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GLOW Struggles in Third Season Even as Great Ensemble Keeps It Together

Much like last week’s launch of the third season of Justin Simien’s “Dear White People,” the third year of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated “GLOW,” which drops this Friday, August 9th, reflects a show that’s kind of struggling to find its identity. Even more than with Simien’s show—where the struggle kind of becomes part of the narrative—I felt like I couldn’t quite figure out what "GLOW" wanted to do. The characters are all in Las Vegas now, which should provide numerous avenues in terms of plot and theme, but they kind of just mill around for most of the season, off on escapades or subplots that often feel too sitcomish and then returning to lament their broken dreams. I really wanted "GLOW" to get deeper, and start cutting more to the bone in terms of what it’s willing to be, but it takes a step back this season. It’s still very entertaining, thanks to the perfect timing of its excellent cast, but it feels more disposable than ever. And with Netflix talking publicly about how they don’t really care for their shows after the first two years? There’s reason to worry about the fate of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Part of the problem is that the third season opens with a great episode that seems to set the stage to express something major about how people balance career and life. Without spoiling it, let’s just say that Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) are put in an awkward on-air situation as they’re playing their pro-America and pro-Russia characters while the Challenger explodes. The idea that this persona-taking, costume-wearing silliness always exists against a backdrop in which real tragedy can happen is an interesting one. How do we balance the two? How do we take what we do seriously when there’s so much else going on in the world? And, to be fair, season three does do some of this, particularly in its most effective subplot, involving how Debbie balances career and motherhood.

But, for the most part, I struggled to get emotionally invested this season more than ever. It’s interesting the way that I can pick apart various subplots that I found entertaining—like the increasingly unrequited love from Sam (Marc Maron) for Ruth and the complexity of the marriage of Bash (Chris Lowell) and Rhonda (Kate Nash)—but it never comes together to form something great overall. It feels more episodic than previous, and woefully wastes Geena Davis as its season guest star, playing their boss in Vegas, and given almost nothing memorable to do.

Part of the problem could be that "GLOW" gets increasingly dispiriting on a character level. Ruth, Sam, and Debbie continue to struggle to figure out who they are in this world and in the “more esteemed” worlds they all saw wrestling as a launchpad to reach. All three actors are excellent, particularly Gilpin, but the season develops a depressing rhythm of wacky hijinks followed by longing for something more. In a sense, I guess I can relate.

All episodes of season three watched for review.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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