STARRING: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Marc Maron, Jackie Tohn, Kate Nash, Britt Baron, Chris Lowell, Rich Sommer, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Sunita Mani, Kia Stevens, Gayle Rankin, Ellen Wong, Marianna Palka and Alex Rich
A look at the personal and professional lives of a group of women who perform for a wrestling organization in Los Angeles.
GLOW is set during the 1980’s in Los Angeles where we follow struggling actress Ruth Wilder searching for a role, any role, that she can sink her teeth into. As she auditions for roles of secretaries, she still has little success until one day a casting director calls her for an unconventional project. She soon learns that the project is auditioning to compete in a fledgling professional wrestling promotion called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling aka GLOW.
GLOW is a drama-comedy loosely based on the 1980’s wrestling promotion/television show of the same name, retelling the promotions journey from casting to the TV pilot. We primarily focus on struggling actor Ruth Wilder from the pilot, whose stuck auditioning for roles like receptionist/secretaries and yet can’t even succeed at getting them roles. When she gets a call about a project looking for ‘unconventional women’, she arrives at the address to find out that the call is for a wrestling league meets television show GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) and joins the ensemble that includes a professional stuntwoman, a medical student and a woman that comes from a family of wrestlers. Handling the project is B-movie director Sam Sylvia, who’s making this show yet has his attention focused on also hoping it could lead him to getting financial backing for his next feature, which has been a passion project for him for a long time. GLOW is created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, who have written and produced Nurse Jackie and Orange Is The New Black between them. Even Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan is on board here, working in an executive producer capacity.
I went into watching GLOW without having watched the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion before (nor the 2012 documentary about it), but I was intrigued by the series premise as I am a fan of wrestling, more of a casual viewer now compared to what I used to me. I thought from the wrestling aspect, the creators done a really good job showcasing the physical aspect of wrestling, the attention to detail required to execute manoeuvres and show the complexities of building the product from the ground up, from the initial casting, to creating characters, storylines, finding sponsors and a venue to host the show. While some of the characters do initially dismiss the concept of wrestling as ‘fake’ and ‘stupid’, they do gradually embrace the more often than not exaggerated spectacle of it and why fans hold a nonjudgmental appreciation for wrestling. The season is bursting with enthusiasm on the subject matter and there’s plenty of humour to be found here amongst the diverse ensemble. Even with the large ensemble, the series primarily has arcs centred on five characters. The two main characters here are Ruth Wilder and Debbie Eagan, where we see how their friendship is destroyed and how the two are forced to work alongside one another in order to make the show work and whether or not come the day of filming the pilot could they be professional or will the personal issues become too much to deal with? Alison Brie is fantastic here as Ruth Wilder, bringing a vulnerability to her character that is just captivating to watch, balancing the dramatic and comedic scenes effortlessly and witnessing her desire and passion to become a professional wrestler gives her journey an underdog feel that we are routing for her to finally have success. Betty Gilpin is also excellent here as Debbie Eagan, a mother going through a rocky marriage that gets the opportunity to become a star again by being the main face of GLOW. As she initially starts off unable to comprehend the spectacle of wrestling, she begins to understand and her story arc intertwines with Ruth’s that makes for interesting viewing. Marc Maron is also great here as director of GLOW Sam Sylvia, an arrogant alcoholic misogynist that is a walking no-filter barrage of brutal honesty that plays the line of boss, coddler and working father figure to these women. The rest of the cast are very good in their roles to, from Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang who ends up training these women and is hoping to get her time to shine, to Gayle Rankin’s performance as Sheila, to Britney Young, whose character arc may be my favourite personally in which Carmen is looking to come out of the shadow of her families wrestling legacy and have her time in the ring.
While there was plenty I enjoyed in this first season, I did have a few issues with it. The main issue I had with the show is that with the large ensemble, there’s some characters that weren’t developed as much as I hoped for and even those that we got an episode or two to peel a layer into their development, it pretty much never surfaced again. There is one scene focusing on Cherry and Melanie Rosen that deals with the subject of miscarriage and while it feels like it would come up again in later episodes, it doesn’t. There’s another storyline in which Justine Biagi is looking to get with a pizza delivery boy and he casually disappears for the majority of the season. While the season does raise issues about the women coming to terms with playing stereotypical ring characters, it doesn’t have a clear message yet of what it’s trying to say on that front, particularly when it comes to one match lined up for the shooting of the pilot that feels quickly brushed aside. Maybe it could be due to the fact that each episode is roughly thirty minutes long, perhaps in the second season (I can’t see why Netflix wouldn’t renew it) the characters and the issues about their stereotypical roles will be expanded upon further.
GLOW could be the sleeper series hit of the summer in the way Stranger Things was for Netflix last year. The first season is filled with energy, charm and humour that I couldn’t help but be sucked in by it. The ensemble have great chemistry together, Alison Brie is terrific as the lead and the series other standouts include Betty Gilpin, Britney Young and Marc Maron. 8/10