GLOW Ending is a Good Thing
Also: It's not enough to preplot one season at a time.
This week, we found out that despite being renewed for a final season and having already shot two episodes pre-pandemic, Netflix has decided to cancel GLOW. Another nail in the coffin for entertainment as we know it, thanks to COVID-19.
I’m really sad there won’t be a fourth season of GLOW. But it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What I’m realizing more and more is that writers of good, solid TV shows don’t always have the Big Picture in mind.
They’ll do an excellent job of planning the first season arc – maybe even the second, or third if you’re lucky – and then completely run out of compelling story.
(Side bar: Is it true that Supernatural had a five-season plan? That’s rad, if only they hadn’t kept going.)
I haven’t watched any Netflix shows past the fourth season. I got into so many of them – House of Cards; Orange is the New Black; Stranger Things, etc. – just to stop watching before the seasons kept coming.
So yes, I’m glad that GLOW went out on a high note.
Not knowing when to quit your show is a common problem.
I’ve never been in a position where my creativity is being challenged by a paycheck. I don’t know that I could walk away. But when you give in like that, to extend a story that already finished the arc you intended to tell, you’re selling something faulty.
I guess you can tell truly thought-out writing by how connected a season finale is to its pilot.
In Mad Men, Don (according to my MBA-holding sister-in-law) creates a marketing renaissance in the last episode with that real Coke ad.
The Good Wife writers claim to have set up the slaps in its pilot and finale in parallel (though I still think that was a shitty and disloyal way to end my favorite TV show).
On the flip side, try as it might, How I Met Your Mother could not convince ANYONE ON THE PLANET with that tacked-on ending, pretaping be damned.
I know HIMYM is considered a racist, misogynistic, scum-of-the-earth letdown less than a decade after people thought it was the best show on television, but remember how good it was at the time?
I have two examples for the jury:
The first season finale, and the eleventh episode of season three (good lord that took a long time to track down).
In the first season finale, the writers did exactly what is traditionally their job: solve one problem and immediately create another. Ted has finally convinced Robin that he’s the real deal and that she should date him. He struts home the morning after and we’re so happy for him! We’re so happy for him and then he comes upon Marshall, sitting on the stoop, holding Lily’s wedding ring that she returned to him.
From elation to devastation in five seconds flat.
THAT is a planned finale. That is a moment that the entire season led up to, and then landed with a sickening thud.
In the same vein, “The Platinum Rule” is buried deep in season three (arguably the last Good season, though season four wasn’t as terrible as what was to come). It’s the episode where Ted wants to date the doctor who’s lasering off his lower back tattoo. The rest of the gang try to convince him it’s a bad idea, based on their own experiences of dating people they had to see repeatedly after things inevitably went bad.
We flashback to these experiences and in each one, Lily’s hair reflects the time period:
Okay okay okay. So, as a current owner of shaitels and several cosplay wigs, I now understand that they convincingly recreated her hairstyles from previous seasons. But college-aged me was BLOWN AWAY! It was like seeing James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke holiday songs with all the celebrities from the past year, only better. I literally thought they knew about this episode from the word go and filmed the flashbacks in their respective seasons, before season three even started.
I now realize they probably got Alyson Hannigan a bunch of wigs and retraced their steps. Still, remember that horrific Glee episode where they flashbacked to the pilot with the fake tans and badly recreated speech patterns? *shudder*
Now let’s remember the chill-inducing, sweet, utterly heartwarming, utterly PERFECT first midseason finale, replete with repeat choreography in all the right places:
That is a number that was pre-planned a season earlier. That is a number that culminated a full story arc that was known to the writers way back when. I WILL NOT ADDRESS ANY OTHER PART OF GLEE AT THIS TIME.
With HIMYM, it got to a point where every season renewal meant another year of disappointed waiting and evaporated goodwill to find out who the mother actually is. In the end, it meant the ENTIRE series was just meant to be a callback to the Robin fakeout at the end of the pilot.
That little pretaped ending where Ted it talking to his kids, that was done during the first seasons before the child actors aged, in some bid to convince us that they knew who the mother was all along and were just waiting for the reveal? That would have induced some eyerolls after season four, but not the vehemence with which it was received after all those wasted seasons.
Maybe that’s the beauty of these new TV seasons being released all at once on streaming platforms. Putting aside the needless scenes, subpar dialogue and senseless interludes, the writers know that viewers will be bingeing the story. They must know how the season will end, to make it worth sitting through what’s essentially become 13-hour long movies. So we have whole seasons in the bag – but not the full, show-long story.
GLOW had strong footing in the first two seasons; the third was still fun; but it’s very likely that the fourth would have been a bit of a pain to watch. I’m not convinced the writers knew Debbie wanted to be a business mogul, or that Ruth isn’t interested in power. The stakes became different, as they should – but probably not as good as when both women were desperate in the first season.
So here’s my silver lining: at least the GLOW we got wasn’t tainted by extra hours of storytelling that weren’t needed. And anytime I start to feel sad about it, I’ll go back to HIMYM to remember why that isn’t necessary.