Netflix’s new wrestling themed series GLOW, which is based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion from the 1980s, is funny, gritty, emotional and a must-see for wrestling fans.
The show starts out by meeting Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a down on her luck actress that is looking for work and happens to come across a casting call for what will end up being GLOW. From there, we see the roster come together with one stuntwoman, a pro wrestling legacy, and the rest have a lack of experience but are trying to make it onto the show. One of the strongest parts of the show is the individual characters themselves, as well as the relationships they end up forming with each other. Ruth is hardworking and tries to fit in and nail her role, but she ends up coming off as being awkward — but in a good and charming way not unlike Steve Carell’s goofy and endearing Michael Scott from The Office.
Marc Maron plays Sam Sylvia, a B-movie director hired to create the pilot for the women’s wrestling league, and he’s gritty, brazen and sometimes (OK, a majority of the time) offensive. Sam has a vision for GLOW, and it often involves overcomplicated plots with hilarious responses or results, not too far off from some complaints with today’s “overscripted” wrestling. One highlight involves a subplot about Sam’s feature film he’ll get financed if the GLOW pilot is a success, and Sam thinks it’s a brilliant script, but everyone has already seen it before (sorta). Sam, like the rest of the cast, does show growth as the season progresses, becoming a better director and person, but you almost want to see him stay the same just for the humor he brings. Almost. Sam shows signs of brilliance instead of being cranky and bitter and Marc Maron steals many of the scenes he’s in, as he is humorous even when dealing with some of the darker and sensitive subject matter.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by several 1980s ‘foreign heels’ and other funny stereotypes that wrestling fans will definitely be familiar with, as well as some twists on a few others. The final gimmicks the girls portray aren’t specifically lifted from the original Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling series, but you can definitely see certain influences if you go back and compare some of the characters. The show works well as an ensemble, and each character gets enough screen time, all building to the match pairings for the pilot event card. Ruth and Sam are meant to be the leads, but the cast is full of loveable characters that all get ample screen time including Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong), who really stands out here. She’s known for being an intimidating and physical presence in the ring, but her ‘promo’ skills are what really shine here. The show makes a point to discuss stereotypes and offensive content in wrestling that is surprisingly still relevant today (What if my kid is watching? Will everyone get it?) and Kong’s character, and a few others such as Jenny (Ellen Wong) and Arthie (Sunita Mani) draw attention to the negative side of exploiting themselves for the right reasons. Overall, GLOW finds a funny way of bringing humor into the negative stereotypes of foreign heels in wrestling, but still calling attention to the outdated pigeonholing of nationalities and ethnicities.
The show is not all fun, as the show does deal with several dramatic elements including acceptance of family, alienation of others, and even dealing with conflicts between the girls and Sam, including the arrival of Ruth’s former best friend Debbie Eagen (Betty Gilpin). Ruth and Debbie end up clashing early on for reasons explained early in the season, and end up providing several great exchanges including an awesome ’80s training montage that is reminiscent of some classics like The Karate Kid and Rocky.
There are a lot of reasons to enjoy GLOW, but one of the best parts about the project is that it is very faithful to professional wrestling. There are a number of references and small monologues about how to work a match and why the faces and heels work with each other and how ‘the money is in the chase’ and turns, worked shoots, and so on. Another great thing to see was how many cameos there were with current pro wrestlers, and some came as a genuine surprise. It was well known that Chavo Guerrero was involved and that Joey Ryan and John Morrison had roles, but other wrestlers showed up throughout the season including a few current Impact Wrestling and Ring Of Honor stars that provided a nice pop. The appearances are both comedic and a bit dramatic, but they serve a purpose to drive the story and teach the ladies how to put a match together and why it all matters to them and the fans.
The season finale ends up being a proper way to wrap things up without everything being ‘neat’. There’s a payoff, some storylines do wrap up and there is some closure for some of the characters, but there are plenty of new storylines and open-ended points to explore, so you still remain hopeful to see what a new season would bring. Season one was about the tough road to the pilot episode and everything finally being glammed up, but the one of the few complaints I would offer is that there wasn’t enough wrestling. The episodes vary in runtime from 29-35 minutes, but a few short scenes of training, or even some longer scenes of the existing training sequences and final matches.
GLOW had me hooked from the first note of the intro song (Scandal’s “The Warrior”) and the introductory sequence graphics are well done. A number of shows nowadays skip a memorable intro but the show has a great soundtrack and feels authentic to the era. The show hits all of the right marks, and there are plenty of great scenes and humorous one liners. GLOW will please wrestling fans but also should have a wider appeal; it finds a good balance between drama, action and comedy, as well as being an empowering show that is sometimes raunchy with a lot of heart.
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