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The Bad Omen at the Center of GLOW's New Season

The Season 3 trailer has us psyched, except for one recurring storyline.
  • Marc Maron and Alison Brie in GLOW (Netflix)
    Marc Maron and Alison Brie in GLOW (Netflix)

    This week was cause for celebration as we got the trailer for a new season of GLOW, the Netflix series based on the true story of the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. For one thing, GLOW just does really great trailers. I particularly love the A+ '80s music choices, from "Cum On Feel The Noize" (Season 1) to "Maniac" and "Holding Out for a Hero" (Season 2) to this year's Roxette-infused trailer (see below), which heralds the show-within-the-show's move to Vegas for Season 3. Somehow, despite the last three decades of movies and TV shows leveraging '80s music to their advantage, GLOW still finds a way to make its music choices stand out as both emotionally astute and crowd-pleasing. It's something that would probably be talked about a lot more if GLOW itself wasn't such an uncommonly brilliant comedy/drama about women on the margins finding themselves in an often disreputable but ultimately nourishing subculture.

    Unfortunately, for all the enthusiasm that the Season 3 trailer rightly inspired, it also dangled the one recurring concern I have for my long-term affection for the show. A concern that started as a grain of worrisome sand on a vast beach of awesome that includes a deep bench of excellent stars (headlined by the stellar Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin) and a comedic tone that nails the balance of the absurdity of the situation with the dignity of these women and their circumstances. But that concern has grown over the course of two seasons, and now that we're getting a look ahead at Season 3, I think I'm within my rights to voice this sincere plea: Please do not let a Ruth and Sam love story ruin GLOW.

    Here's the thing: Marc Maron does a great job in his role as Sam, the scumbum B-movie director (C-plus movies, if we're being honest) who, in a desperate stab at keeping his career afloat and his bills at least semi-paid, throws together this women's wrestling promotion and inexplicably hit on a magic idea that, while not exactly a license to print money, gives his career a bit of promise. He's also a leering prick, given to making demeaning comments about the women in general and in particular about Ruth and her try-hard, acting-class, proto-Anne Hathaway ways. Throughout much of the first season, this negging of Ruth was played as a tactic to get the performance he wanted out of her, but there's no denying that there is a kernel of hatred there. To which, I say: Fine! Hollywood was (and is) littered with this type of men, and on the particular rung of the industry ladder that Ruth and the other Gorgeous Ladies live, the number of embittered dirtbags taking their ex-wife frustrations out on blameless women must be pretty high.

    That GLOW has painted Sam as an embittered dirtbag with a heart of gold is also (mostly) fine. This is a television show, Sam is one of the main characters, and honestly in 2019, I am okay with more characters with hearts of gold on shows that I like because sometimes it's nice not to be riveted to shows about complete assholes. Maron doesn't appear to be going anywhere, so they might as well give his character redeeming qualities. But in the penultimate episode of Season 2, the narrative jumped to another tier. After a leg injury had Ruth convalescing with Sam and his teenage daughter, Justine, Ruth accompanied Sam to chaperone Justine's school dance. And since it's a TV show, Sam asked Ruth to hobble out to the gym floor and dance with him. It's a sweet moment, especially out of context. But moments later, when Sam kisses Ruth, putting paid to almost two seasons of meaningful glances and too-personal arguments, GLOW officially touched the third rail. Said third rail being a romance between two main characters going from subtext to text. Sure, we knew Sam had developed vague, seemingly unrequited feelings for Ruth. Those sprung forth not too long after the first-blush hatred. But that kiss, even with Ruth running out right after, meant that Sam and Ruth and their Sword-of-Damocles romance was officially A Thing.

    And while the season ended without any further forward motion on that front (and in fact saw Ruth end that episode by re-committing to her quasi-boyfriend Russell), the Season 3 trailer includes several shots that suggest the Sam/Ruth love story is not going away. "What do you want, Ruth?" Sam asks at what point. "I don't want to ruin what we have," an emotional Ruth responds.

    To push Sam and Ruth towards a romance — however doomed it may be — this coming season feels like the show is sentencing me to a storyline that is going to a) bum me out on its own merits, and b) pull me out of the show while I climb atop a soapbox about how shitty it is for a TV show about the dignity and empowerment of women to unnecessarily have its lead character drawn to a man who's treated her so badly. Because down that road lies arguments about whether TV shows should avoid realistic storylines (like women who fall for men who mistreat them) and whether it's GLOW's responsibility to make its characters nice and functional rather than compelling and flawed. Guess who wants no part of those arguments? This guy. Guess who wants to melt into this fictional universe of wrestling women (and Bash!) and not have to re-hash old Buffy-and-Spike arguments? THIS GUY.

    Maron and Brie in the Season 2 finale. (Netflix)

    A Ruth/Sam romance isn't just problematic; it also draws Ruth into a plot that separates her from the other women — which is where the heart of the show is, not to mention all the comedy. It also puts her into a plot that is by definition about a hundred times more pedestrian than the rest of the show. A doomed romance between a downer jerk and try-hard dreamer is so deeply typical and boring and threatens to waste both Brie and Maron's great performances. Besides, Ruth is already involved in the real central romance of GLOW: her fraught, snake-bitten friendship with Gilpin's Debbie. That's the relationship we're invested in. Those are the estranged longing glances that hit the hardest.

    Trying to graft a dumb, boring, straight romance onto a show that absolutely doesn't need it is more than just a pet peeve and an annoyance. It's a waste of time and resources on a show that might not have many more seasons ahead, if Netflix's rumoured detour into limiting the runs of series past three seasons is to be believed. So please, GLOW, prove these fears unfounded. Take that superfluous romantic subplot, give it a classic airplane-spin, and pin its shoulders to the mat.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: GLOW, Netflix, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron