Why the Hell Did Netflix Have to Cancel ‘GLOW’?
The critically beloved wrestling series has netted the streaming giant several Emmy nominations and had already begun work on its fourth season before COVID-19 shut it down.
Listen, I get it; in the grand scheme of things, a TV cancellation is not exactly a pressing tragedy right now. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead; our ill and demented president is taking joyrides in the back of a hermetically sealed vehicle with staff and returning to the White House because he got tired of the hospital; California is on fire. And that’s putting aside the election anxiety that’s hung over it all for months that have each felt like centuries.
Despite all this, though, Netflix’s decision to cancel GLOW—which it had already renewed for a fourth and final season before the pandemic—has left me genuinely upset.
Maybe it’s because during this wretched year, finally (belatedly) getting into GLOW was one of the few things to bring me genuine joy. Maybe it’s because the show’s prestige had deluded me into believing it would escape the untimely cancellation that’s already struck other programs. Or maybe I’m just exhausted by the fact that at seemingly every turn, it’s Netflix’s female-led shows that get the short end of the stick. (For the record, I at least would happily sacrifice both Ozark and The Kominsky Method to the TV gods in their entirety for even just one more episode of GLOW.)
Either way, the result is the same: If my rage could jump into the ring and put Ted Sarandos et al in a headlock for GLOW’s honor, I’d be shopping for a locally sourced leotard as we speak. (Because sidenote, in case anyone needed a reminder, fuck Amazon.)
At least creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch seem to be taking things in stride. In a statement to Deadline, which broke the news, the two said, “COVID has killed actual humans. It’s a national tragedy and should be our focus. COVID also apparently took down our show... We were handed the creative freedom to make a complicated comedy about women and tell their stories. And wrestle. And now that’s gone.”
“There’s a lot of sh*tty things happening in the world that are much bigger than this right now,” the statement continues. “But it still sucks that we don’t get to see these 15 women in a frame together again.We’ll miss our cast of weirdo clowns and our heroic crew. It was the best job.” (In conclusion, the statement adds, “Register to vote. And please vote.”)
GLOW had already begun work on its fourth season before the pandemic hit—but it’s not the first series that the novel coronavirus has permanently derailed.
Netflix already canceled the previously renewed The Society and I Am Not Okay with This in August, the same month TruTV canceled the previously ordered third season of its scripted comedy I’m Sorry. USA scuttled a Milo Ventimiglia-led Evel Knievel limited series in July, and ABC canceled Stumptown, to which it had already granted a second season, last month.
Still, unlike those series—most of which were working on first or sophomore seasons—GLOW was working on its final chapter. Fans have spent years falling in love with Alison Brie’s lovable mess Ruth Wilder and Betty Gilpin’s captivatingly neurotic Debbie Eagan. And Marc Maron’s irascible, mustachioed, inexplicably hot Sam Sylvia. (I’d list the rest of the cast alongside glowing adjectives, but you get the idea.) Now we’ll never get to see whether Ruth actually finds her path—or revel in Debbie’s corporate ascent as the owner of her own TV network.
Perhaps the greatest irony in all of this is that GLOW has long been the kind of show that Netflix’s business model was supposed to support better than traditional networks—shows that, despite their sterling reputations, never quite manage to bring in the viewership linear networks count on to stay afloat.
GLOW was never going to have broad, tentpole appeal. It’s a weird show about weird women wrestling, all managed by a puppyish producer and a jaded slasher director. The show’s perspective and especially its humor—with chestnuts like “There’s one ball you can’t castrate; that’s the mind”—have always been a beautiful blend of crassness and ultra-sequinned femininity. It was never a show for everyone, but for the someones it was for, GLOW hit a wonderful, rare sweet spot.
And in lieu of a massive audience, GLOW was among the series that lended Netflix some prestige. Although the show never brought in the viral viewership of more popular programs like Stranger Things, it brought home nominations each year for cast and crew, and won in categories including stunt coordination and production design.
Still, being adored by critics has never been enough to save shows from the increasingly cruel Netflix axe—especially if a show happens to be female-led; just ask One Day at a Time and Tuca & Bertie, both of which have found homes on other networks after Netflix cut them.
Obviously GLOW’s cancellation stands out from these; nothing about the TV world has been “business as usual” amid the pandemic, and at the end of the day GLOW is just one of many shows, across many networks, to meet an untimely demise.
But that doesn’t do much to allay the sadness of its loss—especially because its last season promised to be so good.
With each passing year, GLOW has grown into its premise. At the show’s outset, some characters like the lupine-obsessed Sheila the She-wolf seemed bound for one-note jokes, but each year the show has imbued even its oddest oddballs with impressive and at times subtle complexity. Debbie and Ruth, meanwhile, seemed bound to embody the best-friends-turned-archenemies-thanks-to-a-guy trope—but they, too, have grown up both as individuals and as friends who might finally be realizing they have less in common now than they’d thought.
Speaking with The Daily Beast earlier this year, Gilpin said that GLOW’s fourth season would have shown each character using their wrestling experience to ask themselves what kind of person they would become if they could be anyone.
“I think Season 4 is kind of, in each of their own weird ways, being like, ‘OK, what if I let that id that I found in the ring out into the world?’” she said. “‘What if I let it bleed into my life and take the reins for a second? Will I explode? What does that look like?’”
Like I said: I know there are many, many worse things happening in the world right now. And yet, what can I say? It’s still disappointing as hell to know that we will never get to find out what any of that looks like.