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How ‘GLOW’ Built Its Show-Within-the-Show Episode

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the eighth episode of the second season of “GLOW.”

When Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch set out to create “GLOW,” their Netflix period comedy about female wrestlers in the 1980s, one idea they kept coming back to was doing an episode that completely immersed the audience in the show on which their characters were working. The show-within-the-show concept could not have been done in the first season, when the characters “didn’t even have a TV show yet,” Mensch notes, but getting a second season meant it was “game on” to carry out their standalone artistic vision.

“We knew we were going to go down fighting for this episode because it just felt like to not do it would have been a mistake,” Flahive says.

The question, therefore, was not if the show would do it but when. The episode ultimately became the eighth in the second season, after seeding pieces of what that show looked like throughout the first half of the season, not least of all in following Ruth (Alison Brie) as she directed the opening credits sequence in a local mall.

“For us it was … ‘Where does it have the right kind of impact?'” Flahive says. “They were making 20 episodes of the show, so you were going to see pieces, but we were never going to be fully in show mode before that episode.”

From the storytelling standpoint, Mensch points out that the show-within-the-show episode falling in the latter half of the season also came because of Ruth’s injury.

Since she was not able to wrestle after Debbie (Betty Gilpin) twisted her leg so hard she fractured it, Ruth had to find a new place within the production. She had been doing behind-the-scenes work as a producer and director without getting the respect, let alone credit, for it, but in order to keep her on-screen, Sam (Marc Maron) gave her a secondary character to play, allowing her to tap into her truer aspirations as an actress.

“She couldn’t wrestle [so] what could she do? How could Sam give in to making a version of the show that was more maybe what Ruth would have made and something that allowed her to act?,” Mensch says. “Those two incidents were linked for us.”

But it was also about shining a bigger spotlight on bits and pieces of ideas the various women had been contributing to the show.

“I feel like in episode 7 when Sam says, ‘Let the weirdos free,’ that was something we wanted to make sure we delivered on in episode 8,” Flahive says.

Brie adds that they had a freedom to “be playing like children” and to try to make each other laugh.

“We were shooting it really quickly because we had a ton to shoot, and the whole point was that it shouldn’t look perfect, so the best way to describe it is just pure joy while shooting it,” she says, “and honestly not a ton of thought. I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh how is Ruth differentiating Olga?’ I put on a silly wig, and it was great, I knew exactly what I was going to do.”

When shooting the usual wrestling scenes for “GLOW,” Flahive and Mensch say they always want their camera department to follow the action from the characters’ points of view. But doing an episode from the show-within-the-show’s perspective allowed them to shoot outside the ring, looking in.

“We had a lot of meetings and a lot of discussion about how this episode would feel in terms of style, in terms of restrictions, in terms of the shots we would use,” Flahive says. “We really, really wanted it to feel incredibly authentic and not like a comment on what was being made in the ’80s. As much as we could, we wanted to make an episode that felt like you were really watching 1985 television.”

In order to dial back the technological look of the show to its 1980s setting, Flahive says they incorporated “snap zooms” and went hand-held with a lot of shots for the “on the fly” feel of an independent production. They wanted to keep it grounded, but also “like something Sam would shoot,” says Mensch.

“We have little homages to his horror film directing in some of those shots,” she says. “We tried to motivate it by the characters in terms of what you were seeing — who shot it? Is this Russell, is this Sam, did one of the girls have an idea?”

From the first season, Flahive and Mensch worked with their camera department on incorporating VHS footage into the series, using a “jerry-rigged VHS camera where we actually do shoot on VHS and it gets transferred to digital,” Mensch explains. It was a style used sparingly, but it was still a “baseline” they wanted to match with this episode. The key then became not using too much of it so that they wouldn’t “distract” the audience from the story.

“We didn’t want it to look like fake-y VHS that would make you laugh,” Mensch says. “We didn’t want it to be a comment on anything, we didn’t want the point to be, ‘Oh look how old this footage is.’ We wanted you to feel like you were inside the show, inside the camera with us.”

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