The best ’80s rom coms, and even some of the cheesiest, share a starry-eyed belief bordering on entitlement that love — and power ballads — can conquer all. By the ’90s, that sentiment soured and curdled as the culture collectively cringed at ‘80s myopia. But in recent years, we’ve become far less self-conscious about the previous millennium’s penultimate 10. Mea culpa movie parodies and condescending clip shows have given way to genuinely wishful expression, and few TV shows of the streaming era have bottled that essence better than GLOW. “Every Potato Has a Receipt” (it’s true!) ends with the women boarding a chartered bus for Las Vegas, where their now-cancelled syndicated broadcast is set to become a nightly live event. As Jefferson Starship jumps up front into the mix as Ruth and Russell (how cute that their names alliterate) kiss, the other ladies cheer, and we cut from one ensemble member to the next, capturing where they are at this exact moment and leaving us invested in where they’re headed (metaphorically speaking).
But it’s not actually 1985, and showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (who co-wrote this episode, with regular collaborator Jesse Peretz directing) aren’t doing Ruth, or us, any favors by pretending that this new beginning is her life’s happy ending. Sam is joking about how much she’ll hate it in Sin City, but it does cut through her cognitive dissonance and conclude season two on an ominous note. Though if the implication is that she’s faking it ‘til she makes it with Russell and will have to reckon with her feelings for Sam, who will be by her side daily, then let’s just hope some new outsider works their way into the mix. Their will they/won’t they tension, as opposed to the development of a mutually respectful friendship and partnership, continues to ring false and forced.
Nor is that the season, or its finale’s, only stumble. There’s an interesting character within Bash, and there was something really satisfying about the ambiguity surrounding his and Flor’s situation, and that there was no huge urgency to make it plain. Even if some material didn’t make the final cut, some narrative padding might have softened the blow of Flor abruptly dying of AIDS and Bash spending his last week producing G.L.O.W. shattered by grief. It’s a grief that, to paraphrase Sam (who’s more than a bit broken up over Justine going back with Rosalie), makes it feel like there’s still room in Bash’s heart that he’d originally opened up for Flor. (As for Flor’s actual guest bedroom, a moving-and-cleaning company bleached and cleared that space out like a murder had taken place in it.) And it’s a grief that, apparently, compels Bash to fill his vacant heart with the love of Britannica, whom he spontaneously professed his love for and marries on TV, much to Toby a.k.a. Cupcake’s displeasure. (Was really hoping we had a new series regular there.) That should all go about as well next season as Rhonda and Sam’s shenanigans — strangely now rarely alluded to — early on.
“Every Potato Has a Receipt” otherwise sticks the landing, both literally — as Debbie pulls off some nifty moves on the fly against male interloper Chico Guapo (offscreen trainer and wrestling legend Chavo Guerrero Jr.) — and in terms of tending to story. The climactic battle royal for Liberty’s crown (claimed, in a sweet twist, by a zip-lining, resurgent Zoya/Ruth) is a nice payoff for fans (like this recapper) longing for meatier stretches of in-ring action. Watching Guapo call he and Liberty Belle’s tussle in real time is a nice tip of the cap to wrestling artistry, while Guapo and Kurt’s (a.k.a. Carmen’s brother) shameless mugging for screen time acknowledges the savvy entertainer inside every successful grappler. And we can all agree that Carmen’s penance for stealing Kurt’s moves — wearing a shirt proclaiming her love for the Lumberjacksons and childhood habit of peeing the bed — is adequate penance.
Even Mark’s conveniently stepping up as less of a deadbeat divorcée, bringing Randy to see mommy defend her title (they gonna get a proper belt in Vegas or what?) and wishing her well as she heads due east. Mark and Ruth share a knowing nod, Debbie and Ruth come full circle as locker room buddies — only with Debbie feeling like the one without her shit together — and several threads are put to bed. If only Ruth was feeling as confident as she projected to Debbie about who exactly she’s sleeping with.
The same can’t be said for Arthie or Yolanda, who are very much in the running (by my estimation) alongside David and Patrick from Schitt’s Creek for sitcom couple of the year. These two are head over platform heels, or whatever it is Yolanda wears when she dances at Ray’s strip club. Doesn’t matter, because Arthie is all in, and Sam — who sidles up next to her and quickly flees before Yolanda undresses — is merely bemused.
Scenes like this are GLOW’s winning formula, beyond the authenticity of its period trappings or anything else. It adapts the real-life G.L.O.W.’s formula into an opportunity to present a bold and wide range of femininity, identity and friendships. Male or female, its characters ultimately wrestle with realness and loneliness and loss and recovery, upending the artifice of ’80s flicks without depicting them or their time in ways that feel untrue. Yes, both seasons are guilty of sometimes searching for the plot, but the same could be said of wrestling. And when in stride, both GLOW and its spectacular muse maintain a pretty tight hold.
Apart From All That:
• Jake Fogelnest had a serious Don Imus vibe going on as Dan Lyon.
• Didn’t see Horatio Sanz becoming the new Glenn, but I’ll take it.
• Ruth rubbing the bouquet on her crotch is a solid touch.
• Pretty sure those movers thought Bash killed a guy.
• Keith would make a great dad.
• I miss the Beatdown Biddies.
• Did Sheila mime peeing on Rhonda?
• Kurt had a for-real, Ken Marino-in-Wet Hot thing happening.
• Pies of Rage is a keeper of a future band name.
• Thanks for reading all 10 of these recaps. See you in Vegas!