When I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s new series GLOW, I was instantly transported to my youth, growing up in the 80s, watching the cartoonish parade of characters body-slamming, clotheslining, and suplexing each other every Saturday morning.
I knew the basic tale of the actual GLOW, or Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, that ran in the late 80s, but mostly remembered it for trying to cash in on the Rock ‘N Wrestling Era ushered in by MTV and the first two WrestleManias. To brush up, I watched the excellent 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, currently available on Netflix.
While the new series takes many liberties with the facts, the heart and soul of the original GLOW is never too far away in the way the show presents itself as well as takes some cues from actual characters to build out the cast for the new series.
The series stars Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress who loves the profession that doesn’t love her back. Early on, you realize that you’re probably not going to like Ruth, but mostly because her character does things like sleep with her best friend’s husband. Besides that, you never really empathize with Ruth’s struggles, but Brie plays that to perfection. In fact, by the end of the 10 episodes, Ruth is the heel in both spirit and actuality that she needs to be for the show to ultimately work.
Marc Maron (Maron, Mike and Dave Needs Wedding Dates) is brilliant as the sleazy on the outside, but very self-aware that this is probably his last chance at anything, director, Sam Sylvia. Invariably always high or smoking a cigarette, his interactions with the girls becomes almost fatherly, but at the same time, remains more or less inappropriate.
Those unfamiliar with professional wrestling as a whole in the 80s may or may not be offended by the idea that in GLOW, each wrestler is given a very stereotypical (and sometimes outright sexist or racist) gimmick. If you watch the documentary, you’ll see that wasn’t too far off for how things went back then. The most notable are probably “Beirut the Mad Bomber” (Sunita Mani, Mr. Robot), “Fortune Cookie” (Ellen Wong, Scott Pilgrim vs The World), and for every wrestling fan’s favorite real wrestler Kia Stevens (better known as Awesome Kong), who plays “Welfare Queen” Tamme Dawson.
The comedy comes from the idea that the ideas are horrible, offensive, and just downright wrong. But it also takes a sweeping look at just how those stereotypes become so mixed up in what wrestling fans expected. In the end, it actually becomes pretty spot on social satire mixed with a great 80s soundtrack and a look and has the feel of a show that could have easily been produced in the time period.
Quick shout outs to Gayle Rankin as Sheila “the She-Wolf,” Jackie Tohn as Melrose (who you can tell was inspired by Jeanne “Hollywood” Basone), and Kate Nash as “Britannica.” All three regularly steal the scenes they’re in.
Like with any show that’s only 30 minutes long, there isn’t really time to build out a lot of character stories or develop most beyond a basic outline of who they’re supposed to be. Sadly though, the stereotypes the producers within the series create for the wrestlers becomes the butt of who many of them are throughout the 10-episode run.
For instance, Britney Young plays Carmen “Machu Pichu” Wade, which comes across as a homage to the great Mountain Fiji character from the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The only difference is that Machu Pichu is more of a background character while Mountain Fiji was one of the stars of the original series. While Young is good, her character’s struggle with coming from a wrestling family never really seems like anything more than a forced backstory.
The same goes for star Debbie Eagen (Betty Gilpin of American Gods, Masters Of Sex), who has a great story arc as the name-recognition soap opera star-turned main attraction “Liberty Belle.” The focus on her and Ruth as the main storyline wears thin sometimes and really makes you wish they’d focus on some of the other ladies.
Netflix is the land of the binge, and if you have 5 hours (give or take), that’s about how long it will take you to get through GLOW. If you’re looking for wrestling cameos, there are quite a few, but don’t expect to see WWE’s biggest and brightest playing their 80s counterparts. Overall, the show is worth the time and really hits the mark way more than it misses. GLOW is a perfect mix of nostalgia, 1985 Los Angeles, big hair, and music that will have you at the very least tapping your feet and wishing you still fit in that leotard.
You can check out more of Jason Stout’s work at Talk The Land. All Cleveland sports, all the time.