Nelsan Ellis died. Probably best known for his turn as Lafayette in True Blood, Ellis always captured the attention of the audience, and based on the outpouring of sentiment, he was a beloved co-worker as well. My sister posted, "I don't watch True Blood, but I really enjoyed him in Elementary." Her phrasing interested me. True Blood ended its 7-season run on HBO three years ago. The retired English professor in me thought, "you should have written 'I didn't watch True Blood'", because the series now exists only in the past.
But I'm wrong. In the world of streaming, no series exists only in the past. If, for instance, you wanted to watch all 80 episodes of True Blood for the first time, you could do that.
Tim Goodman, who over the years has become perhaps our best writer on the business of television, wrote recently about a "staycation" where he did little besides catching up on the TV series he had gotten behind on. Peak TV has assured that viewers will always be behind, because there is so much good stuff to watch. More and more, even TV critics, who are paid to watch stuff, are always behind. There is too much good stuff. Goodman called it "the critic's conundrum ... adjusting to a world where it was frustratingly impossible to watch every (scripted) thing after being able to do just that several seasons prior".
He came to this conclusion:
[W]riting about television in this new world order has an evergreen aspect to it. Yes, there will still be post-mortems from series creators posted right after the finales are over. People who are caught up can read those. And they will still be there, searchable, for whenever everybody else finishes ...
[T]hat opens up an opportunity for change — for a mixture of coverage that is there if you finished on time but will also be there — fresh for you — not because you had to search for it a couple weeks later, but because more critics will be writing and revisiting series on a delayed basis, perhaps writing something more meaningful because they've actually had time to think about it.
This business is changing across the board. As for criticism, I think it's an exciting time to be more thoughtful, brought about by an industry-wide inability to be up to date on everything. And I think there's a huge audience for that, composed of people equally delayed in their viewing because they've been overwhelmed and otherwise busy.
I often write about television, just as I often write about movies. Many/most of those movies are older (7 of the last 10 are from the 20th century). I don't worry that no one is interested in my take on these old films ... I have no illusions about the size of the audience for this blog, but I don't mind if that limited audience is forced to read what I have to say about a movie from the 1950s. Yet when I have written about television, I feel the need to be current. Who wants to read what I'm thinking about an old TV series?
It's not just old, retired series, either. It's the new ones. If I'm not completely caught up, I don't want to write about them. But if I don't get to them until long past their original showing, I assume no one cares what I write.
There is also the hope that if I like something, if I praise something, it might convince a reader to give it a try. But in my old-school mind, this means getting them to watch each episode as it airs. And no one watches TV like that any more.
What I take from Goodman's piece is that I need to get over it. If I'm going to write about Stalag 17 (1953), then there is no reason I can't write about a TV series that recently ended a season.
And so ... GLOW. GLOW is a Netflix series, which says something right from the start. The day the first episode premieres, all of the season's episodes become available. If you have five hours to spare, you can watch the entire first season of GLOW in one day. I am not much of a binger, so I'm more likely to finish a season in ten days than in one day. In this case, it took me about two weeks, by which time there were all sorts of online reviews of the whole season. It feels too late to add my two cents worth. But what the heck.
GLOW comes to us from Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, who worked together on Nurse Jackie. Mensch also worked on Weeds and Orange Is the New Black, series from Jenji Kohan. Kohan is an executive producer for GLOW, and it has a real Orange flavor to it: big, diverse cast of women, with lesser-known actors (the biggest names are Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron), and a setup that seems to invite cheese (women's prisons, women's rassling).
I think the achievements of GLOW in its first season might be missed. Yes, it is cheesy. But over the course of ten episodes and five hours, we get a decent idea of who all of those women are. Brie is the "star", but the series doesn't revolve around her ... it revolves around the group. And if you think that group won't grow on you, think again. It's actually a fairly standard concept for sports movies and series, the coming together of a bunch of castoffs into a coherent group whose characters begin to bond and identify with each other. But standard or not, GLOW pulls it off ... it's very entertaining and often funny, but it also works as a character study.
And as we watch the first live GLOW wrestling card at the end of the season, we realize that we care, just as we might in a movie where Mickey and Judy put on a show. We care about the characters ... even more surprising, we care about what happens in the ring.
GLOW is not perfect. It deals with stereotypes ... it's a wrestling show, based on an actual show, set in the mid-80s and featuring women who, no matter their backgrounds, become simpler caricatures in the ring: Liberty Belle (all-American), Machu Picchu (pseudo-Mexican), Beirut the Mad Bomber, the black woman who wrestles as The Welfare Queen, the Cambodian immigrant who becomes Fortune Cookie. Brie, who plays a barely-employed actress, works out her own character: Zoya the Destroya from the Soviet Union, who feuds with Liberty Belle. Brie's Russian accent is hilariously bad, as it is supposed to be. Anyway, GLOW walks the thin line between making a point about stereotypes and exploiting those stereotypes, and it doesn't always fall on the right side.
I was surprised at how emotional I got at the end of the season. I look forward to more.