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‘GLOW’ Season 2: A Feel-Good, Thought-Provoking Piledriver of Fun

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Note: Beware of Spoilers and Wrestling Analogies

GLOW is a show about some awesome ladies from the 80’s dressing up and throwing each other around in a wrestling ring. GLOW is also a show about identity, feminism, problematic stereotypes, motherhood, sexual harassment, economic inequality, and the AIDs crisis. Season 2 of this nimble half-hour dramatic comedy from Netflix nails this delicate balance like a perfectly-timed leg drop from the top rope, and it leaves you wanting more.

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Previously on GLOW…

GLOW Season 1 told the tale of a group of misfit women thrown together to form a wrestling league. Against all odds, they make it work and score a season (a meta-season…a show within the show, as it were) on their local station, and they form a 1980’s misfit family while they’re at it. As said rag-tag banding-together unfolds in the wrestling ring, we’re privy to their equally dramatic lives and entanglements outside of the ring.

GLOW SEASON 2

The miraculous Alison Brie stars as Ruth, the ever-capable underdog who it is impossible not to root for, and whose wrestling alter-ego ‘ Zoya the Destroyer’ is a show-stealing mustache-twirling ‘Russian’ Big Bad. In the ring, Zoya’s greatest foe is Betty Gilpin’s relentlessly all-American ‘Liberty Belle,’ whose real-life counterpart, the relentlessly alpha-female Debbie, also happens to be Ruth’s estranged and betrayed former best friend. Outside the ring, Ruth’s pitted against (yet also becoming best friend’s with) the show’s director, Marc Maron’s beloved curmudgeon/hack auteur, Sam, the talented-but-insecure coke addict whose heart-of-gold does not always shine through.

The excellent leads are surrounded by an adept and intriguing rogue’s galleries of fabulous and diverse women (and the fabulous and dear producer/color commentator, Bash), many of whom are given small dramatic arcs of their own, and all of whom have their own larger-than-life wrestling personas (I double-dare you not to fall in love with secret breakout star, Gayle Rankin’s ‘Sheila The Wolf-Girl’). All of this is pinned against the back-drop of the VHS-loving, spandex-clad, coke-snorting 1980’s. Out of the gate, Season 1 was a joy to behold, bouncing between comedic nostalgia and engaging drama like a veteran tag team duo bouncing between the ropes.

Season 2 of GLOW builds upon this solid foundation and largely improves it. With the leg-work of back-story out of its way, GLOW keeps the neon tights and big hair in the foreground, but leaves room to dig deeper into the characters, stories, relationships, and potent themes – all while remaining pure fun to watch.

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An Amazing Cast Shines…

GLOW’s greatest strength is its well-realized characters, and their depth is supported by the show’s ability to blend drama and comedy. Season 2 hits hardest when it leans deep in either direction. The most persistent issue the characters face is the egregious stereotyping that many of the women endure, yet also revel in, as their wrestling alter egos (an idea adapted from the reality of the original real-life GLOW on which the Netflix series is loosely based). “I think in our dream world the debate between ‘is it empowering’ and ‘is it exploitative’ is always going to live at the heart of the show… we hope to never fully leave the question of, ‘is this slightly exploitative?’” said producer Carly Mensch. (Variety, June 2017). While this was implicit in Season 1, we see the conflict writ large for several of GLOW’s fabulous ladies in Season 2 – Sunita Mani as Arthie ‘Beirut the Mad Bomber’ Premkumar and Ellen Wong as Jenny ‘Fortune Cookie’ Cheyand are particularly tough to say without cringing. But none cut deeper than Kia Stevens’s magnificent portrayal of Tammé Dawson, or as she is known in the ring: ‘The Welfare Queen.’

GLOW TV SHOW REVIEW

In Season 2, Stevens is given a chance to explore her inherent conflict (one that has a lot in common with the actor’s own progression through female wrestling as The Amazing Kong) in the fourth episode of the season, ‘Mother of All Matches.’  Thus far, Tammé’s been having fun and feeling accomplishment as an entertainer, but that entertainment-value comes at a high cost– her act is transparently racist at its core. When her sharp-witted Ivy League son pays a visit, it’s clear that Tammé has raised a caring and strong-willed young man. But Tammé struggles to let her son know that she’s traded in her job as the audience coordinator at The Family Feud for a pair of neon tights and a painful stereotype. An extra layer of well-placed dramatic irony plays out in the background, as the so-called All-American ‘Liberty Belle’ has been struggling to hold it together as a Mom, and her only ally has been Tammé. The plot boils over when a match featuring ‘Liberty Belle’ and ‘Welfare Queen’ gets too real, leading the audience to chant ‘Get a job!’ as Tammé nearly breaks with her son bearing witness to a public humiliation.

When she is able to re-connect with her son after the match, neither of them moralize or equivocate. “That was…offensive…” he judges, but goes on to marvel at his mother’s physical wrestling prowess, and then takes her out to dinner. Tammé’s been both liberated and humiliated – it isn’t a simple thing. In all of her interactions in the show, what underlies Tammé is strength and understanding, and the result ends up realistic and complex, like life itself. The real audience is made to feel the true discomfort of racism as entertainment, but there is no tightly packaged resolve, only an earnest connection with her son over her harsh and mixed reality. Yet the true wonder comes in GLOW’s ability to get all of this done tightly in one episode, and to leave you feeling uplifted from the tale told without sugar-coating the issue at hand. It’s a delicate balance, and they sell it.

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A Very Special Episode…

Harsh reality abuts high-flying entertainment throughout the season, but the ninth episode of the run, season-highlight ‘The Good Twin,’ goes all-in on the entertainment side, and showcases the entirety of the talented cast while it’s at it. Embracing the concept of a cable-access show-within-a-show to its fullest extent, ‘The Good Twin’ presents a top-down full ‘episode’ of GLOW as it would appear on their local channel. This high-concept installment includes (but is not limited to): a romance with a living mannequin, multiple low budget music videos, a goat, a robot, an evil twin, and faux low budget production values to gloriously match. It’s silly and over-the-top and it works beautifully. It’s believable that this is the show-within-the-show that these people would make, and it advances their story by reveling in the joy they find in making something together. Underlying the mad-cap fun are several important story resolutions and arcs – among other turns, it is the culmination of Alison Brie’s Ruth getting both creative autonomy and recognition for what her passion has brought to everyone around her. But really, it’s just fun as heck to watch.

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More, Please…

If there’s a complaint to be leveled against GLOW Season 2, it’s simply that we want more of everyone in it. The tightly wound episode count (a modest ten) keeps the plot moving at a peppy pace that facilitates a binge, but each episode stands well on its own. Despite this well-measured approach, you’re left begging the ref for a few more minutes with all of the amazing supporting characters, and perhaps a few less with the mains. It’s a testament to the talent of the robust surrounding cast and the clever writing supporting them that you can’t get enough of each and every character.

It’s no coincidence that the breakout episodes of the season were ‘Mother of All Matches’ and ‘The Good Twin’ – a deep dive into one strong supporting character and broad and fun look at the cast as a whole. To be fair, the series absolutely takes some time to hang more deeply with almost all of the extended cast – in small notes, we learn quite a lot about Machu Pichu’s family, Britanica’s past, and the rest. Notably, the aforementioned ‘secret’ breakout, Gayle Rankin’s masterfully lived-into ‘Sheila the She Wolf,’ gets a wonderful miniature arc in which she must learn to embrace her unexpected cult fame – and her cosplayers – and you’ll be howling right beside them. But more of these kinds of explorations would only serve to strengthen the backbone of the series that is built on well-constructed characters. The main cast and plot are excellent, but perhaps a dash less time with the ‘will they/won’t they’ love triangle-trope would make room for just a little more time with all of the other exceptional talents. But it’s a small complaint in light of such a well-realized season.

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Season 2 Is A Victory

By the time the final bell rings, GLOW Season 2 wins you over. The show jumps in and out of the ring to float serious drama and nostalgic comedy – the line is often more blurry than simply the division between the wrestling personas and their ‘real-life counterparts,’ and it works. GLOW remains consistently believable, engaging, and truly fun.

In examining ‘The Mother of All Matches’ next to ‘The Good Twin,’ the gap between serious issues and off-the-wall zaniness looks enormous, but the creators and cast of GLOW bridge that gap without breaking a sweat. The nuanced humanity in these artfully portrayed characters only leaves us wanting more of them, but next to the cohesive vision for the series and season, the show holds together marvelously. At the end of the match, they’re a rag-tag bunch you’d love to jump into the ring with.

Couched in the warm …ahem… glow of nostalgia and zany shenanigans, GLOW Season 2 serves up a pile driver of delightful television that is as timely and meaningful as it is entertaining.

Marty has a new book, Retro Games! Forty of the world's mightiest old school games from the NES through The Playstation. Marty is an artist, writer, teacher, and maker living in Brooklyn, NY, best known for making sock puppets and taking their pictures. He's written four other books, made lots of art, and made even more sandwiches. He loves writing about video games and pop culture almost as much as he loves digesting them. Yum!

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‘Bojack Horseman’s Xmas Special Is the Height of Schmaltzy Satire

If you were lucky enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with awful specials, then Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special is just for you.

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Bojack Horseman

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Bojack Horseman‘s “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”.


When it comes to sitcoms, the grand tradition of the holiday special is a long time staple of the genre. The schmaltzy corniness of the 80s and 90s made these specials all the more egregious, and it is this tradition that Bojack Horseman echoes back to with its brilliant Christmas special.

Ostensibly just a full episode of Horsin’ Around (the show that made Bojack famous), Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special only uses the present day as a framing device before diving into the stupid fun of a very special episode of Horsin’ Around.

The central plot of the episode focuses on Bojack’s youngest adopted child, Sabrina, wishing for her parents to come back to life after Bojack assures her that Santa can give her anything she wants for Christmas. Of course, in typical sitcom fashion, rather than simply explaining to Sabrina that Santa can’t bring people back from the dead, Bojack instead opts to try and trick her into being naughty so Santa will have an excuse not to grant her wish.

Bojack Horseman

The absolute apex of this silliness comes when Bojack tries to get Sabrina to give in and eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve heard of lookie-lookie don’t eat the cookie but this is ridiculous!” The use of lines like these in sitcoms is a classic cut to simpler and stupider times, where shows could really get away with lines as ham-fistedly ridiculous as these and actually call them jokes.

Ultimately this is the greatest strength of the Bojack Horseman Christmas special: calling back to the tropes of 80s and 90s sitcoms before satirizing and roasting them into oblivion.

All of the classics are here. From the annoying neighbor character, who is legitimately named Goober, to the absurd onslaught of character catchphrases that permeate the episode. The best of the latter comes from Ethan, the nerdy middle child, who espouses the line “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to a few sparse claps and a cough from the unamused studio audience. That every character needed a catchphrase in these types of sitcoms is a given but to have one so bad that even the studio audience can’t be bothered to care is a beautiful bit of satire.

Bojack Horseman

Speaking of the studio audience, Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop using them for fodder there. Thanks to one very stupid audience member, some of the best moments of the episode come from reactions to classic sitcom tropes. For instance, when Bojack flirts with his secretary, while most of the audience opts for the classic whoops and cheers of yore, the idiot just yells “Kiss her!”. He also points out catchphrases (“She said the line!”) and lets out a confused “What!?!?” at the message of the episode.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with even worse Christmas specials every single year, then Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special is just for you. Hearkening back to the nostalgia of the time before ripping it to shreds with endless glee, Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special isn’t just one of the funniest episodes of the show, it’s also one of its best.

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A Doctor Who Christmas: Revisiting “Voyage of the Damned”

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned”.

What’s it About?

First broadcast in December 2007, “Voyage Of The Damned” runs 72 minutes long and is the third Christmas special since the show’s revival in 2005. The Doctor finds his TARDIS colliding with a luxury space cruiser (based on the RMS Titanic) during a Christmas party. The ship’s captain, Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer), sabotages the cruise liner by purposely lowering the ship’s shield, resulting in severe damage after colliding with several asteroids. It’s up to the Doctor (David Tennant), with the help of a waitress named Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue), to fight off robot-like creatures in the form of golden angels and save the day.

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Review

A festival of ideas, bursting with wild imagination, ambitious set pieces, strange characters, curious visual effects, and one charming Doctor who had this critic glued to the screen midway through, when he turned around to deliver this rousing monologue:

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?

This time around, the mammoth cruise ship struck fire (not, ice) and the passengers are a sordid bunch including robotic golden angels armed with killer boomerang-like-halos, and a dwarf named Bannakaffalatta – a cyborg Zocci who strangely resembles Darth Maul. We learn that due to an accident, Bannakaffalatta had undergone conversion into a cyborg, for which he felt shame because apparently where he comes from, cyborgs are discriminated against. “Voyage of the Damned” features a batch of religious imagery (including a messianic portrayal of the Doctor himself being carried away into space by two of the angels), and the blank and trite performance by the beautiful pop sensation Kylie Minogue, (whose role was specifically written for her).

Voyage of the Damned

For a Christmas special, we get a number of casualties along the way, including Bannakaffalatta’s self-sacrifice and Astrid’s fall into the fires of hell. One could accurately describe this episode as The Poseidon Adventure in space, a nightmarish schematic rhapsody of virtuous discomfort. “Voyage” doesn’t end on a happy note. Sabotage and corporate greed destroy our ragtag bunch of passengers, and those who are lucky enough to survive do come out with lasting scars. Not much Christmas cheer here, but the script is sprinkled with clever comedic moments from time to time, including a surprising gag involving the royal family.

Astrid’s final appearance comes in the form of “an echo with the ghost of consciousness”; her stardust-hologram-like image fades after a final kiss. Perhaps a tad bit corny, but the sequence is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of die-hard Whovians. “Voyage” is ridiculous, but also oddly fun in the sheer overkill of pulp and fantasy imagery. Technically it impresses, loaded with eye-catching-hi-tech chase scenes and more importantly, characters and a plot (even if incoherent) to support them.

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Is this thrilling no holds barred sci-fi/disaster mash-up brilliant or idiotic? Perhaps a bit of both, but “Voyage of the Damned” satisfies because of its strong emotional core and unnerving dark themes couched in stunning visuals. This visually arresting, occasionally funny ride is neatly wrapped in a comfortable Yuletide package.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Despite the high death toll and the titanic setting, “Voyage” strangely delivers a Christmas vibe, if in scenes few and far between. I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

Obviously, if you like Doctor Who, disaster films, and science fiction.

Voyage of the Damned
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Revisiting The Sopranos Christmas Special

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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To Save Us All from Satan’s Power

The Sopranos Season 3

Episode 10: “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at The Sopranos Christmas episode.

Note: It’s difficult to really encapsulate the events that take place in this episode without spoiling it since so much of it’s impact relies on the events that take place during the three seasons prior. I won’t be going into any specifics about the episode to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t watched the entire third season. With that said, if you haven’t seen an episode of The Sopranos, I highly recommend you start since it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. Apart from that, I hope my review will simply serve as a reminder for fans of the show.

What’s it About?

The annual pork-store holiday party is fast approaching, but Tony Soprano isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. A visit with the ghosts of Christmas past lands Tony back on his psychiatrist’s couch. Meanwhile, the gang needs to find someone to replace Pussy and don the Santa suit. While the memories of Tony’s friend continues to haunt him, he tries to find time to balance his work with his family life.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Review

Every year around Christmas, there are two stories guaranteed to pop up on television: A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both have inspired countless adaptations, spoofs, homages and so on – but who would have ever guessed Frank Capra’s classic would have somehow inspired an episode of The Sopranos?

The Christmas episode, nicely titled “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power,” sees Tony Soprano dealing with the death of a good friend. As always, Tony is our focus. Tony may be a mobster but he’s just as human as any of us, and the holidays have him looking back at the important events that unfolded in his life that year. Much of season three sees his friend’s death snake around the edges of the stories. This episode is all about Tony dealing with his guilt, betrayal, paranoia – and his doubt concerning a decision he recently made. The challenge for Tony is to overcome these obstacles so that he can hopefully look ahead and start his new year fresh.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Unlike George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), who overcomes his depression by remembering all the people who love him and all the ways that he’s helped others, Tony instead realizes just how much he has lost. Using very clever flash-forwards and flashbacks, the nonlinear structure of the episode presents his deceased friend as both a literal and figurative ghost. Nearly every scene of “Satan’s Power,” is haunted by this ghost in one way or another, even if he’s not physically (or spiritually) present.

For an episode this late in a Sopranos season, there’s not a lot happening, plot-wise. “Satan’s Power” is a fairly insignificant episode in advancing the season-spanning story arc, but while the mob business is barely present (outside of a few flashbacks), what’s really important is the emotions and the memories Tony’s dead friend brings. Combine the characters, the story, the message, and the acting, and it’s easy to see why this is a holiday favourite to revisit every year during the holidays.

Big-Mouth Billy Bass closes off the episode. Tony’s torn expression dissolves into the rolling waves as gospel music gradually kicks in, drowning out Billy’s voice. Tony’s friend may be gone, but his memory will forever live on. “Satan’s Power” carries a powerful emotional punch and is a necessary pause in a season-long storyline.

Sopranos Christmas Special

How Christmassy is it?

Unless you’re a mobster or a family member of one, you won’t be able to relate to the character’s inner turmoil, but it still has one hell of a Christmas feel. It may not be very cheerful, but it does revolve entirely around the holiday and features a scene from A Wonderful Life. It also features a ton of Christmas classics, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Little Drummer Boy”, The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” and “Santa Baby,” among others.

Who’s it for?

Since it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone episode, I’d recommend it to fans of the series who may have forgotten about the episode.

Other observations:

The best line comes from Paulie Walnuts: “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”

Ricky D

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