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Vegas in the Ring

Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Although the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion was based in Las Vegas (initially at the Riviera) for the entirety of its four-season TV run in the 1980s, GLOW, the fictionalized Netflix series it inspired, has spent its first two seasons set in L.A. That all changes with the new third season of GLOW, premiering on Netflix tonight, which takes its whole cast to the fictional Fan-Tan Hotel and Casino east of the Las Vegas Strip, where their version of GLOW has shifted from a TV broadcast to a live stage show.

GLOW has never tied itself to true events, preferring instead to use the real wrestling promotion as a jumping-off point, and the show’s relocation to Vegas follows the same strategy, taking the story in directions that don’t necessarily reflect what really happened. But while none of the season was actually shot locally, creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch clearly did their research, and the episodes are filled with Vegas references both obvious and obscure.

That starts from the first episode, as the women (and a handful of men) of GLOW settle in at the Fan-Tan and get used to their new routine delivering the same performance every night for a showroom audience. Producer Bash Howard (Chris Lowell) is desperate to become a major Vegas player, and he name-drops David Saxe and Donn Arden and is thrilled when he makes the cover of What’s On Magazine.

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Although Bash is a bit of a doofus, and other characters are skeptical about the idea of living in Las Vegas (they’re all housed in hotel rooms at the Fan-Tan), the show never treats Vegas with condescension or contempt. The creators’ depiction of Vegas is similar to their depiction of professional wrestling, taking a kitschy part of American culture that many people still dismiss and look down on, and treating it as the product of hard work, talent, and dedication (along with plenty of humor).

To that end, this season of GLOW adds a new recurring character in the Fan-Tan’s entertainment director, Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis), a Vegas lifer who’s transitioned her career from showgirl to hotel executive but still deals with the town’s sexist double standards in every facet of her life. Sandy is introduced talking about her experience with the 1980 MGM Grand fire and her time working with legendary Vegas choreographer Fluff LeCoque, and she’s clearly meant to represent old-school Vegas values.

The aging showgirl is a cliché, but Sandy proves to be an empathetic asset to the GLOW women, especially star and newly promoted producer Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who’s trying to navigate her own transition from performer to mogul. An episode in which the wrestlers join the Fan-Tan’s resident showgirls at a dance practice shows just how much effort and physical prowess is required to be a Vegas performer.

Some of the season’s Vegas references sound more forced than others (a Fan-Tan employee suggests a hair salon “at Paradise and Twain,” which comes off like the writers picked two streets out of a hat), and the show doesn’t dig quite as deeply into the culture of Las Vegas as previous seasons did into the culture of L.A. Part of the reason is that all of these characters are still L.A.-based, unlike the real GLOW wrestlers who were a mix of locals and imports, and many of them are still pursuing their Hollywood dreams. Cranky show director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) can’t wait to leave Vegas, but Bash throws himself into the idea of becoming a local power player, and more so than the women who find themselves unlikely showroom stars, he’s the one who best fits in Vegas.

Aside from an episode spent with the characters hiking and camping at Red Rock Canyon, nearly all of the Vegas material takes place inside the Fan-Tan. There are no shots of the characters driving down the Strip or passing the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, which allows the show to avoid a lot of clichés, but also makes it feel a bit cut off from the local flavor. Vegas magician Murray SawChuck makes a cameo as a room service waiter whose true calling is performing magic tricks onstage, but otherwise the show doesn’t make use of local talent. If the fictional GLOW ends up spending several years in Vegas, as the real one did, the creators have plenty of thematic ground left to cover, and they’ve laid a strong (if sometimes limited) foundation with this season.

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