GLOW season 2 review: It's now one of the best shows on Netflix

Following critical acclaim for its entertaining first season, GLOW became something of a sleeper word-of-mouth hit on Netflix, even if it never fully broke through like Orange Is the New Black or Stranger Things.

That could all be set to change for season two though as Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s wrestling comedy makes all the right moves, delivering a flawless ten episodes full of big laughs and genuine emotion to become one of the best shows on Netflix.

Loosely based on the real-life professional wrestling circuit, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, GLOW‘s first season built up to the women of GLOW creating a pilot episode that proved so successful that it resulted in a full season. Season two begins with everyone settling down to make 20 episodes of their show, dealing with their own personal issues and the challenges of becoming celebrities as a result of GLOW‘s cult following.

There’s still tension between Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) after Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband, leading to Debbie now going through a divorce as she tries to raise their child. After discovering that Justine (Britt Baron) is his daughter, Sam (Marc Maron) is trying to balance making the show and working out how to be a father, while his close friend Cherry (Sydelle Noel) has had to be replaced on GLOW by out-and-proud lesbian Yolanda (Shakira Barrera) after Cherry signed up to a new cop show.

And if that weren’t enough, Sam and Bash (Chris Lowell) have to battle with TV executives to keep GLOW on the air in the face of time-slot changes and criticisms of the show’s sexualised nature and content.

The setup allows the show to enter into darker and richer territory with season two exploring timely issues of gender equality in the media and especially the #MeToo movement. During one episode, one of the women is told that a TV executive “always takes dinner meetings in his room”, leading to uncomfortable scenes of sexual harassment.

But GLOW isn’t just interested in a box-ticking exercise as the fallout from the incident sees characters act in ways you don’t expect. The show may purposefully deal in stereotypes when it comes to the wrestlers, but its exploration of serious issues is refreshing and surprising, and it’s unafraid to have its characters say ugly things like: “The one time you keep your legs shut, we all get f**ked.”

Crucially, the show doesn’t forget the subversive humour that made the first season work, careful not to take the piss out of wrestling, but to gently mock its heightened nature. There’s plenty to enjoy in the behind-the-scenes creation of the show-within-the-show, such as an early sequence that sees the women film their own title sequence in a shopping mall and in the numerous wrestling matches we see across the season.

It also helps that you just want to spend time with the characters, as even with the odd tension among them, it’s clear that they all care for one another. Having already spent one season with them, you care for them as well. It’s a supremely talented ensemble and season two gives the likes of Britney Young (Carmen), Kate Nash (Rhonda), Kia Stevens (Tammé) and Chris Lowell (Bash) their moments to shine.

Like the first season though, Alison Brie’s Ruth and Betty Gilpin’s Debbie are effectively the leads of the show. Their strained relationship constantly looks to be close to breaking point, exacerbated by the fact that their approaches to GLOW couldn’t be further apart. For Ruth, it means everything, her big break after years of trying, while for Debbie, it wouldn’t be a massive thing if the show was cancelled, but she’ll use it for personal gain while she can.

This leads to excellent work from both Brie and Gilpin as they explore the complex friendship between the two. Both stars are as comfortable with the wrestling gags as they are with the dramatic scenes, leading to an astonishing midseason argument where all their bad blood is aired in a scene as breathless as the wrestling matches. The writers deserve credit here too as they’re careful to never make it a black-and-white situation; Ruth and Debbie have their flaws, making them fully rounded and believable people and you’re never led to think of one as the hero and the other as the villain.

Season two also takes the time to flesh out the character of Sam as he tries to be a father to Justine and deal with being an “insecure old man”. In the season-one finale, it’s Ruth who made the pilot episode and the consequences of that are what makes Ruth and Sam’s dynamic one of the most intriguing. Marc Maron’s terrific performance draws out the hidden depths of Sam as we see that underneath his male posturing, he’s one of the most insecure characters on the show.

The fact that every main character feels real ensures that you’re invested, despite the outlandish nature of the show-within-the-show, culminating in an emotional and unexpected finale that offers an intriguing setup for season three.

And we’d be more than happy to jump back in the ring with GLOW for another round.

GLOW season two arrives on Netflix on June 29.

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