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Every year, the cultural decision-makers come together to make one crucial decision for our country: the song of the summer. While the exact choice is debated among various music fans, the de facto musical definer of the season is generally determined by both popularity and perceived staying power. The song reflects what we’ll remember about that summer, generally from an optimistic viewpoint.
While pulling more good vibes than bad ones from 2017 may sound tough, if anything on TV is going to leave people on the ups, it’s “GLOW.” Liz Flahive’s new Netflix series is upbeat, enthusiastic, and empowering. Chronicling a start-up group of women’s wrestlers in the ’80s, the 10-episode half-hour comedy is edgy, both in quick bursts and its overall message, but still consistently light enough for fluffy fun.
It’s a great pop song built around great pop songs. And the result is a great freshman season of TV, perfect for an invigorating summer binge.
“GLOW,” an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, primarily tells the story of Ruth (Alison Brie), a struggling actress living and not working in Los Angeles during the early ’80s. She’s called in for casting sessions as a prop, despite her talent, and is getting visibly frustrated with the lack of substantial roles for women. Broke, desperate, and down, Brie still imbues Ruth — an ’80s name ripe for resurgence if we’ve ever heard one — with strong conviction. She’s driven, even when she’s driving in the wrong direction, and that helps make her a compelling lead.
For instance, there’s no good reason for her to become transfixed by a non-professional women’s wrestling league run by a middle-aged, has-been horror director (played with just the right mix of earnest interest and zero-shits-given by Marc Maron). She’s sent there looking for a part, but the cheap facilities and lack of professional supervision serve as immediate indicators to flee, not stick. But Ruth is determined; she sees potential whenever passion strikes, whether she should or not.
This open-eyed running into walls could make Ruth frustrating if she wasn’t willing to admit her flaws. As a proxy for viewers, she’s equal parts inspiring and endearing. She knows nothing about wrestling going in, and has little respect for it (like many Netflix subscribers), but she’s given just enough reason to get invested Ruth doesn’t fit in with the fellow wrestlers; not at first. That she’s thrown herself into a world with such a limited ceiling may seem like a poor career choice, beyond a lack of options, but once the cast comes together, there’s no reason Ruth (or viewers) would want to leave.
And now is when we get to the cast. With a deep enough bench for each viewer to have their own favorite (and good argument for any pick), the ladies of “GLOW” are all distinctly engaging. Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) is the only experienced wrestler of the crew and somehow still the most overlooked member of the league. Her fight for adequate attention is empathetic for simple reasons of right and wrong, but Flahive and her writing staff also subtly imply racism is blocking Cherry’s rise. (And how she responds is a savvy bit of observational comedy.)
Carmen Wade (Britney Young) is her second-in-command. The daughter of a wrestling giant (literally and figuratively), Carmen’s hardest fight is outside the ring: Expectations cut both ways, and Young’s choices to be reserved and authoritative (to varying degrees) bring out more from the character. (An unrealized romance could be great fodder for Season 2, as well.) Britt Baron is given the most difficult supporting role among the B and C stories, even though you may not realize it until Episode 9, and Maron makes for an ideal male perspective in a group of women: Simultaneously paternal and brashly attractive, Maron’s gives confidence to his director while harboring a well of insecurities. He’s not above being the bad guy — well, more ignorant than bad — but he maintains his humanity while representing many common, conflicting masculine traits.
But Betty Gilpin reigns supreme. As the series bounces between fun episodic arcs based around training sequences (montages!), character creation (costumes!), and fundraising (car wash!), there’s an unrelenting dramatic through-line that only works because Gilpin quickly and consistently finds truth in her character’s internal conflict. It’s complicated and impossible to discuss without spoilers, but viewers will understand before Episode 1 wraps how integral Gilpin’s tightrope walk is to the series. She makes it all the way down the wire, performing a few somersaults along the way, and earns an ovation-worthy ending.
Moreover, Gilpin and Brie embody the spirit of “GLOW” which is so hard to get just right. Substantive, light-hearted comedy often feels diametrically opposed, or at least creates odd swings in mood, but these two performers ease Flahive’s well-paved transitions beautifully. They know when to cut loose and have a good time, and they know when to dig in and tug at our hearts. Flahive carefully implements progressive messages — about Hollywood, especially — into the fun, and this team of women bring together a series worth repeated plays all summer long and (hopefully) in years to come. To call it a feel-good hit would be a bit reductive and presumptive, but “GLOW” deserves all the love and respect thrust upon it. Sit back, turn it up, and enjoy.
“GLOW” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
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‘The Incredible Jessica James’ Trailer: Jessica Williams Dances Her Way Through Netflix’s Rom-Com — Watch
Netflix has released the teaser trailer for “The Incredible Jessica James,” a romantic comedy that seems to have delighted nearly everyone who saw it at Sundance this year. The film is being touted as a breakout for former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams, who plays the title character. Watch the teaser below.
Williams can be seen on a boring date as well as at her job in the service industry, but mostly she dances — in stairwells, on rooftops and occasionally even in nightclubs. “I’m pretty, I’m smart, I am Coco Queen,” she announces to a party guest who doesn’t seem all that interested.
Chris O’Dowd, Noël Wells, Lakeith Stanfield, Megan Ketch and Zabryna Guevara co-star in the film, which was directed by “Grace Is Gone” and “People Places Things” helmer James C. Strouse. “The Incredible Jessica James” is available to stream on Netflix as of July 28.
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In 2009, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds propelled “The Proposal” to nearly $165 million at the U.S. box office. The summer before, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher spun a profit with “What Happens in Vegas,” which earned $80 million on a $30 million budget. In 1998, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan amassed $115 million for “You’ve Got Mail,” while Julia Roberts and Richard Gere pulled in $152 million for “Runaway Bride” a year later.
All of this is to say that there was once a time when the romantic-comedy genre was a slam dunk when it came to turning a profit at the box office. But in the age of superhero movies and big-budget tentpoles, there’s hardly room for rom-coms. And yet the genre never really died, it just went indie.
The last several years have made one thing very clear: Indie film is the savior of the rom-com. Click through the gallery for 11 great films that prove why.
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Brie’s character on the new Netflix original series — from creator Liz Flahive (“Nurse Jackie”) and executive producer Jenji Kohan (“Orange is the New Black”) — is an actress whose resiliency is rewarded with the role she needs. But the connection between artist and art is a touch more specific than that.
Ruth spends the first scene of “GLOW,” and much of the first episode, auditioning. The first scene is an audition, and she’s quickly rejected. Another audition, another rejection. It’s a pattern in the pilot, and it was a pattern for Brie when she was trying to be a part of it.
“They did not want me to have this part,” Brie said, remembering the long, challenging audition process while sitting next to Flahive and co-star Betty Gilpin (“American Gods”). “I’ve never felt more like Ruth than when I was auditioning for this show.”
The first hurdle: Flahive and casting director Jen Euston were looking for an unknown to play Ruth, the lead in the series, and that meant the former star of “Community” and “Mad Men” wasn’t an option.
“I think we had an idea in our head that [Ruth] was somebody who hadn’t been cast; who you hadn’t seen,” Flahive said, noting they got past it by watching Brie’s auditions. “[Casting] was a combination of seeing people again and again and again, and the other roles where it was just, ‘There’s only one person. This is the person.'”
Brie and Gilpin fell into the former group, as the duo had to come in repeatedly to try out for their parts.
“It felt like a series of tests,” Brie said. “‘But will she come in and do a pre-read for casting?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’ll wear no makeup.’ ‘Will you fly to Toronto and read with Betty in front of no one?’ ‘Yes, absolutely, whatever you want me to do.'”
In total, Brie and Gilpin went on four auditions — two individually and then two together to test their chemistry. The first step was reading for Euston, and the second was in a “very cold, weird, silent room” with producers. Even when they got the call to come in together, they were filmed “alone in a room with like two casting assistants who were not working on this project,” Brie said.
“[It was] like a stoned 16-year-old who they found on the street to press record,” Flahive said, laughing.
Because of these oddities, each actress developed individual rituals to keep their expectations in check.
“Every audition for Debbie, I thought of it as the last time,” Gilpin said. “I would say goodbye to her every time because I was like, ‘You cannot take this dream all the way in.'”
“I cried in my car after every audition,” Brie said. “I would sit in my car like Ruth and sob. And we were both listening to the same Ultimate ’80s mix while auditioning, so “Flock of Seagulls” was playing [while we were sobbing].”
Their final audition was in Los Angeles “five days before my wedding,” Gilpin said. Flahive said they needed to see the two of them together again because “[Ruth and Debbie] is the relationship of the series,” but it was all more than worth it to the actors because of the script’s unique opportunities.
“I’ve been in this strange sweet spot of making my living as an actor but not doing crazy big shows like this,” Gilpin said. “I’ve auditioned for a lot of what’s out there, which is like squinty cop in tight outfits who aren’t taking any shit in the first scene and in the second scene they’re naked and blowing the captain of the police force. And I tried really hard to get those parts because I want my future children to go to school and have appetizers at dinners.”
“So when this came along I was just shaking reading it because I hadn’t really allowed myself to dream of a part like this,” she said.
Brie agreed, taking it one step further. “It was amazing to get the opportunity to prove myself the way that Ruth also does,” she said of the audition process. “But I also had this dream criteria in my head where I was ready to sign off on certain shows that checked like two of the six boxes, and I was like ‘Two whole boxes!’ And then ‘GLOW’ came in, and it really did check every box.”
“It was indescribable when I first read it, in the same way that Betty described: the fear and excitement at reading it and being like, ‘Oh my God. This is the thing!'”
But even now, with the season wrapped and rolling out on Netflix and plenty of prestige TV in their past, these actors are still nervous for the next audition.
Do you feel like there’s been a tipping point? Was there a moment where you thought, “OK, I’ve got this. I feel like I’ve broken through?”
Gilpin: Absolutely not, no.
I hope you feel that way now.
Gilpin: I don’t!
Soon, though, maybe?
Brie: We never do.
Gilpin: But there is a feeling on set, in every department on “GLOW” that everyone has sort of paid their dues and gritted their teeth through certain jobs to get to this one.
Brie: To be rewarded with this.
Gilpin: That this is the passion project.
If art does imitate life, may this piece last as long as Brie, Gilpin, and Flahive care to live in it.
“GLOW” premieres Friday, June 23 on Netflix.
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[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Fargo” Season 3, Episode 10, “Somebody to Love.”]
In a way, “Fargo” Season 3 could only end ambiguously. Not only do the connections to its fellow Carrie Coon-led prestige drama demand it — the last words of the season are “wasting our breath,” after all — but the overall goal of the season was to examine the gray area between fact and belief. The gap between the two should be evident, but the world has shifted into a space of alternative facts and chosen truths. Just like the man brought in front of a German officer at the start of Season 3 was found guilty despite evidence to the contrary, Gloria’s mountain of proof couldn’t keep Emmit Stussy behind bars.
So with all this uncertainty in a world demanding certainty, why was the open-ended finale ultimately unsatisfying?
The easy answer is that we want answers. Whether we want to simply know what happens next — whether it’s Snickers bars for Gloria or a vanishing act for Varga — or if we merely want to know what Noah Hawley & Co. think will happen next, we instinctually want resolution to the narrative as well as the central thematic problem. It’s whether or not such finality is necessary or merely desired, and I would argue it’s the former.
All season, the audience hasn’t merely been asked to invest in the theme of facts and alternative facts, but also the characters. We may care less what happens to Varga, even if it would be better to know he’d rot in jail, deprived of deep-fried Snickers bars for the rest of his life. But we do care about Gloria, and what happens next will determine the course of her life, to one degree or the other.
Now, one could argue we knew Gloria would be OK after Episode 9, that her resolve was strengthened and closure to her arc given when she shared a few drinks and a few stories with Winnie Lopez. Specifically, it was when Winnie shoved Gloria to disprove her secret belief. When she touched her, she illustrated that Gloria does exist. She’s real. She’s here, and in that moment, “Fargo” offered an ending to Gloria’s ongoing thread. Her resolve strengthened, she went back out there and kept doing the work of the righteous.
And in seeing her stride down the hallway in that Department of Homeland Security jacket, it’s clear her perseverance has been rewarded. But we can’t help but feel that since Gloria was fighting for truth itself — for moral rights as much as legal ones — promotions aren’t good enough. She needs to defeat the purveyor of false truths, the embodiment of America’s evils.
To say, realistically, what would or wouldn’t happen is obviously an impossible task to assign a TV writer. And yet, even if we can’t know for certain that our country will be OK, we need to know if Gloria will be. Rather than providing a bit of cathartic fan service by showing Mr. Wrench take vengeance on Emmit, it may have been more satisfying to let the corrupt businessman represent our failing societal laws than ending on a question mark for the best character of Season 3.
Give us an answer for Gloria, no matter how harsh, rather than let us wonder if she’ll get that Saturday with her son. “Fargo” is too reliant on its citizens to leave us wondering whether they’ll be happy or miserable for the next 40 years. Theme cannot trump characters, especially in a world built on them.
Continue reading for the performance highlight, best quotes, and episode grade.
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