N etflix‘s GLOW has never been as acclaimed as its competition. Every year, at the Emmys or Golden Globes, its cast (Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and a funky jumper-wearing Marc Maron) would have to watch as The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel (another female-led comedy often nominated in the same categories) carried off their awards. But its committed fanbase kept the show going, desperate to find out what the band of wayward wrestlers would do next. Now they won’t get the chance – Netflix has walked back its promise of a final season and cancelled GLOW with immediate effect.
First-released in 2017, GLOW leapt onto fan’s radars with its colourful, lycra-clad aesthetic and female-centric plot. Those expecting slogan feminism and a cheerful disposition were in for a shock though, as episode one centred around Ruth (Brie) and her affair with best friend Debbie’s husband (the former played by Gilpin). It was as big a stain on sisterhood as they come.
By the end of the first season, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s had grown into a masterpiece of theatrical choreography and gripping drama. Seasons two and three fanned the major storylines out to the supporting cast, focusing on women of varying ethnicities and sexualities in a way that never felt forced or underwritten. The pantomime remained, but now we got to walk around in every character’s head as they peeled back layers of their identities, battled ongoing cases of discrimination and scored personal victories, all under the watchful eye of a self-made family. It was addictive, essential TV – and Netflix is wrong to take it off the air.
The streaming platform attributes their reversal of GLOW’s renewal to several reasons, all pinned to COVID-19. For starters, the show – which had already filmed a full episode of the new season before lockdown – demands close physical contact for its numerous fight scenes, which is difficult in an era of social distancing on sets. The obvious solution here would be to wait it out and resume filming under safer circumstances, but with such high production costs (the bill for hairspray alone must be staggering), and with a proposed launch date of 2022, extending contracts and absorbing hiatus losses was deemed too expensive by Netflix.
Here’s where we need to examine whether or not the streamer could actually afford to put a pearlescent pin in season four for a bit. The abandon with which they’ve been cancelling shows this year would suggest not. GLOW joins 22 other titles that the behemoth has cut in 2020, and reports suggest that in spite of gaining millions of new subscribers, Netflix is still not meeting its growth targets.
As a recent Wired article explains, however, Netflix’s main method of determining what to cancel is driven purely by data, based on first-month performance and cost-versus-viewership. This is partly why so many original series get cut after the first season (see this summer’s Teenage Bounty Hunters). Finally, a programme’s ability to bring in new viewers is key, something that gets more tricky as the amount of episodes it takes to catch up increases.
GLOW‘s exit is yet another example of Netflix prioritising potential punters over an existing audience. It’s a strategy that says to loyal customers: ‘We have your money already. We don’t care about you.’ Aren’t we deserving of acknowledgement now and then? Let’s be honest, there might not be much too look forward to between now and 2022 – and I, for one, would definitely tune in to watch Ruth and Debbie’s long-awaited final fling. Even if it meant waiting a bit longer for them to get back to work safely.