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GLOW Finally Shakes Off The Ring Rust

Dan

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Jenji Kohan’s GLOW may be one of the most underrated programs on Netflix. Partially, I think, because of its premise as a wrestling show, partially due to its neon-80’s pop aesthetic. But I love it. Much like Stranger Things, I’m not someone who’s watching this for the nostalgia. Hell, I’m still pretty casual in my following of wrestling. But you don’t need either of those to enjoy GLOW, and Season One proved that they could milk a good story out of a silly sounding premise. And Season Two doubles down.

Unfettered by a need to justify itself as a wrestling show, and with the rules of wrestling explained well enough, GLOW spent its second season transitioning into a fantastic little ensemble comedy/drama. It was touching, funny, and a little bit weird in the best possible way. While some of the running plots are a little mishandled, and some of the characters still erratic, altogether GLOW accomplished something few Netflix shows have done: surpassed itself.

Let me tell ya something, brother. If you haven’t seen GLOW Season 2 yet, well then you’d best head back to where you came from, ya jabroni, because there’s going to be spoilers.

The Good

There’s a lot of really good stuff happening in GLOW, and honestly, I don’t think I can hit them all. But these are the high points that really stuck out this season.

Workplace Comedy

A workplace wrestling comedy. How has this not happened before? While the first season drew a lot of laughs in outlandish characters and the silliness of wrestling (something this season still relies on), it still had the sort of big “let’s put on a show” feel that works well in movies but can run out of steam in a prolonged format. Season Two, by comparison, lets the show breathe as it becomes more about the trials and tribulations of a struggling company. Think of the first season as The Muppet Movie and the second as The Muppet Show. The characters get to bounce off of one another, Murphy’s law happens frequently, and there’s more time doing what Jenji Kohan shows do best: make you cry when you least expect it. Speaking of…

Mother of All Matches

The whole of Season One, Welfare Queen stood out as one of those “man things were racist back in the day” jokes throwback shows love to use. However, in this episode, we finally got to see the actual effect those stereotypes can have on people.  Tammé is a hard worker who puts her family first, yet is mocked in-ring as a lazy moocher. Her foil is an All-American face the crowd knows is a good mother even as Debbie sells most of her furniture and barely sees her own son.

Bettie Gilpin does a good job in this episode as her character slowly breaks down, and you really feel for her in her crisis as a mother. But this is Kia Stevens’s episode. Many critics were shocked that Stevens, the former dominant monster heel Awesome Kong in TNA and Kharma in WWE, could play a character so well in the last season. But I think she ought to get an Emmy for this episode. She’s giddy, proud, nervous, caring. The pain she’s hiding is clear throughout the episode. When it finally bubbles up at the end of the match, the air is sucked out of the room. The transition from goofy clown Welfare Queen to heartbroken mother Tammé is seamless and incredibly powerful. In an ensemble filled with talented and often more experienced actresses, Stevens may have done the best acting all season.

It’s Gay, Fam

You can’t show wrestling, of either gender, to the uninitiated without the inevitable comments on the…subtext behind all the gropes and grabbing done in spandex. GLOW has avoided these jokes, thank goodness, but did finally add an LGBT character to the cast this season. Yolanda, the new Junkchain aka “Cholo Junkchain” just starts out as an unwelcome ex-stripper replacing Cherry. But she turns out to be an intelligent and well-adjusted young woman with almost none of the hang-ups of most of the other GLOW girls. Oh, and she’s super, DUPER gay. It’s never fetishized or mocked, however, and is as much a part of her character as Melrose’s obsession with her GLOW-induced dry spell. Not only that, but Yolanda plays a large part in helping Arthie (Beirut the Mad Bomber) learn to make herself happy for once. The two grow close, have an adorable dance sequence (with Yolanda in a tux), and are heavily implied to be together by the end of the season. LET THEM KISS YOU COWARDS

Screw Your Nostalgia

Dude, the 80’s fucking sucked. Reagan was in charge, the American welfare state was getting cut, and people were dying of AIDS. The 80’s gave us Trump for god’s sake. People were racist, drugged up, and just as dumb as ever. And thank god GLOW knows that.

GLOW could have easily banked on its settings for a cheap nostalgia pop, showing off the neon colors and weird mustaches of days gone by. It could emulate the Steven Spielberg and John Hughes movies that Stranger Things mines to tickle the brains of Gen-X viewers and their kids. But GLOW exists beneath the synth-pop and pink flamingos. It has creepy producers raping talent in exchange for promotion, racist caricatures, an unforgiving immigration system, and suburban lives that break down at the drop of a hat. While it does venture into the nostalgia here and there, its usually in the context of the in-universe show, such as when they film the opening in the candy-coated corridors of the local mall. It’s just incredibly refreshing to see a show that looks back and rubs a little mud on the rose-colored glasses.

The Bad

Ruth Fades

Ruth in Season One came close to being a re-hash of Piper Chapman: a bland, fairly unlikable white girl to bounce the more interesting side characters off of. But thanks to Alison Brie’s sheer earnestness, the real heart of Ruth came out at the end. Defined by trying to get out of ex-friend Debbie’s shadow, Ruth finally seemed to be looking ahead at the finish of Season One. But then the show just kind of…forgot her.

That’s not to say that Ruth isn’t around. She’s still the viewpoint character, the eyes and ears of the viewer for many of the goings on in and around the GLOW production. But the show doesn’t have a whole lot for her this season other than constant, heartbreaking punishment. They took a person who was in some ways the heart of GLOW and broke her ankle, doubled down on the negging from Sam, and even put her in a position to get raped. And as it does so, it doesn’t quite put in the emotional work that all of that piling up would necessitate. To boot, they’ve tried to complicate the surrogate daughter dynamic she has with Sam by having him maybe, sort of fall for her? And she might, kinda reciprocate? I don’t really know what’s up with that, but it’s REALLY creepy and comes way too soon after Ruth escapes a sexual assault. While she eventually is made a co-director and earns some respect, it’s after she’s gone through a trauma conga line and been pushed aside to act as a punching bag for Debbie’s divorce angst. Which…

Boo Freakin’ Hoo

It’s a testament to the quality of GLOW’s storytelling that it can fumble its two ostensible leads this season and still come out stronger. Debbie’s divorce narrative is probably the biggest side-plot in the show. Every episode she’s dealing with her kid, her asshole husband, her asshole husband’s mistress, proving herself as a mother, as a woman, as a producer. But she’s never as consistent a character as in Season One, where her animosity towards Ruth is understandable even as it gets more and more overblown. Sometimes she’s conniving, getting a good deal and a producer gig out of her contract over the heads of the other woman. Sometimes she’s pitiful, a victim of sexism at the hands of Sam or her husband. And sometimes she’s a caring mother, sometimes she’s not. She does coke, once. She breaks Ruth’s ankle and knocks a big part of the show out. And never once is Debbie treated as anything but sympathetic.

Even when she lashes out, at Ruth or her husband (but it’s usually Ruth), the show seems to go out of its way to cushion it by showing us just how much Debbie is trying and how much pain she’s in. The only time that she comes close to being wrong, her badgering Ruth for not getting raped, she’s easily forgiven within a couple episode and STILL manages to pin some guilt on Ruth. Debbie is pretty close to an antagonist in this piece, but the show refuses to acknowledge it.

Wait, Who Has AIDS?

Remember what I said up there about handling the dark side of the 80’s? GLOW does a pretty good job of that, but there was a big ol’ blind spot this season: the AIDS crisis. To start, props to the show for even discussing it. While it would have been ahistorical to ignore the subject on a show set in California, they could have easily avoided a very difficult topic, the visibility of which remains a raw nerve in the gay community. But the way they did handle it was…strange.

First of all, the person who dies of AIDS was a fairly inconsequential character, Bash’s butler Florian. In Season One, the show danced around the sexuality of both these men. Were these two well-dressed bachelors secretly an item, or just very good friends? Is Bash interested in wrestling as an outlet for his repressed sexuality? Who knows! Because they shipped Florian right out of the door after the first season and he’s never heard from again. Except when he dies. Of AIDS. And yes, he was gay. Our only real confirmation of this comes from a visit by Bash, Carmen, and Rhonda to an incredibly stereotypical gay club that Florian frequented. We never see him on screen, just Bash’s reaction to his friend’s death and the hamfisted way everyone from the crematorium to the house cleaners allude to the disease as obtusely as possible. Yet the actual victim, the gay character afflicted by this horrifying illness, is neither seen nor heard from all season.  And unlike the sexism or racism discussed this season, the show chooses to hide the real victims of AIDS, even as it moralizes about the tragedy of their plight.

Conclusion

Much like Orange Is The New Black, GLOW is rapidly transitioning out of a drama centered on two core characters into a broad ensemble held up by a whole stable of talented women who balance the comedy and drama that feel so close to real life. But even as the ensemble takes shape, the show shouldn’t just let its leads melt away with nonexistent stories and inconsistent characterization (they can save that for real wrestling). There’s not been too much info released on if Season 3 is happening, but if it does, it’s going to be big. Nothing says excess like Las Vegas in the 1980’s, and I can’t wait for a chance to see the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling take on Sin City.


All images via Netflix

Dan

Author, Editor, Podcaster, Media Junkie. Currently working towards an MFA and trying to get a sci-fi novel published. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Wichita and Indianapolis.

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Kris
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Kris

“LET THEM KISS YOU COWARDS”
They did.

Matthew
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Matthew

Love this piece, but I just wanted to point out that Jenji Kohan is an executive producer whereas the creators are Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch.

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Creator Corner: Interview with the Cast of Grosse Misconduct

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Everybody loves a good workplace comedy!. These days, finding one with unique ideas and diverse characters, especially LGBTQ+ characters, can be hard to find. Look no further than Grosse Misconduct, a six-part queer digital webseries and workplace comedy that veers from the dramatic to the absurd and features not one, but two leading LGBTQ+ characters. After learning about Grosse Misconduct, I got the opportunity to sit down with the cast and talk about the show and it’s origin, what makes the characters so special, and LGBTQ+ representation.

Gretchen: Hey everybody, thanks for being willing to let me interview you! To start off, tell me about where Grosse Misconduct came from. What was the inspiration behind the show and/or what drew you to being involved in it?  

Colby: Anne and I met in an acting workshop and discussed creating our own work, which led to the idea of co-writing a web series featuring these offbeat characters.  I suggested the HR setting, as I’ve had an alternate career in Human Resources and thought it was a rich environment for story ideas.

Pooya: I was approached by Colby about Grosse Misconduct and he told me about Alicia and asked me to read it.  I read the first few episodes and loved her strength, wit and sass and also that she was nothing like any trans roles I had seen before and I said: “When do we start?!”

G: It seems like a lot of the focus recently has been on gaining more LGBT+ representation in genre films or dramas—superhero movies, Star Wars, etc. What made you decide to make/work on a workplace comedy web series?

C: Yes, it’s been great to see more of a spotlight on LGBT+ characters in film and TV recently—we’re happy to be part of that movement.  I like the idea of continuity that a web series offers—there are many potential stories to tell, and a workplace setting means we can focus on multiple narratives and be more fully representative of the audience.  We’d like to think there’s something for everyone in Grosse Misconduct!

G: Do you think that comedies in general and workplace comedies in particular offer a unique perspective on telling the stories of LGBT identity and experiences? 

P: Comedies allow us to see reality, while softening the harsher edges with laughter, which is why we can show things that would be unthinkable outside of comedy. A workplace comedy shows different people, side by side, in a closed environment, and how they interact. This offers a unique opportunity to introduce LGBTQ characters into everyday life and create a world that can be, like a glimpse into the future, or an aspirational alternate reality.

G: Speaking of telling LGBT stories, Colby, why do you think that writing LGBT stories that aren’t “coming out stories” is important for representation?

C: Coming out stories are still vital, since the process of coming out remains very difficult for a large number of the LGBT+ population, but we don’t often see leading LGBT+ characters in narratives where sexuality or gender identity is not the focus of their existence in the story…..or stories that show an LGBT+ character long after they’ve come out and are dealing with the same everyday issues as others.  Showing how alike we all are, and how we all really want the same things out of life, can only help to bring understanding and acceptance from parts of the audience who may be reluctant to embrace LGBT+ characters otherwise.

G: On the topic of representation, what do you all want to see more of when it comes to the representation of LGBT characters and stories?

P: I would love to see more diversity shown in the community. That diversity can be in age, race, temperament and socio-economic background. What do I mean? Does the gay character also have to be snarky? No! Does the trans character have to be a certain race of be from a certain socioeconomic background? No! This community is as varied through all the mentioned categories as any other group of people. The more diverse our portrayals become, the more opportunities our audience will have to find characters they personally identify with, and the more we can break down the old stereotypes.

G: In a similar vein, Pooya, I would love to hear your thoughts on creating lead roles for transgender characters and hiring transgender actors.  

P: I believe we are living in very exciting times in regards to transgender representation. For one, we actually have positive representation! But it is still very new. With shows like Pose that have their trans characters front and center, this sends a signal that it can be done. As more and more shows, network shows and alike, are introducing trans characters, played by trans actors, I believe that we are going to see trans doctors, teachers, parents and more, being played by great trans actors and slowly fading out the old, sad and victimized stereotypes.

G: Pooya and Colby, what have been the biggest challenges you have had to face being members of a marginalized community, or in Pooya’s case communities, in the filmmaking industry? Benefits?

C:  I’ve always been “out” in my life as an adult, and I’ve been fortunate to work in creative industries where my sexuality was never an issue, and I live in New York City, so I’ve led a privileged existence compared to many others in the LGBT+ community who live in environments where they feel they must hide their true selves from others. Early on as an actor, I was advised to keep my sexuality under wraps within the industry, and that was a blow to my own self-acceptance. It’s easier now for actors to be more open—we’re slowly seeing both established and new artists who feel they must be fully authentic to live their best lives.  The biggest benefit for me now is to be an openly gay actor who feels confident in pushing the progress we’ve made to new levels, and to see how it benefits the LGBT+ community, both currently and in the future.

P: For the first few years of my return to acting, I was not out, as my previous experience of being a transitioning actor had led to doors being closed in my face from all sides, and feeling very isolated. About 4 years ago, as people started talking about transgender issues, inside and outside the industry, I kept wondering if I should come out publicly. Something I would have never thought possible 15 years ago. When I did publicly come out, through a Facebook post, I thought it was going to end whatever career I had, but I knew it was the right thing to do, for me, as a trans immigrant, and my community. I’m glad I did, because it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had and it has allowed me to be a bold force in my community, as a trans person and a person of color. I also feel my skin color and its placement in the industry still has long ways to go, but I am confident that in the years to come, people who look like me, women who look like me, will get to explore more nuanced characters and be thought of beyond the stereotypical fodder that most of us have become accustomed to. I know it will happen, because WE will make it happen.

G: To everyone, I love interesting characters and challenging people to distill them into as few words as possible, so, describe your character in one sentence of 20 words or less.

C:  Mitch Grosse is a self-centered, insecure, childish man who struggles with utter thoughtlessness, but deep down, has a heart.

Anne:  She’s the Office Mom
and problem solver with a
secret kinky side.
(Not only is that less than 20 words, it’s also a Haiku.)

P: Alicia is a fighter, a survivor, a loyal friend and underneath it all, she loves people and wants to be accepted for all that she is.

G:  What do you hope that audiences watching Grosse Misconduct walk away with? 

A: Everyone has to put on their shoes one at a time, regardless of their gender identification or sexuality. Whether it be getting engaged to the person of your dreams or covering your boss’s ass at work, we all have similar wants and struggles.

G: What’s coming up next for you all? Any exciting news for Grosse Misconduct coming down the pipeline or other interesting projects you’re involved in?

C:  Anne and I have started plotting season two of Grosse Misconduct — lots of cliffhangers to resolve! I’ve also completed filming two independent films, “39 and a Half” and “Batsh*t Bride,” and you can follow me on Instagram/Twitter for updates @colbyryanactor.

A: I do standup and improv around NYC to keep the creative juices flowing. I’m also writing a play and finding new ways to reduce my carbon footprint.

P: I can’t wait for Season II of Grosse Misconduct, but in the meantime, I’m collaborating with other writers in telling stories of trans and gender non-conforming characters and just shot an indie pilot where I play a ghost of a pop diva! It really never stops, as I also have a feature film that I was the lead in and a tv series I’m a recurring guest star in and they should be out later this year. To stay connected, follow me on Instagram/Twitter @pooyaland or my website www.pooyaland.com

G: Anything else you want to share with us before we go?

A: What we see in movies, television, and web content manipulate our perceptions of other people, particularly those different than ourselves. It is so important now more than ever for people from all walks of life to share their stories and points of view. Thanks greatly to social media, it’s never been easier to do so. Get out there and create! The world will be a better place for it.

G: Thanks again for talking with me. I really appreciate it and I’m excited to go watch Grosse Misconduct!


Images courtesy of Clownfish Productions

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Bojack Horseman’s Season 5 Trailer Promises a Spectacular Season of Television

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Philbert does look pretty great, doesn’t it? It stars the horse from Horsin’ Around! How could it fail? Well, if anyone can find a way, Bojack Horseman will.

This first look at the fifth season assures the overly hopeful among us that whatever progress Bojack made in season 4, he still has a long way to go. He still drinks too much (despite handy day-by-day markers on his alcohol). His sitcom background will almost certainly make it hard for him to adjust to the differences of serious dramas. He still has crippling self-doubt and depression making it hard for him to find success and happiness.

If anything, the repetition of Diane (LOVE the new hair) saying, “you say you want to get better, but you don’t know how,” strikes at the self-sabotage Bojack so consistently inflicts upon himself. You can be sure he’ll find a way to do so again this season. However, for the first time, I genuinely believe Bojack Horseman will give us an optimistic season. Relatively. He’ll drink half the bottle instead of the entire bottle.

A lot changed for Bojack and his friends in season 4. Hollyhock inspired a genuine selflessness we had never seen from Bojack before (I’m so glad she’s back). Princess Carolyn had a nasty break-up that inspired her towards the new project she and Bojack have embarked on. Todd has found a greater independence and acceptance of himself. And, you know, it has been five seasons. Unless Bojack Horseman turns out to be one of those shows that delves gleefully into nihilism, the turn has to come soon. The moment must arrive where Bojack shows genuine improvement.

In between all that, we’ll get more of the fantastic references and jokes that make you laugh while you’re crying. Yes, Princess Carolyn totally took a dig at Westworld in this trailer. Can you say they don’t deserve it?

Season five of Bojack Horseman hits Netflix on September 14.


Images Courtesy of Netflix

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Workplace Comedy Grosse Misconduct Centers LGBTQ+ Actors, Characters

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Sometimes, there’s nothing quite so relatable as a workplace comedy. We’ve all been the awkward person at the party, or had that weird interaction with our boss (okay, maybe not that extreme), or been the one to have to teach Kevin from sales how to use the printer for the umpteenth time. Jesus, Kevin. This isn’t that hard! (insert twss joke here)

Unfortunately, a lot of television workplace comedies lack the diversity of our workplaces when it comes to queer representation. It’s as if Hollywood doesn’t think LGBTQ+ folk work normal jobs. Either that or the one LGBT character present is a walking stereotype, or worse, a punchline.

Enter Grosse Misconduct, a six-part queer digital webseries and workplace comedy that veers from the dramatic to the absurd and features not one, but two leading LGBTQ+ characters. Created by out actor Colby Ryan and co-written with his writing partner, Anne Schroeder, Grosse Misconduct depicts an eccentric Human Resources team as they navigate personal and professional struggles under the leadership of their high-maintenance director, Mitch Grosse. Now, I’ve never worked in Human Resources, by one of my good friends has and when I showed the teasers to her, she about died with how real it felt.

Grosse Misconduct also stars Iranian American transgender actress and activist Pooya Mohseni as Alicia Castile, Anne Schroeder a Sarah Wilson, Steve Barkman as Brian Lambert, and Colby Ryan as Mitch Grosse. The series was released in May, a few days ahead of Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking series Pose and was, in part, inspired by it.

From let to right: Sarah Wilson, Steve Barkman as Brian Lambert, Pooya Mohseni as Alicia Castile, and Colby Ryan as Mitch Grosse.

What’s so engaging to me about the series is that, as a workplace comedy, it offers a refreshing and very much welcome perspective on queer life and experience. If you’ve been looking for a show that bypasses traditional coming out stories and struggles over gender identity—both valid and necessary stories to tell, of course—Grosse Misconduct is for you. The characters are allowed to be people first, just like everyone else. Their gender and/or sexual orientation isn’t the sum total of their characterization. The characters live, love, work, argue, celebrate successes, and deal with failures just like everyone else.

That’s what makes workplace comedies so relatable to so many people. Because we’ve all been there. No matter what industry, job, boss, or office it is; we get it. What sets Grosse Misconduct apart is that multiple of the relatable characters are queer.

About time.

More information about Gross Misconduct, including all six episodes, is available on the website. Please give it a watch, I highly recommend it!


Images Courtesy of Clownfish Productions

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