereaux St. Clair. Davis’s character seems like trouble at first but the addition of the “Thelma and Louise” star is perfectly in step with the overall theme this season of women doing it for themselves.
There’s also the dreaded, “Let’s throw these characters in a whole new setting” episode. Here the gorgeous ladies head out to the desert and go camping. Some get lost, a few find themselves and feelings are hurt and exposed.
There’s even one of those ultimate “Shake Things Up” episodes where all the wrestlers trade characters. Then there are the kiss-of-death “Gimmicky Effects.” For example, Allison Brie’s character Ruth slowly scrubs off her makeup while months of backstage prep races along behind her. Another sign that things are getting desperate: lots of nudity (particularly in one episode). Then there’s the last straw, a holiday-themed take on “A Christmas Carol” from inside the wrestling ring.
THEN there’s the outrageous opening episode. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s a real challenger. Brings new meaning to the term, “Too soon.”
Yet, despite it all, GLOW transcends all that. It’s almost as if the writers wanted to see if they could pin these characters with every cliche hold they could think of just to see them each fight their way out. That they succeed is mainly due to some terrific performances, especially from Betty Gilpin as Deborah “Liberty Belle” Eagan. You can’t take your eyes off Gilpin this season as she lurches from guilty mom to steel-y producer. She’s a powerhouse, and she’s hilarious.
It’s also a breakout year for Scottish actress Gayle Rankin as Sheila the “She Wolf.” She finally sheds her Goth girl image and an artist emerges, just one of several transformations.
Somewhat off stage this season is Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, who puts down the bottle long enough to write a new script now that his wrestling stars no longer really need his direction. Maron doesn’t seem to need much direction either; his range as an actor grows every season on GLOW.
Chris Lowell (“Bash” Howard) also does some wrestling of his own this season, with Elizabeth Perkins returning as his controlling mother, Birdie.
Besides a lot of damn funny physical and situational comedy, there’s also a lot of painful soul searching going on. My co-critic at home, however, argues that the underlying message is that people never really change.
“While Debbie can pretend to be a praying mantis and snap a man’s head off after she has her way with him, or that she’s going to be the president of a company so she no longer has to work with idiots, at her core she’s still someone who will go home and throw up a cheeseburger because someone told her her bottom was too big.”
I would argue that every character seems to change at least a little in Season Three; that there’s a lot of grow on GLOW.
Sandra, however, does have a point. “That the series is honest about people not changing,” she says, “is what makes it beautiful.” On that point we completely agree. RATING: ****