If you’re trying to keep up this summer TV season, take note that a lot of content amounts to a new season of an existing series.
New episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee start streaming on Netflix next Friday. A new season of Orange Is the New Black arrives on Netflix on July 27. The second season of last year’s big summer hit, Ozark, arrives on Netflix on Aug. 31. Away from Netflix, the fourth season of the great Better Call Saul returns to AMC on Aug. 6.
The first big second-season debut was GLOW (streams on Netflix) and it’s a wonderful, punchy comedy-drama that gets better with each episode. If you haven’t seen the delightful first season, catch up on Netflix now.
Season one had some wobbly scenes and some indulgency, and you could tell there was an effort to focus it, as episodes vary a lot in strength. A lot.
The half-hour series is set in the 1980s and is very loosely based on the story of the real TV production Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a women’s wrestling phenomenon that soared briefly as a cult TV hit after it started airing on cable in 1986. Women actors playing women wrestlers. That’s it. But creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and co-executive producer Jenji Kohan (Orange Is the New Black) use the material and the setting of that era to deliver an acidly funny commentary on, among other themes, the lack of roles for women then and now. Plus the sexist treatment of women in the entertainment industry and, well, the fraught drama of women being empowered to act out aggressively but working together in a unit. It’s all bittersweet-funny and in the new season sometimes gloriously, outright hilarious.
As in the opening of the first season, GLOW is about Ruth (Alison Brie, who was Trudy Campbell on Mad Men and Annie on Community), an actress getting few jobs and hoping to avoid the ultimate humiliation of doing porn. Foolishly she’s also having an affair with the husband of her best friend, Debbie (Betty Gilpin from Masters of Sex), a former soap-opera actress who is now a depressed and lonely new mother.
Ruth lands a role in this Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling thing, an all-women enterprise, and the performers are of all shapes and sizes and ethnically diverse. Somehow they all know that even if this wresting thing seems ridiculous, it empowers them. Season two is more about the wrestling show itself, the making of it, the reaction to it, and what happens when some of the women become cult stars for the cartoonish roles they play, not for their own worth.
The new episodes remain charming, funny, at times adorable and at the same time, emotionally raw. Very few series, on Netflix or elsewhere, have managed to maintain the curiously playful tone while being powerfully, delicately emotional.
Brie emerges again as the strongest actor in the ensemble. She’s superb, and is given one the key scenes when her character is obliged to meet a TV exec who has confused her wrestling role with the actor. But everyone in this ensemble is fine. One other standout, though, is the character Tammé, played by Kia Stevens. Her wrestling character is Welfare Queen, whose faux-wrestling bouts with other women inevitably have the audience chanting, “Get a job!”
And for all the joy and creativity that the wrestling show brings the women, the boss, Sam (Marc Maron, who does a wonderful sleazebag trying to avoid having a heart of gold) reminds Ruth, as the wrestling show becomes a hit, “You’re not a team. You’re all replaceable.”
There is plenty of joy in GLOW and the right amount of spiky humour with added doses of down-to-earth realism. It’s about a show within a show but really it’s about what is within these women as they enjoy mocking the stereotypes they carry into the ring and reaching for something way beyond that.
Also airing this weekend: Canada Day means a lot of themed programs for the celebration. From certain broadcasters, anyway. Some just ignore it. Long Time Running (Sunday, CTV 7 p.m.), is the doc chronicling The Tragically Hip’s 2016 tour, from the already emotionally fraught start through to the epic last show. The CBC News Special Presentation: Canada Day 2018 (Sunday, CBC 11 a.m.) is anchored by Rosemary Barton from Parliament Hill, and promises to “feature events from across the country.” Whatever that might be. There is a lot of music later on. CBC Music Festival 2018 (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m.) has July Talk, A Tribe Called Red, Charlotte Day Wilson and … more! Then comes Canada Day in the Capital (Sunday, CBC 9 p.m.), which will have performances by Arkells, DJ Shub, Lights, Klö Pelgag, Iskwé, Boogát, Jean-Marc Couture, Rose Cousins, Ruth B, The Dead South and Brigitte Boisjoli. Or, as CBC pedantically calls them, “musical performances.” Yay, CBC, rock out Canada for Canada Day.