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Why The Second Season Of 'GLOW' Is Better Than The First


The gorgeous ladies of wrestling return to Netflix today for the second season of "GLOW." It's a fictional comedy based on the real-life all-female '80s wrestling league. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the second season does something rare. It's better than the first.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There's a bit of a back-to-school vibe as the second season of "GLOW" begins, with the show's wrestlers reconvening in their broken-down headquarters to make their first full season of television. But some, including one woman of color who's wrestling character is named Beirut the Mad Bomber, have a tough time picking up their old costumes to play characters steeped in stereotypes.


SUNITA MANI: (As Arthie Premkumar) I don't want to put this on. My costume still smells like beer and racism.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Oh, nobody washed these?

DEGGANS: The low-rent lifestyle remains a central part of "GLOW," which triumphs in its second season by showing people on the seedy edge of showbusiness becoming a dysfunctional family of sorts, pulling together a TV phenomenon in the age of big hair and shoulder pads. Central to the story is Alison Brie's Ruth Wilder, a terrible actress who it turns out is better at working behind the scenes. Stand-up comic Marc Maron hits a career high playing "GLOW's" crusty director, Sam Sylvia. Sylvia is something of a bully who can't even take a suggestion from a star wrestler.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) You're so dismissive.

MARC MARON: (As Sam Sylvia) Really? That's the longest I've ever let a woman who I'm not sleeping with speak uninterrupted. You're welcome.

DEGGANS: But he's also a perfect fit for Maron, who's basically channeling his cynical stand-up stage persona. A frustrated B-movie director who's self-destructive and self-aware, Sylvia is the perfect foil for Brie's chirpy Ruth, who's more than ready to start the new season.


ALISON BRIE: (As Ruth Wilder) I'm excited.

MARON: (As Sam Sylvia) Yeah.

BRIE: (As Ruth Wilder) Aren't you excited?

MARON: (As Sam Sylvia) Don't pep talk me, all right, Ruth? The last time I knew what I was going to do for 20 consecutive weeks, I was in college. And I hated college. I mean, I woke up this morning, and I ironed this shirt. What is that? I feel like someone else.

DEGGANS: Sylvia's tendency to feel threatened by others' ideas, especially when they come from women on the show, allows "GLOW" room to explore sexism and gender politics. "Nurse Jackie" alum Betty Gilpin plays "GLOW" star wrestler Debbie Eagan. After fighting to get status as an executive producer, she tells a fellow wrestler that the title isn't worth much if Sylvia doesn't listen to her.


BETTY GILPIN: (As Debbie Eagan) It turns out being a producer is - well, it's like your plastic crown. Just because it's shiny and you fought for it doesn't make it worth more than a party favor (laughter) because boys don't listen to me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: (As character) If you want to be respected, you got to make yourself useful unless you're a white man. Then you just have to show up and wait around and eventually get promoted.

GILPIN: (As Debbie Eagan, laughter).

DEGGANS: "GLOW" is that rare series that builds on an impressive debut season to achieve even more. As the characters get better at wrestling and filming their bizarre matches for a small-time TV station, the Netflix series gets better at exploring larger themes. One wrestler must cope with her son seeing her play a demeaning character called Welfare Queen. Several other wrestlers are caught between the sexism of men and harsh back-stabbing from other women. And one character must cope with losing a trusted friend to AIDS.

There are some troubling elements, including how easily all the characters come to accept the era's casual racism and sexism. And some may see the group's growing camaraderie as sappy and predictable. But overall, "GLOW" uses an oddball premise to tell compelling, funny stories about race, class, gender and parenting. And at a time when it feels like the wheels are coming off society in real life, this story of misfits pulling themselves together emerges at the perfect time. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.