If you were a pro-wrestling fan during the 80s, it would be impossible to have missed GLOW in some format. Even if you weren’t into women’s pro-wrestling, at the very least, you may have encountered the anomaly that occurred for a brief stint that built up a sort of cult following and oddball subculture. So when Netflix announced that it was going to create a series around the federation, naturally someone like myself would be inclined towards giving it a shot.
It’s not a long series with 10 episodes of 30 minutes. The main character, Ruth Wilder, is played by Alison Brie. She’s a young lady attempting to do anything to get her big break into the entertainment industry at a time when leading roles for women weren’t as huge for the most part. Thus, when she hears the calling for an oddball role with little detail, she goes for it with almost nothing to lose (as she practically was flat broke).
For the most part, the show is about the struggles of these women, a director (rather than a promoter) and a producer trying to get the program off. It’s laden with struggles similar to running a start up along with this colorful cast of misfits playing outrageous types that were popularized by the cartoonish Saturday morning WWF programming at that time.
The series does a wonderful job (compared to other shows or movies attempting to make a quick buck off of 80s fads *cough* Jem *cough*) in recapturing the feeling of the 80s from the cars, hairstyles, attire, politics, music and (of course) coke addiction during that era. It also shows a much looser period for certain aspects such as what was and wasn’t considered acceptable on network television such as utilizing the Cold War hysteria to manipulate the audience’s emotions.
In addition though, the highlight of the show really is a look into the world of professional wrestling from behind the scenes. Although the whole notion of kayfabe has loosened up over the years (or better is considered dead for the most part), the vast majority of the casual audience probably have very little notion of what goes on. The actual implementation of how pro-wrestling is handled is slowly unveiled from the moves, to the roles each wrestler plays to how the business is able to sustain itself in creating a chase that the audience can latch onto and pay for.
The personalities in the GLOW aren’t exactly the same as the ones from the original program. It’s modified to suit the basic premise but you can see the people they were parodying or extracting the core characters from. Some of the fun of 80’s pro-wrestling in general is the types and characters. Easily, identifiable caricatures that the audience can relate to on some level with minimal explanation by the host.
Compare what they were trying to present to contemporary pro-wrestling and you realize that part of the mystique and “innocence” has been lost somewhere around the mid 90’s. One of the most interesting plot points early on was the conflict between the director Sam Sylvia and the producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard on how it would be presented. Sam’s viewpoint was to use GLOW as a platform for his garbage bin film making while Bash wanted to emulate the ideas from places like the WWF (for which he was an actual fan of). The more complex stories and scenes from Sylvia’s writing were far too inane, almost reminiscent and possibly ridiculing stuff from the later years (i.e. Vince Russo’s world). Instead, the simpler approach could easily grasp the attention of the average viewer who wanted casual entertainment with bare minimal emotional investment.
For the most part, the acting is on point. Alison Brie is cute in playing a sympathetic character of someone struggling to make a name for herself. She has a naive charm about her and earnestness that belies her onstage persona as a (supposedly) evil Communist from Russia. Marc Maron plays what one may see as a sleazy, cheesy 80’s porn producer; however, there is a conflicted person inside who behaves paternally to the women despite his crusty edges. One scene shows him helping Ruth receive an abortion.
The supporting cast also each get their moments. Each have their own set of issues and strengths but come together at the end as they all share the goal of seeing the show produced.
One of my personal favorite cast members Kia Stevens (aka Awesome Kong) as “The Welfare Queen” plays the so-called stereotype of someone getting welfare checks and collecting food stamps. Even though there is a bit of tension with that character, she (along with her tag team partner Junkchain) eventually embrace it. The highlight of the show has The Welfare Queen right out strip Liberty Belle of her crown with Sam pulling a last minute schmoz to the show’s finish. But it was well deserved and a great role for her since she actually is a fantastic wrestler (side note: I’ve met Kia back in Tokyo and she’s a true sweetheart deserving of all the hard work she’s earned over the years).
While the show for the most part has numerous plusses, there are a few downsides. My first quip is that there’s way too much tell and not enough show. It’s a general issue with writing these days where the audience isn’t given enough room to piece together the story on their own. You’re drawn to what the writers want you to believe via the exposition. For instance, when Sam explains why he called a last minute audible in awarding Kia the crown, he repeats the title of the episode. I felt that it took away from allowing the audience to realize what was going on and I was a bit deflated.
Another major gripe I had with the show was the common theme these days where Hollywood writes about Hollywood. The main character is a struggling actress while her chief in ring and IRL rival is a former actress trying to recapture her glory as a soap opera star. Sam is a director with numerous bombs while Bash is the rich boy, spoiled producer. While I do accept that the show is about entertainment, it’s the yawn core story when it gets into the background of the main characters. Hearing Hollywood talk about their own insider terms like method, motivation, etc. has become a sin for me in that it feels writers in Hollywood know nothing else except for the coke decadent parties that never seemed to have stopped from the 80s. It’s almost too easy and eager for these studios to produce yet another over-glamorized shot of some spot in Malibu where all these people live in their shallow, little world.
That said, there is no denying the charm and allure of the memories GLOW attempts to reproduce from the 80’s. Seeing poor Ruth drive in her beat up yellow Rabbit reminded me of a friend from high school who would drive around in a similar vehicle. Or the Duran Duran and Dale Bozzio-like hair and dress were a nice flashback (or even reminder of why aerosol cans were bad). Seeing those times makes me wish I had the opportunity to travel back again as an adult to meet these types of people rather than being some kid struggling through grade school. Either way, I’m eager to see a second season to find out where they’re taking us.