With the exception of the Obamas’ megadeal and those juicy Beyoncé rumors, one of the biggest unanswered questions following Netflix’s presentation at Sunday’s Television Critics Association press tour concerned the future of GLOW, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s lady-wrestling series.
Fans of the ’80s-set show (including yours truly) were expecting a renewal announcement, especially on the bootheels of a critically lauded second season and its four Emmy nominations—including in the hotly contested Outstanding Comedy Series category. But alas, it was not to be.
“We’d like a Season 3 pickup so we can get into what happens in Vegas,” Flahive told me of the second-season cliffhanger. “If that can happen, we have a lot of fun ideas to put into that season.”
I spoke with Flahive and Mensch a couple of weeks ago about the second season of GLOW, which is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best comedy series on television right now.
Season 2 of GLOW, short for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, sees the gals continue to evolve in and out of the ring. Ruth (Alison Brie) discovers—and harnesses—her gifts for story and direction; Debbie (Betty Gilpin) distances herself from her two-timing husband and flexes her muscle as a producer; and Sam (Marc Maron) learns more lessons in fatherhood.
Flahive confesses that the duo constructed Season 1’s story arc “very deliberately” in the hopes that they would have a second season, opting to hold back on a lot of their weirder ideas in favor of introducing viewers to the big cast of characters and their journey toward becoming convincing TV wrestlers—a delicate dance requiring trust, commitment, and the utmost belief. “We were actually gonna be pretty screwed if we didn’t get Season 2,” offers Mensch.
In getting divorced, Debbie not only seems to recognize the incredible strength in herself but also how to fight for what she wants. And her shrewd (and well-deserved) angling into a TV-producer role makes her a trailblazer in the show’s 1985 milieu. The move wasn’t as much inspired by Flahive and Mensch’s own story, serving as producers and writers on the Showtime series Nurse Jackie before sharing showrunning duties on GLOW, as it was talks they were having with fellow female producers in and around Hollywood.
“I remember having a conversation with a couple of friends who were sort of mid-career producers,” recalls Flahive. “They were talking about how they wanted to become bigger producers, but having a family makes it hard to go produce a big studio comedy because people have to accommodate more—they have to accommodate your family, deal with children in childcare—and how it’s still, in this day and age, easier to hire a guy to produce instead of a woman with kids. That was definitely ringing in our ears.”
“We’ve had it so good,” adds Mensch. “We both worked for women coming up and in diverse writers’ rooms. But those women we worked for probably suffered more than us, and paved the way for us—for example Jenji [Kohan], who’s our guardian angel. She’s dealt with a lot of shit and because she’s dealt with it, now we don’t have to. But that’s not to say that we haven’t encountered shitheads in this industry. Everybody has.”
There are four standout episodes in GLOW’s second season. The first is Episode 4, titled “Mother of All Matches.” The half-hour, co-directed by Hedwig’s John Cameron Mitchell, explores what Flahive and Mensch call “a tale of two mothers,” as Debbie (aka “Liberty Belle”) opts to sell off all of the furniture in her home in order to erase her ex, and Tammé (aka “The Welfare Queen”) is forced to confront occupying one of the ugliest stereotypes on the show—as seen through the eyes of her son Ernest, a Stanford University student. Both moms’ stories collide in the ring.
The episode that undoubtedly inspired the most think pieces is No. 5, wherein Ruth finds herself alone and cornered in a hotel room by K-DTV President Tom Grant, who molests her until she manages to escape. The fallout is immediate: The next day, the GLOW team discovers they’ve been moved to a 2 a.m. time slot—a ratings death sentence.
“We were in the outlining phase of the episode when the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and the news kind of gave us validation that we were on the right track as far as the stories we were telling, and also permission to go as far as we were going,” says Mensch. “We’re a bunch of women sitting around a writers’ table telling stories of the industry, so it was inevitable that we would unearth these stories on our own.”
When Ruth confides in Debbie that she may be the one “responsible” for the time change because she rejected the network president’s predatory advances, Debbie subsequently berates her, implying that she should have “taken one for the team” and slept with the creep for the sake of the collective; Sam, meanwhile, proves to be more of a friendlier ear, siding with Ruth and, in true Jack Nicholson fashion, destroys Grant’s car windshield with a golf club.
“We would argue that Sam has his own baggage for why he’s reacting the way he is. Maybe he has some feelings for Ruth or maybe he’s acting out his own insecurities about the show. But I don’t think we ever intended Debbie to have the ‘wrong’ reaction and Sam to have the ‘right’ reaction,” Flahive explains.
“We very much wanted to write that scene in a way that felt like a situation that women could easily get themselves into. It feels like a lot of the conversation around Weinstein is that it feels so black and white, and that there are these horrible situations and how could women enter them, and we wanted to show that it’s very slippery and deceiving, and that these men aren’t just simple villains or monsters,” she continues. “Every other moment you see Ruth reevaluating what’s happening to her, and I feel like that’s representative of a lot of interactions in an industry that can get very weird, very informal, and very complicated very fast.”
One of the biggest questions that the showrunners set out to answer this season was: “Does Ruth deserve to be happy, and should Debbie have to have a front-row seat to her happiness?” The hostilities between Ruth and Debbie—from Debbie undermining Ruth’s romantic prospects to Ruth remaining an emotional time bomb—reach a literal breaking point at the end of Episode 6, when a coked-up Debbie snaps Ruth’s ankle during their grudge match.
Since GLOW doesn’t rely on flashbacks, a deliberate decision given that the show is already set in the past, Flahive and Mensch had to find organic ways to excavate details about Ruth and Debbie’s complex relationship—with much of it revealed during a hospital shouting match, as both women lay it all out in the open.
“Debbie has a lot of anger and has been saying a lot about it for two seasons now, but Ruth hasn’t said much, and we felt like we needed to get her in a position of extreme pain—the type of circumstance so she would eventually speak her mind and let out all of the things she’d been thinking,” says Flahive. “And because wrestling is about bodies, it felt like someone had to get injured at some point.”
Much has already been written about Season 2’s mesmerizing eighth episode, a show-within-a-show—directed with expert precision by Meera Menon—that presents a broadcast episode of GLOW in all its wacky glory, including Russian Zoya the Destroya’s identical twin sister, Olga (also played by Ruth/Brie), traveling with her pet goat to America and hilariously falling in love with the culture before aiding Liberty Belle in freeing her daughter, Savannah Rose, from the clutches of Zoya.
“With the U.S.-Russia thing, in Season 1 we noted the irony among ourselves of how a lot of our fears from the ’80s were coming back now—and not just in terms of Russia, but the end of conservatism, thoughts about family and if women can ‘have it all,’” says Mensch. “Once you have a U.S. versus Russia rivalry, it’s very delicious to deliver on that, and we felt Alli’s very poor Russian accent was so fun to play with. The more female Yakov Smirnoff the better.”
“We talked a lot about tonally hitting the right notes. We aren’t trying to send up a show; we’re trying to make a show and let you be as inside of it with us as possible, so it felt like you were dropped into an episode of GLOW fully, in 1985. So there was a lot of talk about shots, visual effects, the number of stories, editing, you name it,” adds Flahive.
But wait, there’s more: Jane Fonda-esque exercise infomercials, a love mannequin brought back to life, and a “We Are the World”-style song warning against the dangers of child kidnapping called “Don’t Kidnap” that will have you in stitches.
“When we were shooting that episode, we would show up on set and the girls were like, ‘We can’t believe we get to do this!’ ‘We can’t believe this is part of our job!’ and we sat there and watched them sing ‘Don’t Kidnap,’ and that’s part of our day. So it was pretty interesting,” says a chuckling Mensch.
While Flahive and Mensch have done a fantastic job of fleshing out each character in their large ensemble of women warriors, there’s still much to explore in the world of GLOW.
“It’s like The Avengers!” the two co-creators, who were hired to retool the Captain Marvel screenplay, shout in unison.
“When we were building Season 1, every one of those women was there for a reason. We don’t have any disposable characters or disposable stories or people who are just there for a laugh. There’s something underneath all these women, and hopefully we’ll be able to get to each person’s story properly,” says Flahive. “We have Ruth and Debbie as our spine, and that helps us create a foundation for the show. Then we move around to the cast and decide when to lean in to certain people. But in general, even though we feel like we did a good job, we want to continue to do more.”