GLOW. It’s a very fitting name for this nostalgia drenched, leotard heavy, bright, new Netflix original. Set in mid 80s Los Angeles (palm trees and neon lights abound) we follow overachieving failed actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) as she dives headfirst into the only successful job she can seem to get. Earnest and incredibly hardworking, Ruth can’t get a callback on any audition she does, until she accosts a casting director in the bathroom who lets her know about an experimental show for “unconventional women.” This sets up a great premise to have a bunch of interesting, and very different, women play off each other with real and make-believe wrestling drama. It’s funny, and pretty and very, very bingeable.
Potential spoilers follow:
Alison Brie is perfectly cast as the underachieving overachiever. She tries so damn hard at everything but a combination of bad luck (how many things can she have stolen in a single week!?) and a lack of any roles for women, let alone interesting ones, means she’s consistently out of work. Wrestling proves to be the gig she was born into, as she finally figures out the perfect character to play. She makes an excellent villain in the ring (or “heel” as we are taught is the proper term), and I think it’s fun that the main character isn’t the shiny all-American hero (although Debbie (Betty Gilpin) is a shining star here). Ruth is the hardest working, sincerest villain you’ll ever see. Brie’s large, expressive eyes make her seem like a puppy dog who’ll do all the extra-curricular work in the world just to be given the chance. I read an interview with her where she referred to Ruth as “sexless,” despite sleeping with her best friend’s husband in the first episode. Sexless seems a harsh, grey word, but I think I understand where she’s coming from. Ruth is not here to find a husband or a boyfriend, she’s determined to have G.L.O.W. succeed for herself and everyone else involved. Almost by sheer will power she brings it back from the brink multiple times. Despite her moral lapse she’s a good friend; she wants to work hard and succeed, and she wants those around her to succeed as well. Her relationship with GLOW’s director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) is paternal, alternating between sweet and bossy (from both of them).
Supporting cast are just excellent here too. Wearing leotards of every colour and pattern imaginable (seriously, did anyone wear leotards that much in the 80s?) they are a great ensemble. I found that the show hurried past potentially momentous moments for these girls however, such as Cherry’s (Sydelle Noel) miscarriage, as well as Sam and Melrose’s (Jackie Tohn) insensitivity and lack of tact following that revelation. Sheila the She-Wolf gets more acknowledgment over her mental instability and affinity with wolves, and she gets a lovely inclusive moment with the gang, however I felt she could have been more three-dimensional. We don’t know anything about her other than her connectedness to lupine beasts. Perhaps this is a pitfall of having so many girls in the wrestling crew, as there’s only enough time in a 10 show season (of only 30 minute episodes) to focus on a few emotionally important topics. Obviously the main tension between Ruth and Debbie holds most screen time here, and I appreciate how they navigated this. There isn’t too much reconciliation to feel saccharine, but you don’t despair the end of all that is good in the world either. There’s a lot of set up for a following season too, although I won’t give too much (more) away.
Other highlights included wrestling dynasty Carmen (Britney Young) who suffers stage fright despite wrestling in her blood, and her lovely friendship with the producer Bash (Chris Lowell) who has his own family issues. Excitable and birthday-party loving Jenny (Ellen Wong) is adorable, and Justine’s (Britt Baron) storyline on the side was cute (Jimmy’s zine sounds hilarious). I felt that terrorist themed wrestler Arthie (Sunita Mani) also could have had a little more time to deal with being viscerally hated and abused by the audience for nothing other than being vaguely the right skin colour to play a cliche. Hopefully this is developed further in any following seasons or it just feels like it was played to be flimsy social commentary at best.
Aesthetically I am so on board with this show. I love the 80s fashion, the soundtrack, the cars, and the ridiculous amounts of hairspray. This show definitely looks back with a rose tinted eye, however it’s not completely forgiving. The coke addictions, racism, sexism and excess of the 80s are all on display and it’s not hard to feel like some of the wrestlers are being taken advantage of in the creation of their cliched characters. Sam may tell them it’s subversion but the beer-can-throwing audience aren’t exactly in touch with that. I think the show could have benefited from a longer run, or longer episodes, in order to deal with the large ensemble cast more effectively and brush a few less things under the rug, however I found it immensely bingeable, funny, quotable, lush and very watchable.
P.S. I found out that G.L.O.W. was a real women’s wrestling show in the 80s!