Wrestle like nobody’s watching. For myriad reasons, that’s not actually a professional wrestling saying—not even with regards to Empty Arena matches—but instead, it’s more about playing to your audience. So what exactly do you do when your audience is 20 to 30 non-paying “customers,” best described as “freaks, some children, [and] a homeless guy”? GLOW’s “Live Studio Audience” addresses that, as the ladies put on their first “wrestling match” for the titular live studio audience; and apparently the answer is “have a lot of personal issues.” But still, the G.L.O.W. preview show is something worth watching, and “Live Studio Audience” turns catastrophe to legitimately captivating television. Because watching this episode itself, it’s hard to see fault in anything that gives its audience a true ‘80s training montage (set to the musical stylings of Stan Bush) and anything as amazingly gut-busting as the Junk Chain/Welfare Queen vs. the KKK Biddies tag team match.
Professional wrestling thrives on the concept of its stars being larger than life, in at least one form or another, but with “Live Studio Audience,” that presentation is practically nowhere to be found. There are glimmers of it, but the show still has a long way to go (with only a few weeks left) to make that the whole experience. That’s not even because it’s an independent, underground production, since even those can have a sense of mystique about them. It’s not because Bash (as he reveals to only Carmen) has been cut off by his disapproving mother and has to cut corners, because having financial issues is perhaps the thing that officially makes him a real wrestling promoter. But the G.L.O.W. show is a comedy of errors, from top to bottom, to the point where Rhonda—who thinks, for some reason, her brainy character should have a horse—realizes it’s a trainwreck from moment one. Getting these kinks out is the whole point of such a show, but that doesn’t make it any less demoralizing at times. Especially since they were even able to convince 20 to 30 people to even show up to the show in the first place, which is quite a victory.
Still, it doesn’t end up being a failure, because—as corny as it sounds—the women get to hold their heads up high at the end. Again, it is an absolute disaster with occasional bright spots (literally from the lighting in the form of the ceiling lights)… But it’s definitely not a failure, which I suppose counts as a win for G.L.O.W.
Besides knowing how to do your moves, one of the most important aspects of professional wrestling is trust. Trusting that your opponent will be able to catch you, trusting that your opponent will know how to take your moves, etc. A lot of communication goes into a match, before, especially during, and after. As obvious as it was that Ruth was the perfect heel for Debbie, it never really came into play until now that the concept of trust—in some way, shape, or form—has to come into play as well. That’s obviously not something Debbie was thinking about it when she was rejecting the idea of Ruth as her dance partner, but now that it’s a reality, it’s all she can think about. And after all the resistance from Debbie in “This Is One Of Those Moments,” it’s great to see that she does try her hardest (and eventually succeeds) at forming that type of professional trust with Ruth, all without betraying any of her own personal issues. (Though little things before their match show that part of her does want to move on, eventually.) GLOW understands the entertainment value of these characters trying and eventually succeeding at things, and even though Ruth and Debbie both have their moments where they’re not super duper Ms. Likable, that doesn’t prevent their successes from feeling earned and exciting. Case in point: Watching them slowly but surely put the pieces of their match together is a bit of absolute joy. It’s actually something that comes with that feeling you’d have with any other ‘80s training montage, before the irony of the whole trope set in. Though, let it never be said GLOW doesn’t understand the ‘80s cheese of the situation: Even though it’s all played straight, the very choice of a Stan Bush song says it all. It’s authentic, and its inclusion (along with the G.L.O.W. preview show being a mess) shows an understanding of the genre and era it’s working with.
“Live Studio Audience” also serves as a major reminder that, with all the bonding and good-natured ribbing between women, that still doesn’t mean they’re all best friends. That’s obviously the case for Debbie and Ruth, but then you see the Justine and Rhonda situation, as Justine tries to get her fired by planting the stolen camera in her locker. However, Justine’s plan actually ends up making Rhonda look better because of the amount of compassion and understanding Rhonda puts into Justine’s behavior. As flippant as she is when it comes to finding (and using) the stolen camera, you can’t ignore her emotional maturity in this particular situation. In fact, so many shows go way too far when it comes to their dimmer characters, and while Rhonda is no true Britannica, that doesn’t mean she can’t ever have an awareness of situations.
There’s also the Debbie/Cherry relationship, if you even want to call what they have a relationship. They may smoke and chat about Steel Horse’s steel horse, but with Cherry in somewhat of a position of power and Debbie as the lead, there’s always bound to be a style clash. Debbie has no problem calling the moves Cherry teaches them “boring,” to Cherry’s face, then going a step further and calling them completely “amateur hour” to Ruth. Then again, Debbie remembers Steel Horse doing a bunch of backflips, which I’m fairly certain did not happen. In this case, Cherry makes the best with what she has and knows (though she also kind of saves the best moves for herself), but Debbie has a point. Doesn’t mean she has to call Cherry “Shaft’s mom,” though, but still. And as Cherry tells Keith, when it comes to Debbie, “you can’t tell her anything.” There’s no resentment from Cherry—at least not on that front—but it’s hard not to see that she could easily be in the same star position if not for the time and place. She’s got the charisma, she’s got the it factor, and she’s got the talent. While poor Carmen has a panic attack in front of a crowd (despite being born to do this) and Reggie can’t seem to figure out what to do with her body, GLOW makes sure that Cherry’s performance (even if it is a swerve on the booking) shows just how much she really is the total package. There isn’t any bit where it finally “makes sense” why she’s at a certain spot; it’s just because she’s one of the black ones, sad as it is. There’s no reflecting on this, because that’s just the way it was.
Luckily, this episode at least takes that aspect and makes it 100 times less sad with one of the greatest scenes in the history of television. Junk Chain and Welfare Queen versus the KKK’d up Beatdown Biddies is so amazing that I had to go back and rewind after watching the scene (and laughing to the point of tears) for the first time. Everything about the scene, from Cherry and Tamme’s “Pam Grier times two” attitudes, to Dawn and Stacey’s strange old lady KKK voices, to Sam’s commentary—this scene is brilliant. There’s even a great moment where Rhonda has visibly given up on this entire show at this point, and Sheila consoles her with a nice pat on the back. And as ill-advised as the choice is to… I guess Glen Klitnick, since he’s the only one not enjoying it, Sam is right that “you’re really never too young to know about this country’s racial history.” This match is the changing of tide in terms of having the audience react the way they’re “supposed” to; from this point forward, you see the crowd get into G.L.O.W. And better yet, despite the obvious joke of bringing in an unconventional crowd like Rob and his coven, their reactions show just how universal the “cheer the good guy and boo the bad guy” concept is. They’re given an understandable narrative, and they react appropriately, because G.L.O.W.’s now speaking their language. They then build on that with the main event between Liberty Belle and Zoya The Destroya (who should probably eliminate middle fingers from her routine if this is about protecting the children), full of USA chants and some of that magic Sam envisioned back in the pilot.
Liberty Belle: “I’d like to call on the power of my three favorite Americans: Ronald Reagan, Larry Bird, and Jesus Christ himself.”
Debbie’s Liberty Belle character is such a pitch perfect portrayal of that type of heightened, American as apple pie babyface that it usually takes an extra second to think about how ridiculous every single word that comes out of her mouth is. That’s when she’s truly on though, as it’s easy to instantly think about how ridiculous she is when she tries to get a She Wolf to bite her rear. And as this main event marks a legitimately high point for Debbie, Ruth, and G.L.O.W., naturally, Mark shows up to spoil that completely. (Luckily this is a practice run, because the number of wrestlers who just run away from the ring either before or during a match is the kind of thing you can’t really have on your debut—or any—show.) I think a lot of Betty Gilpin’s greatness in this role goes without saying, but the way she reacts to Mark serving her divorce papers is especially moving; it’s a reaction that almost comes out of nowhere, like he himself just hit her. It’s not too big, and then the episode just moves on to Ruth trying to keep the Russian schtick going.
By the way, I’m not exactly sure why Ruth thought Debbie would come back, but it’s pretty funny to see that she’s still stalling for time right after we’re done with the pretty upsetting Debbie/Mark scene. Though it’s obviously devolving into a bad heat type of thing, as she’s quickly running out of Russia material. Enter rapping Rhonda to save the day and end this whole thing on a high note. It’s all so very messy, which suits G.L.O.W. (and GLOW) very well.
- This episode was dedicated to GLOW wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr.’s father, Chavo Classic.
- Debbie: “So, I don’t want to look like an asshole on Friday—”
Ruth: “Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself. Your wrestling has really improved.”
Debbie: “Oh no, we’re both gonna like like assholes.”
- Ruth: “You went to a wrestling match?”
Debbie: “Yeah, you’re not the only one who does research.” Stings a bit.
- Sam: “Are you rapping?”
Rhonda: “Um, I’m speak-singing. Like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.”
- Rhonda (speak-singing): “I’m Britannica, from the UK / That’s probably why I talk this way” While watching the video, Rhonda lipsyncs to her rap. But in the video itself, she: 1. Quickly becomes out of breath from rapping, and 2. Does a bad cartwheel because there’s no space in her motel room and she didn’t think it through.
- Ruth: “Is that ‘places’?”
Sam: “Sure, Ruth. Places.”
Ruth/Debbie: “Thank you, places.” There’s no lingering look between the two of them when they say it, no nudge in the direction of major subtext… and now I want to know everything about their past, coming up together as actresses and best friends. The basic premise of the series initially robs us of that, but there’s always time in the future.
- Good news: Sheila can play the piano! Bad news: She only knows one song. Ruth is practically a genius for thinking to bring a boombox for her entrance.
- The more we learn about Mark, the more it’s clear he was mostly attracted to Ruth because she wasn’t successful and (in his mind) he’d never have to worry about that. In the pilot, he mentioned her “shiny people” speech, but it truly looks like he appreciated her lack of self-worth and esteem above all else, as he could never have that with, even when he got her to become a stay-at-home mother. Also, before he accuses Debbie of being trailer trash (she wasn’t), he suggests that Debbie and Ruth had concocted “some sort of elaborate ploy” against him. What a piece of work.
- Also a piece of work? The EMT who tells Carmen to give Weight Watchers a try after her panic attack. People in the ‘80s were terrible—I’m glad things are great now in 2017. Which reminds me…
- Dawn: “What if Bill Cosby gets mad at us?”