Alison Brie recently pointed out to Entertainment Weekly that Debbie and Ruth are the will-they-won’t-they central dynamic of #GLOW. There really isn’t much romance to speak of for the two leads – especially if you’re considering Mark – so the audience pines for Debbie and Ruth to reconcile their friendship enough that they can work together as a team and make the show a success. However, that realistically isn’t something that can happen overnight. Even after their first show goes well in the season finale, it is a process for the two to begin trusting each other again. Debbie makes sure to keep Ruth at arm’s length by letting her know,
“We’re not there yet.”
Yet as fellow wrestler Steel Horse explains to Debbie about working with his “heel,” you don’t need to like the person you’re working with in order to be successful together. So long as they both know their role, even broken friendships can lead to rewarding partnerships. From an intense reality show set to a constantly unraveling clone conspiracy, the following five shows present conflicted, female leads who need to work together to achieve a common goal, just like the leading ladies of GLOW.
5. Dear White People – Sam/Coco
#DearWhitePeople chronicles the experiences of a small black student community of an Ivy League University. Sam (Logan Browning), the university’s outspoken activist and DJ, is ultimately the focal point of the series, though each episode focuses on a different character’s perspective. Sam is incredibly headstrong and believes her role on campus is speaking the truth to the masses. She does not suffer fools, but her image is undercut as she begins the season at odds with her fellow activist friends after her decision to date a white boy.
Sam’s relationship with Colandrea “Coco”(Antoinette Robertson), the president of the black student caucus, is a complicated one that began during their freshman year and has continued to the present with Coco’s outing of Sam’s mixed relationship. Coco is a dark skinned woman who has only ever wanted to fit in, while Sam expends most of her energy trying to stand out. After initially becoming roommates and friends, a disagreement between the two regarding their disparate places at the university leads to their estrangement. As their feud continues, tensions are rising on campus, and then an incident between Sam’s best friend Reggie and a university cop sheds some much needed light on the big picture. The girls come to somewhat of an understanding, because although they may not agree on presentation and philosophy, they are ultimately on the same side.
4. Orphan Black – Sarah/Alison/Cosima/Rachel/Helena/et al.
While technically all the clones on #OrphanBlack share the exact same DNA, they are each unique in their own way, all with wildly different personalities and goals. Sarah, Cosima, Alison and to some extent Helena, form the core group of clones all working to save their sisters from becoming wiped out. As Cosima works on a cure and Sarah does the heavy lifting, Helena tends to be on the periphery (but is always ready to kick ass) and Alison often wants to be left out of the conspiracy drama, though she usually gives in, albeit with complaint.
Unsurprisingly there are clones that do not support their sisters’ existence. Neolutionist Rachel was raised to look down upon her sister clones and believes that she alone was destined for greatness. For 5 seasons, Rachel has been one of the most interesting characters as her actions often betray her own nature, and she is usually actively working against Sarah and her sisters’ interests. Yet for all of Rachel’s posturing and back door scheming, sometimes she needs to work with her sisters in order to save her own ass. As the fifth and final season ramps up, the girls must work together more often than not to save their very existence.
3. Crazyhead – Amy/Raquel
Despite the two women’s shared ability of seeing demons in their true form, #Crazyhead‘s Amy and Raquel form an initially uneasy partnership. Raquel is socially awkward in a way that comes across as unhinged to Amy who has trouble believing that Raquel is even telling the truth about them, especially when considering Raquel’s court mandated therapy. Once it becomes clear that the demons are in fact real and she can definitely see them, they decide to work together and fight the forces of darkness.
Yet their friendship is not without bumps in the road. First, Raquel performs an exorcism on Amy’s best friend Suzanne that goes terribly wrong, leading to a very complicated and stressful experience for Amy. They eventually move past it, but it still isn’t without its consequences. Later, Raquel becomes upset when Amy has a portentous dream and tells her that she does not trust Raquel’s new boyfriend. Once Raquel realizes the truth, Amy does not hesitate to show up to help her friend. They work together to finally take down the forces of darkness trying to pull their world apart.
2. unREAL – Rachel/Quinn
Perhaps more than any show on this list, #unREAL showcases the incredibly twisted partnership between Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer’s manipulative and ambitious producers, Rachel and Quinn respectively. Quinn is the creative force behind their dating competition reality show, but Rachel skillfully manipulates the cast behind the scenes in order for Quinn’s vision to come to fruition. When the two put their heads together to plot out their ideas, someone is most likely to end up in tears, but they both always have each other’s backs.
UnREAL creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said,
“We always say [Quinn and Rachel are] the couple. They’re each other’s soul mates.”
Yet Quinn is still Rachel’s boss and as a result they clearly have a very complicated partnership. Rachel tries to leave the show after Quinn destroys her relationship with bachelor Adam, but she eventually forgives her. Though they have a dysfunctional relationship, they are the main relationship of the series and no matter what happens between them they always come back to each other.
1. Feud – Bette/Joan
#Feud is based on the real life story of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s experience shooting Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the subsequent events, including their notorious experience at that years’ Oscars. It also showcases two powerfully, independent women at the nadir of their careers who needed to work together for success. Of course, that doesn’t mean they actually did work well together. In their case, the women were not really friends to begin with, so they tried to sabotage each other all along the way, even after filming had finished.
Neither of them wanted the other to succeed, but the film turned out to be a success anyway. Bette Davis was nominated for an Oscar and Joan Crawford was left without even a nomination. Instead of make a fuss, Crawford had a trick up her sleeve – she had offered to accept the award on behalf of any of the lead actress nominees should they win and could not attend. Anne Bancroft had accepted Crawford’s offer, as she was working in New York in a play and could not come to the ceremonies. Bancroft ended up winning, so Crawford sauntered up to the stage to smugly accept the award on her behalf. That personal affront would be the last straw for Davis and they would never work together again.
Many of these women were able to overcome personal betrayals or intentional sabotage, but not all friendships are destined to last. Debbie and Ruth began as friends, but Ruth’s betrayal cost them that shared trust and intimacy. It is always possible that they recover from it, but future reconciliation is left open at the end of the season. The relationship between Rachel and Quinn on unREAL has also been sullied by Rachel’s disloyalty and that too may or may not be resolved. On Dear White People, Coco and Sam will likely join forces again, but for now sit on opposite sides of the same debate. The sisters on Orphan Black and new friends on Crazyhead are working together, with past discretions cast aside. Though Feud ended up in a lasting real world conflict, hopefully it is the exception of the bunch.
We need to continue exploring female friendship in popular culture. There are many series that depict two friends against the world, like Playing House or Broad City, but not all friendships are as easy as those. GLOW gives audiences the rare pleasure of watching conflicted female friendship explored through the traditionally male world of wrestling as well as what life was life for young working women in the eighties. Jenji Kohan continues to produce wonderful female-helmed projects, like Orange is the New Black, which would be an honorary mention on this list. Orange focuses on the struggle of many women in a stressful and often tortuous environment who ultimately need to get along in some way if they are going to live together in relative peace. Today, women need to work together even more to achieve our collective goals and it would be incredible if it was reflected more on television.