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Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'GLOW' And Lena Waithe

Alison Brie as Ruth, in the ring on <em>GLOW</em>.
Erica Parise
Alison Brie as Ruth, in the ring on GLOW.

This week's episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour coincides exactly with Netflix's release of GLOW, a 10-episode TV series starring Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron. Presenting a fictionalized history of the late-'80s syndicated TV show GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, GLOW carries the formidable DNA of executive producer Jenji Kohan (Orange Is The New Black, Weeds) and producers Liz Flahive (Nurse Jackie, Homeland) and Carly Mensch (Orange Is The New Black, Weeds, Nurse Jackie).

For this discussion, Kat Chow joins Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and me to tackle GLOW — its unusual concept, the degree to which its stars either play against type (Brie) or don't (Maron), and its commitment to character development. Some of us found it more uneven than others — and one or two of us questioned the degree to which it earns its commentary on racial stereotypes — but we all expect big things, buzz-wise. (For those looking to learn more about the real women on whom GLOW is based, a 2012 documentary called GLOW: The Story Of The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling is also on Netflix.)

Then, we take a hard left turn (albeit sticking with Netflix) and bring you Linda's June 15 interview with Lena Waithe. Waithe, who plays Denise on Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's Master Of None, appeared on stage with us as part of Pop Culture Happy Hour's live appearance at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles. Together, the two discuss Waithe's work on Master Of None — including her instant-classic coming-out episode "Thanksgiving," which Waithe describes as "really black, very female, very specific and gay as hell" — and how it's mapped out over her own life. Waithe also explains how working as a writer and producer has made her a better actor, and gives us a few hints about what to expect from The Chi, the forthcoming Showtime drama series she created. (Hint: Expect more of the radical empathy that's helped make Master Of None a major standout.)

[For more on Lena Waithe, look for the debut episode of It's Been A Minute, the new NPR podcast hosted by our pal Sam Sanders.]

Finally, as always, we close with What's Making Us Happy this week. I'm having fun playing a new Nintendo Switch game with my kids — in part because it's too new for them to have fully learned how to beat the hell out of me. Glen loves an ambitious new audiobook by one of his favorite authors. Kat rightly praises a terrific new album (don't miss this Code Switch discussion), as well as a bird-themed book. And Linda loves two new books, one of which she describes as "devastating" and one of which she... doesn't.

As always, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: the show, Linda, me, Glen, Kat, producer Jessica, guest producer Thomas, and producer emeritus and pal for life Mike.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)