Netflix Review: GLOW
GLOW starts with an acting audition that is too real even by today’s standards. Main character Ruth (Alison Brie) is at an audition; she reads a meaty part with passion, and conviction….only to be told, no honey, that was the male part, can you try it again reading the other part? The other part is one line, letting the boss know he has a call on hold. This sets the stage for one of the more meta themes of this show. Yes, it’s 2017 now, but really, how much have things changed?
At its core, GLOW is about identity. For women trying to find that identity through work, the landscape is practically post-apocalyptic; teenagers mug you, and having matching athletic wear is more important than talent or integrity. It’s not surprising that women are driven to desperation and bad choices by societal and industry pressures. Enter the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, and an unlikely chance to be powerful, independent, and find one's self.
Trust fund baby, Bash, loves wrestling and a women’s wrestling league is his current passion project. And he is genuinely passionate about it. He hires B-movie director, Sam, (Marc Maron) to create the television show that will make his dream a reality. While at first, you wonder if Bash’s intentions are pure, you begin to realize as hapless as he may be, he wants to elevate women’s wrestling, and it’s his hopefulness and sincerity that help to pull the project along, even when he falters. Sam, on the other hand, is cranky, blunt, and sort of terrible. But he understands the industry and the realities of the landscape they are working with. He's oddly endearing and understands empowerment in a way only someone who makes exploitation films would.
In terms of the main storyline, we follow Ruth, a struggling actress, and Debbie (Betty Gilpin), a soap opera has-been. Ruth and Debbie were best friends until it comes to light that Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband. As fate would have it they both end up wrestling and have to figure out how to build professional trust. It’s an accurate look at female friendship and what happens when you kill one. There is no teary reunion or apologies. Instead, it’s about mourning loss of a close relationship and the uneasy reconstruction of that relationship into something else.
The two main characters aren't all that likable. Ruth is so amazingly annoying, as she is both starved for attention and has incredibly low self-esteem. And Debbie's stubbornness often has you asking "Really? Is this the battle you want to fight?" It's the supporting cast who get your squishy feelings as you watch them bloom and form a ragtag family, whereas the two leads remind you of that time you competed against another woman when really it might have served you both better if you worked together.
While there are clear leads in this show the entire ensemble cast is strong and all the stories told are compelling. Sometimes in a larger cast show a story gets followed that you wish they would drop. This was not the case for me with GLOW.
I would venture to say GLOW has a robustly diverse cast, and while it is the white characters who get more major story lines, the POC characters have strong supporting stories rather than token roles. Each supporting character is a fully developed character with a distinct personality, and they are all in every episode. It's a step in the right direction for sure. It’s through this cast that GLOW speaks to the stereotypes of the 80’s...except are they really 80’s stereotypes? GLOW uses racism in such an open way, not shying away from directly confronting the stereotypes that were so heavily used in wrestling. While they are used as characters and caricatures it’s hard not to be reminded in the current political climate that maybe we haven’t come as far as we might think we have.
A final thought.
If you haven’t read Betty Gilpin’s Glamour article give it a read. She speaks plainly and honestly about what working on GLOW meant to her and how important it is to have woman-led projects that allow actors to have control of their bodies.