Netflix's GLOW was one of the best new shows of 2017, exploring female identity and empowerment through the prism of wrestling and soap operas (since as the ladies quickly learned, wrestling really is just soap operas with extra spandex). The first season was equal parts Bad News Bears underdog sports drama, glam '80s time piece, and proto-feminist text—in particular, the show deftly (and often hilariously) embraced, critiqued, and challenged female stereotypes through the personas of the wrestlers—all without fetishizing its actresses.
As good as the first season was, season two is even better, taking a closer look into the lives of the spectacular supporting cast while deepening the complex female friendship at the heart of the show. It's both a tougher look at the compromises and exploitation of Hollywood, as well as funnier than ever—episode eight in particular is one of the most delightful things you'll see on TV this year.
We spoke to creators Liz Flahive (Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black) about the original GLOW TV show, Ruth & Debbie's complicated friendship, how episode eight came together, the most controversial romantic pairing of the season, and a little film called Captain Marvel.
I wanted to start by going back and asking, how did you guys first learn about the real GLOW, and did you get hooked on the show?
Carly Mensch: I think we were a little too young [to see it when it was on air]. We learned about it in hindsight by seeing a documentary [GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling] that was about the original GLOW women looking back on their time, and it inspired us to go and make our own fictional version.
What did you learn about making the show from season one, and what did you decide to change or adjust going into season two?
Carly: With season one, I feel like we really deliberately took our time with the story, and we knew that once the girls knew how to wrestle, there was no going back. And we also really wanted to introduce our viewers to what wrestling was and what it meant and how we were going to use it to tell our stories. So I think that we were pretty clear from the beginning of building the first season that we were going to go from the audition to the shooting of the pilot, and not further than that.
So the thing that was really exciting to us was that there was so much we were unable to do in season one that we felt very able to do in season two, in terms of digging into characters more deeply. People that maybe you hadn't totally gotten to know as fully in season one you get to know in season two, and we were really getting into the story of making the show, so all of that felt like incredibly rich territory we were excited to dig into.
As you were writing season two, how interested were you in drawing parallels with today, versus keeping it very much in the period piece of the '80s?
Liz Flahive: Carly always says this—I'm attributing it to her even though I'm saying it—I feel like we're writers with very modern brains but I think we're also very committed to really honoring the period. So I think we don't want to do anything that is distracting in any way, but I think that our hope is that it doesn't just live as a sort of nostalgic thing that you're watching. I think it wants to, ideally, bump up against the times we're living in in a way that makes you think.
Carly: I think women have been harassed in the workplace since long before 1985, so that part of the story felt very timeless for the culture we're living in now. But it's kind of the response to it that felt like it could be more period-appropriate than how we would have modernly responded to that type of event.
The debate between Betty and Ruth over how Ruth handled the Weinstein-esque producer reminded me a little of a debate about sexism that had gone on in Mad Men between Joan and Peggy. My mother is a women's history professor, and she always brings up these types of things when she is teaching about how attitudes have changed toward sexism.
Liz: Yeah, I think for us we really didn't want it to be a modern point of view or an updated point of view. Rachel Shukert, the writer of episode five, did a gorgeous job handling it. We really wanted that conversation—both of them have very different experiences as characters in the industry. Ruth is incredibly naive, this is technically her first real job on a show, and Debbie has sort of been through it, she's been through a lot more and has had to weather certain things and make certain compromises and probably certain behaviors that Ruth just never even had the opportunity to encounter because she wasn't working.
So I think that idea felt really rich, just in terms of being able to tell a story about a friendship because the goal of this story is about how it's going to impact Ruth and Debbie's story in a larger way.
Carly: We wanted that conversation between the two of them to be very specific to where they're at, not just in terms of Debbie's experience in the industry, but also her feelings about Ruth. So I think that last line where she says, "The one time you keep your legs shut, we all get fucked," is a very telling line in terms of where Debbie is coming from and the personal baggage that she is bringing.
Do Ruth and Debbie need to continue to be in conflict as an essential dynamic of the show, or is that something that might fall by the wayside as we move forward?
Carly: I think we wanted to honor how complicated [their friendship] is and not pretend that you can just kind of wrap it up, that they have some type of connection and it feels like it's currently the spine of our show. I don't think we are gonna promise that it will ever fall away—it feels that our goal is to keep changing it and to keep it complicated and to keep it honest.
Have either of you encountered producers like Ruth did, or had to deal with sexism in the writer's rooms where you've worked?
Liz: The thing with me and Carly—we talk about this a bunch too—is that we were very, very lucky in terms of where we started our careers. I started on Nurse Jackie, which is a show created by a few women. The writer's room were more than half women and half gay. It did not look like what I've been told most writer's rooms look like. And, Carly started with Weeds with Jenji Kohan. So we grew up in the rarified air of cable. So I feel like our jumping off point was incredibly important and valid.
Carly: I think we've heard these stories our entire careers. They're not surprises to us. I think we probably have both experienced some type of what is now called micro-aggressions. But I think we kind of been largely in a sheltered climate.
As you mentioned, in the first season you only got to the pilot, so we didn't quite get into the making of the show yet. After I watched the first season, I went and checked out some of the clips online of the real show, and it really surprised me just how funny and weird it was. I was surprised to see the two grandma characters in one of the rap intros, and a few others whom you see reflected somewhat in the show now. How much did you draw from the real show for these characters?
Liz: I think what we drew was inspiration, and I think we really needed to deviate from the show. I think the spirit of GLOW in sort of how bonkers it is and how joyful it is and how these wrestling characters are all very tweaked, almost stock characters in their wrestling personas. We definitely wanted to honored them, but create our own universe. So I think we largely stayed away from looking at any storylines in the original GLOW. But the thing that I think we kept coming back to was that it was just so many different things mashed together, and that was what was exciting about that show to us. When we saw the documentary, the first thing we said to each other was, "We have never heard of this or seen anything like it," and so we wanted to make sure we captured that feeling.
During season two, we really see that the show is more like a kooky variety/sketch show, something more than just your classic wrestling show.
Liz: Yeah, I think that was definitely something we were inspired by.
I really loved episode eight [in which we see a full "complete" episode of GLOW], which was one of the most delightful episodes of TV I've seen this year. It was an episode where the joy of both making and starring in that show, whatever time it's aired, becomes incredibly apparent, and it all kind of comes together. Why did you decide to do a more standalone episode like that? Do you foresee doing more episodic experiments in the future?
Carly: Standalone was actually a word we didn't want to use with that episode. I think what we wanted to feel, in terms of that episode, was that we definitely earned the opportunity to see a full episode of the show within the show. And I feel like there was a lot of stuff that we had been setting up in terms of our characters and what they wanted to do [with their characters] that pays off in that episode, and we also wanted to use it to move new stories forward. So as much as it is its own thing, in terms of the style of that episode and how you are experience our show, we were trying to make sure it wasn't like a total detour from the main plot. We were, very intentionally [during] the whole season, setting things up so that we could earn it and it would move the season forward.
But it was an idea that Liz and I had wanted to do since the beginning of the show. Even season one, Liz and I were like, "Can we do it? Can we do it?" and we understood there wasn't even a show for us to get inside yet. So it had been on our dream list for a pretty long time. We were kind of itching to do it this season, and then there was figuring out where in the season to place it.
It became kind of a unique way station as you really ramp up to the end.
Carly: Yeah, in the larger story of the show—which is like they're making a show, it gets moved to a shitty time slot, it frees them to find the version of the show that they want only to learn that they are fully canceled, only for there to be another surprise—it feels like a way station as much as an important part of the story of the show they are making.
It was also maybe the funniest episode of a season that got pretty serious at times. This season, the show really straddle the line between comedy and drama, like a lot of the shows you two have worked on. How do you find the balance to make sure it doesn't tip too far one way?
Carly: I think it's like the way we were sheltered before, we've both written on cable shows that also split that difference, I've worked with Jenji on Weeds and Orange. I think we're playwrights, so our instincts of what stories to tell are dramatic, but then we both have comic voices. So we tend to sniff out real grounded, dramatic stories, and then write them in our own comic voices.
Liz: We are moving a little faster with GLOW into a land where you can laugh at a bunch of scenes and then get punched in the stomach, depending on where you put emphasis. Like, "God that really felt like an episode of drama," or "that was really funny and I didn't expect to cry." It also depends on how you metabolize that story as a viewer.
Another storyline that comes to a head towards the end of the season, which is the... potential romance of Marc Maron and Allison Brie? Even as I'm saying it now, I'm not sure whether that is the correct way of reading the relationship.
Liz: I'm glad you are being very delicate, because that's how we feel too.
It may be more of a mentor-mentee situation for her, but maybe not for him anymore, I'm not sure.
Carly: That's where we want you to be.
Liz: I think creative relationships and strange partnerships and actual chemistry all come together to do a particular thing to people. They're an incredibly interesting duo, and I think we were also just wanted to write toward what we were sort of feeling on screen with them.
But I think our intention was exactly as you saw. I don't think we were trying to key up a huge will they/won't they? with those too. I think for us, the will they/won't they? of the story is Ruth and Debbie's friendship. I think that exploring how Ruth deals with finding happiness in a relationship, and what that does to people around her is something that was an interesting question to us for the season, and I'd say we answered a couple of different ways.
As with the real show, the GLOW team is moving to Las Vegas by the end of the season. Have you started planning out the next season?
Liz: If only we knew.
Carly: [Las Vegas] is a place that makes both Liz and I very uncomfortable, and I think that was what originally drew us in. Where is a place that both honors the original show, but also just kind of in terms of sniffing out new stories and places to put them where we can refract new things off them and lean into more of the exploitative sides of the show that they are doing, which has kind of been there all along. It's just a kind of exacerbated place, that kind of magnifies one side of the show that's always been there but kind of repels us in a good way.
How do you decide which of the other ensemble characters are gonna get a spotlight episode? Tammy/Welfare Queen had an amazing episode this season, but a couple of other characters didn't have as much attention. Is it hard to serve everyone, is it just a matter of sticking it in whenever you can?
Carly: It's really hard. I think if we had enough time we would service everyone. But we had two mothers on the show, and that felt exciting to us and we kind of knew it season one but we never really highlighted it. And Liz suggested that, because I had a baby between season one and season two, I was excited to tell motherhood stories with her season two.
Liz: And I'm just sitting here with children waiting for everybody else to be excited. And it finally happened.
I think it's one of those things where you never want it to feel like a checklist. "Oh, now it's this person's episode." That's now really how we are functioning. It's an ensemble, and if we do it right, you'll get that from everybody by the time we are done in one way or another.
I think it has to serve the larger story of the season and I think the blessing and the curse of having a huge cast is you see like, "Oh, I wish we could've gone into this more." But I think given how many characters we have, they all deepen by degree, some more than others. Our hope is that by the end of the show's run, whenever that is, you would have gotten to feel that way about everybody.
On that GLOW wishlist you mentioned earlier, do you have something on there about a Jackie Stallone-type character? [Jackie Stallone, actor Sylvester Stallone's mom, joined the original show in the 1980s as a promoter-type figure, before becoming more famous in the '90s as an astrologer.]
Carly: It has come up.
Liz: It has. I don't think it's on our wishlist, but there are definitely actresses that we would be delighted to invite onto the show.
That was a fun bit of trivia I learned while researching the original show.
Liz: Did you know about her Rumpology? Where she pioneered the type of astrology where you read people's bottoms?
What. Oh no. That is very interesting. [Rumpology is basically palm reading for butts. Stallone claims that it was practiced in ancient times by the Babylonians, the Indians, and the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but has shown no evidence of this. Please visit her official Rumpology website and make sure to scan the "Examples" page.]
Liz: There's a rabbit hole to go down.
Carly: That is a long rabbit hole.
I did read that she was promoting her women's-only gyms when she joined the show.
Liz: We intentionally try not to do too much research on the original show, for fear of wanting to steal it, because the details will always be delicious. But I have a sense that she had a gym where some of the early GLOW people first met. She definitely has a lot of different involvements in the show but, I think people knew her and knew her gym before she even went on the show.
And last thing: I know you are both credited as writers on Captain Marvel...
Liz: You found us out.
How and when did you get brought into that process? There are like seven writers credited on the movie.
Carly: We got brought in at the very end, yeah.
Liz: We feel very honored to have worked on it at all. A lot of people did a lot of heavy lifting before we came in to just be brought in for a polish. And it was completely delightful and thrilling and a huge stretch for us. We had never worked on a Marvel movie ever before, and it was a total delight.
Did you get a taste for it, where you want to do more of it in the future?
Carly: We would definitely love to work with Marvel again. They were just like a wonderful company to work with, really smart and really excited about storytelling and finding new people to work with. I don't think we are open for business for any type of superheroes stories, but I think with Marvel we were pretty excited.
The first season of GLOW is a lot like an origin story for a bunch of superheroes, just very low-level superheroes.
Carly: Maybe that's how we need to pitch ourselves to Marvel.
What can we expect from the movie? How is it gonna be different from other MCU films?
Liz: We are not really at liberty to talk about that you see, because we want them to love us forever. [Laughs] So all we are gonna say is that it's gonna be badass, and we're excited to see it, and we hope that we get to play in that universe again at some point.