So Netflix have a new show out from the creators of ‘Orange is the New Black’. And I have to say, when I first saw it I thought it looked cool. It’s set in the 80s, everyone has big hair and bad ass neon costumes, and most of the characters are women who are trying to break into the male-dominated world of wrestling. Oh, and it’s got the awesomeness that is Alison Brie as the lead.
So yeah, it intrigued me. However, a little voice in the back of my head reminded me that I fell for this type of marketing recently with Jamestown (‘from the makers of Downton Abbey’ – turned out to be a dull period drama where not a lot really happened).
Anyway, with GLOW I remained hopeful. And, if you’re the kind of person that skips ahead to the ending I can reveal I wasn’t let down as much with GLOW as I was with Jamestown, as it got better as it went on, but wasn’t an instant classic. Which is slightly surprising given the cast, show’s creators and the whole concept. But we’ll get to why shortly.
So GLOW is about ladies that wrestle. That are, indeed, gorgeous. The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. Clever eh?
We open with Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling actress killing an audition with a commanding monologue. Turns out she was reading the man’s part meant for Steve Guttenberg.
A strong scene that demands your attention. The patriarchy was very much alive and kicking in the 80s (still is, in many ways). This show could be really good if it keeps this up.
So back to Ruth. She’s tenacious after many knockbacks in the acting world. So when she gets the chance to, she jumps at the opportunity to be part of a new, all-female wrestling show. (If that isn’t a sport positively dripping in testosterone then I don’t know what is.)
Quickly, she establishes herself as key villian, ‘Zoya the destroyer’ in the line-up of ragtag performers, opposite her former best friend Debbie ‘Liberty Belle’ (Betty Gilpin) – the hero if you will – and sparks duly fly.
So far so good.
Jumping ahead, near the season’s end the show gets into its stride, with the finale going for a Dodgeball feel, complete with sly, well-observed fight commentary from GLOW’s producer Sebastian ‘Bash’ Howard (Chris Lowell), which is a hoot to watch.
But this sort of stuff makes you wish there had been more of this earlier on in the season. Because once you reveal what you can do as a writer, you set your own bar that much higher. So as an audience we expect this level every time. But maybe that’s why they left the best stuff until the end? Anyway…I digress.
Along with Ruth we have half a dozen other ladies to get to know and they all get a scene or two, but it feels slightly jumbled. Plus, Ruth is frustratingly unsympathetic as a character to begin with, and the focus seems to drift from her to one or two others, without a clear idea of where the story is truly going. And the bold, feminist opening of the start seems to have been slightly forgotten in favour of just a straight up comedy.
That said, there’s memorable scenes every episode and the sharp writing mostly continues throughout. Also, a highlight from more or less the off is the show’s schlocky B-movie director, Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), whose sardonic humour and world-weary view make for a nice contrast to the sparky group of oddballs and rejects with whom he’s trying to mould into something resembling professional. (It’s important to note that he’s not a dick to women specifically, but to everyone, as his own career is somewhat on the slide.)
I’ll end by saying that the encouraging signs were there in the final third of the season though. As the show seemed to come together and most of the characters felt like they had more of a sense of purpose and began to spark off each other in delightful ways as a group.
Moreover, Alison Brie’s performance, despite taking a while to warm to, was really the heart and soul of the whole thing. And we as an audience perhaps warm to her as her fellow wrestling team warm to her as things go on. Which you could say is really clever writing, if it was intentional.
There is also the fact that, as the season took its time, we’ve barely scratched the surface with most characters. So there’s a lot more story to tell. Plus the feminist angle really only got touched on from time to time, so that’s also ripe to push a lot further.
So if they do renew it, the future’s looks bright for the lycra-clad gorgeous gang. All hail the ladies that wrestle.