4 out of 5
Created by: Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch
covers season 1
While I’m growing a little tired of the 80s nostalgia party we’ve been having the last few years (but it was to be expected – every era has their own version of this), GLOW – a TV-ized telling of the start of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – has actual history as its justification for its setting, and then does one better by actually telling a story with characters and not using wink-wink references as a Remember When? Crutch. In fact, besides the time-appropriate props (the telephones, the TVs), the only other clear call-out would be the soundtrack, and even that is kept to a blessed one featured song per episode; even the outfits and hair are kept in tasteful check. This is a very tolerable way to capture the 80s, and allowed me to fully appreciate GLOW the show without having to make constant concessions for nostalgaism.
So: It’s 1985, and Z-grade schlock auteur Sam (Mark Maron) puts out a casting call for unusual types for a new TV show. Showing up to this – besides several unique ladies whom we’ll somewhat get to know over a ten episode season – is perpetually-having-a-bad-day Ruth (Alison Brie), who has a true passion for her craft and, despite my hyphenated description of her, does her best to keep moving forward with a smile. There’s some adjustment to realizing that this audition is to be for a taped wrestling show – which means yes, acting, but also… wrestling – but she comes around to the idea and finds her hook into tossing herself into the narrative of the thing. Or attempting to. Spread atop some of GLOW’s light-handed social / gender commentary and the clumsy soap opera antics which mimic those unfolding for the ladies’ wrestling personas is Ruth’s search for identity via these roles she throws herself in to. There’s the suggestion that she can’t land a part because there’s not a settled, confident person behind her various characters, and it’s an interesting concept that gets bounced off of the more pronounced (and occasionally one-dimensional – hard to avoid with such a large cast) personalities of her teammates. This ends up being a bit heady for a half-hour drama / comedy, though, and gets somewhat lost later in the season behind subplot clutter. However, Brie sells her character’s mix of befuddlement and charm incredibly well, and the script remains fairly understated in terms of trying to drop any life lessons, so you get swept up in Ruth’s plight – and her delightfully snarky banter with Maron – with little effort, which is surely a good quality for a bingeable, streaming series.
Throughout GLOW, I also appreciated the actual focus on and seeming reverance for the wrestling. It’s not my sport by any means, but the creative team doesn’t treat it like a backdrop. It’s certainly the vehicle for bringing the cast together, and their learning to work together is how we get to know them, but there’s legit training going on here – not just one or two montages and then they’re pros – as well as consideration for the production behind the whole thing. You never get the impression that it’s easy, and the majority of the cast really does pull of the moves convincingly in the ring.
I kept watching GLOW, curious if I was just letting Netflix serve me up an easy view or if I was actually invested, but when I got that twinge of excitement when the ladies were starting to get their GLOW act together, I knew I was hooked, and cheering for the show to succeed.