A major holiday that lands smack dab in the middle of the week really messes up ones schedule. It’s not that I have all that much to do, really. But since I’m actually trying to be a person who goes outside in the summer (contrary to what my initial post stated), I didn’t carve out a whole lot of time for watching this week. I swam, I tanned, and I mostly binged. Enjoy.
I gave up on GLOW five episodes into the first season last summer, though you could say it was really more of a gradual disinterest than a clean break. It was one of those TV experiences that I found enjoyable enough, but once something more appealing came along, it became the show that I’d definitely catch up on. And then the show I’d definitely get around to. And then, the longer I hadn’t watched it, the show I wasn’t really sure I even liked.
So when the second season started getting some buzz (and I found little better to do on a super hot Saturday), I decided to dive on in and give it another shot, mostly forgetting why I stopped watching in the first place. To say GLOW wasn’t a complete waste of time is to laud it for one of its best qualities: it’s short. Half-hour-long episodes! Ten episode seasons! It’s a Peak TV miracle! But even then, it often feels like a complete waste of time.
Shows with a large ensemble cast tend to squander precious time trying to give every single character something to do. Shows don’t have A, B, or C plots but have five A plots happening all at once. (Harlots falls prey to this, Orange is the New Black did it well, once upon a time.) But with GLOW, the baseline of every episode is people meandering around a motel room or a gym, and then plots just pop up here and there like a whack-a-mole game.
There’s also no character tier to speak of, even though I suppose Alison Brie’s Ruth, Betty Gilpin’s Debbie, and Marc Maron’s Sam are the ones we’re following. But Ruth has so little propulsion that she’s downright boring, and Debbie is doing the same thing every episode, and for some reason we’re supposed to give a shit about Sam and his daughter and whether or not she’s going to school everyday (?!?!?!). Every arc that is introduced is stunted, sometimes barely lasting a full episode until it’s forgotten. GLOW also has an unfortunate habit in stretching out what should be a five-minute scene into a 15-minute set piece. In short: it has no idea what to do with itself.
A few stand-out moments make me think GLOW is less working towards something great and more just lucking out. In one episode, Tammé, stage name Welfare Queen, is defending her crown against Debbie (Liberty Belle) and their match becomes entirely too relevant for the show to handle. Liberty Belle is set up to be G.L.O.W.’s hero, so when the black Welfare Queen enters a room full of white people in red, white, and blue, waving American flags, cheering on the blonde white lady, shit is suddenly very real. Debbie is America, while Tammé is the villain. I don’t know that I’ve seen a better visual metaphor for systemic racism (including Get Out?), but in the context of the show as a whole, it’s meaningless. (The same goes for the Weinstein-esque moment that you could be just cynical enough to think if this is just something that every show has to do these days.)
And yet nearly every line Marc Maron delivers is excellent, and then there’s the brilliant show within a show, and listen, I couldn’t give a single shit about wrestling IRL, but every actual wrestling moment GLOW offers is actually lively and exciting and super fun. If it gets a third season, let’s hope it recognizes where its strengths are, and ditch any and all dead weight.
Casual Binge: Girls
I was nullflixing one day this week based on my mood, and the airy privilege of Girls seemed just the ticket. I say “casual binge” because I was bouncing around the first few seasons, cherry-picking my favorite episodes for a while (the less Jessa and Charlie the better, more Ray and Hannah ennui, please!), until I hit season four and every single episode becomes a must-watch. I think it’s rare for a show to hit its stride into the end of its third season, but Girls really found itself in those latter seasons. (Season five from start to finish is a delight.)
The fun thing about this casual binge is that I may have finally gotten to the bottom of what the creators intended for Hannah as a character. After the third-ish rewatch, I understood her humor in a way that I hadn’t before, saw her Don Draper-like self destruction as more endearing than infuriating. Mostly, I’m appreciating Girls as one of those shows that grows with me the more I watch.
Completed Binge: Community
Yes, I made myself watch the maligned sixth season of Community, which I hadn’t in full until now. And yes, it was pretty brutal. Never have I seen a show give so few shits about beloved characters it fostered for five years, or give up so spectacularly on creating something, anything worth watching. There were a few bright spots on an otherwise crappy season, but Community really went out with a big, loud armpit fart sound.
And, honestly, that’s something I kind of admire about it. So many sitcoms end with a dull whimper, keeping itself above water by recycling jokes by worn-out characters. But the last season of Community was really, truly awful. I mean, it crashed and burned. And for a show as self-aware as this one, there’s no way it didn’t know it. In that way, Community had to self destruct in order to preserve the pieces of itself that made it an incredibly touching and special show. You will never remember anything after Troy leaves, and it’s so much better that way.
Currently binging: The Office
Please refer to the above paragraph, and consider The Office to be an example of the sitcom that ends with a dull whimper. The Office was my first TV love, and is a perennial in our little household. And, like Community, I don’t watch the show after Michael leaves in season seven. Robert California was a disaster, the best of its plots (Jim and Pam) got incredibly stale by the end of the series.
However, we’re in the best stages of the will-they-or-won’t-they part of the show, and it is just glorious. The first season is so remarkably British that it’s a wonder it got picked up for a second season at all (less genuine laughter than nervous laughter), but by “Office Olympics,” you’ve officially got a special show on your hands. Episodes I’m looking forward to: “Dwight’s Speech,” “Conflict Resolution,” and the amaaaazing “Casino Night.” And all of season three!
Three Identical Strangers
I’ve come to find that there are moments in life that make you take a step back and take stock of where you are. One of those is realizing that I’m not only excited to see a documentary the day it comes out, but also excited to be getting out of work early enough to see said documentary before 5:30 when the tickets are cheaper and the theater will be less crowded. Sure, a couple of the bluehairs that shared our theatre sat down in next to us when the row behind us was literally completely empty, but all of this is to say that the experience of seeing Three Identical Strangers made me feel like I’m finally aging into my personality.
And then came the moment of panic about halfway through Three Identical Strangers that made me question what my personality even is… or at least, whether or not I am in control of it at all. It’s a deeply unsettling feeling that comes from a deeply unsettling movie about the ways in which the world shapes who we are, for better or worse.
To go too much further would spoil the fun of this multi-layered ride, but it was definitely a ride. I’ve seen too many documentaries that rely on the novelty of its subjects to bother creating something worth watching (and, frankly, this movie could’ve done it and still been a fun watch), but Three Identical Strangers makes an effort to stand out as its own entity. It’s structured well, unfolding as it goes, peeling back the elements of the story so that it creates drama, rather than just retelling it.
The film also has a thesis, which is incredibly refreshing for a documentary. It wraps up both the narrative it constructed, and offers its audience a little nugget of hope after an hour and a half’s worth of inconceivable despair. So, friends, be like me! Be excited to watch a documentary!
After our early-bird documentary, followed by a super greasy breakfast-for-dinner at our local diner, Mike and I felt like the rest of the night should be spent relaxing. Nothing too engrossing, nothing new, just some light, rewatchable fare to punctuate our evening. When we found out Spice World wasn’t streaming (no shit, it was an option; his curiosity met my nostalgia for a brief, shining moment), we landed on Paranormal Activity. It fell right in the middle of the venn diagram of our viewing needs for the evening. I’ve seen it a couple of times, I’d be fine.
Nope. Not fine. This shit holds up. You think you’re expecting it, but you’re not.
It’s one thing to create a movie that functions as good narrative storytelling, but it’s another to create that movie knowing exactly how an audience is going to react to stimuli. When the filmmaker crawls inside your head from the start (the adherence to verisimilitude is helpful, with no opening credits and that adorable explanation for the found footage) and plays with benign horror conventions so hard but also so subtly that you have no idea you’re in it until you are. That’s a great movie.
I mean, come on: the first real scare of Paranormal Activity is a creaky door that moves about six inches on its own. And then back. And that’s it! But it is terrifying. And in all those night bedroom scenes, your eye is darting all over the frame, looking for a person or a shadow or even the smallest movement. Because you know it’s coming. You don’t know what “it” is, but something is coming. You’ve seen enough horror movies to know.
And then the movie gives you just enough (a swinging chandelier, a burnt picture, a Ouija board on fire) to keep you going until the final crescendo. And fuck if that isn’t a masterful way to end a movie. Paranormal Activity wasn’t exactly the light fare I was going for, but it ended up being way better.