GLOW (2017) Season 1 Review!!!

Synopsis – A look at the personal and professional lives of a group of women who perform for a wrestling organization in Los Angeles.

Episodes – S01E01 to S01E10

My Take – Netflix strikes gold again by delivering one of the best new shows of the year! This latest original drama from the ever-increasing library of the streaming giant gives takes us into the performative worlds of Hollywood and wrestling. Wrestling is a sport I never cared about, all I know is that performers act out scripted scenarios in front of live crowds & of course they fight & slam each other around, a bit crass for my taste, but hey I respect the immense dedication its fandom. However, after watching this show, my thoughts on wrestling haven’t change much, but I can appreciate the behind the scenes a little more. Based on a real television show from the 1980s — a mixture of skit comedy and wrestling matches, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling aka GLOW was a cheesy but charming women’s wrestling show which ran for four seasons. There’s a documentary all about them on Netflix itself which is a must watch before you begin this series, just in order to understand how over the top, crazy, and racist/sexist the show was. This series created Liz Flahive, who previously worked on Homeland, and Carly Mensch, who is known for her work on another Netflix original, Orange is the New Black take us back to the 1980s were fashion wasnt just about neon fabrics, side ponytails, and cream-colored suits with t-shirts, but also about too much moose, too much make-up, and sock-less penny loafers. Yep, brilliantly, gloriously ugly and tacky and that’s what you see in this show. Superficially speaking, this series (and its characters) looks more authentically of the era than anything else I have seen portrayed on film in the last two decades. Trust me, while watching this you will realize, 30 minutes of a run time & just 10 episodes was just not enough!

The story follows Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), an actress trying to make her way in 1980s Hollywood. Ruth is a talented performer who is constantly missing out on work because she doesn’t fit the certain ideal of seeming like a real actress. Dejected, Ruth is nonetheless given hope when she gets a unique audition opportunity for “unconventional women.” Low on money, Ruth is desperate for a gig, even showing up after Sam turns her away. She also has a relationship with Mark (Rich Sommer) but that turns out to be complicated as he is married to her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a former soap opera star and a new mother. This leads her to an old boxing gym where B-movie director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) casts her and thirteen other women in GLOW, a women’s professional wrestling show. Ruth has reservations about the project, not thinking of it as a real acting job at first. The issue complicates when Debbie finds out about her affair with Mark & shows up at the gym to beat down on her, Sam sees potential & convinces Debbie to be the lead of the show. However, Debbie gets in the flow when she finds out exactly how demanding wrestling is, both physically and creatively. She also starts to bond with the rest of the cast of the show. That includes the likes of Sheila (Gayle Rankin), a strange woman who identifies as a wolf along with Arthie Premkumar (Sunita Mani), Jenny Chey (Ellen Wong) and others. While the tension between the two main characters remains central, as a group, the women try to learn how to make it work in the ring and out of it, fighting not only the perceptions of what they’re trying to accomplish but the pitfalls of their personal lives and the business, including an unreliable financier (Chris Lowell) who has far more enthusiasm than he does business sense. I mean, come on, how can you possibly read that premise without wanting to watch it immediately. The first season of show, which is executive-produced by Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan — relishes the drama and feistiness inherent in its story, unfolding something like some of the best shows out there. Led by an ornery director slash coach, a ragtag group of misfits’ bands together to become a team, learning how to care for each other as they just so happen to kick each other’s asses around a wrestling ring. The new Netflix series, uses that base as a trampoline to take flight. The series skillfully balances the inherent wackiness of the original show’s spirit with a sense of realness and emotional honesty, mixed in with some issues of real weight to craft a story that is as stirring and inspiring as it is silly and funny. There is so much to talk about for this show that it is going to be hard to touch on all the bases. Firstly, this is a show about wrestling but it is a story about the characters. That is my biggest take away from this show.

When a show about Wrestling does not focus on the Wrestling, it should instead divert the audience to focus on the Gorgeous Ladies. Considering that they only had 10 episodes running for 30 minutes episodes each, they managed to make you care about all these characters and give each an arc that some shows manage to do across several seasons. Here, you have a set of rich, diverse bunch of characters, almost all of which are multi-dimensional and bring more to the table than just what they appear to be (while ironically trying to play up their stereotypes to promote the show they are working on). Plots for Debbie, stuntwoman-turned-GLOW trainer Cherry (Sydelle Noel), and introverted punk Justine (Britt Baron) have as much bearing on the first season as Ruth’s. Ruth and Debbie have a complicated history, and their healing process stretches out over the course of these episodes, the emotional violence they’ve done to one another gaining a physical outlet when they become, respectively, the primary face and heel of the series. Ruth’s realization that she’s the villain in her own story is an ingenious turning point for the first season, one that’s eventually filtered into the Cold War metaphor framing her rivalry with Debbie. Each of the wrestlers eventually adopts a persona that expresses one big idea or another, slumming filmmaker Sam’s method for hanging on to his artistic credentials. In his mind, the woman are actually wrestling with the labels that society wants to put on them, a highfalutin view that Maron communicates with ease. If only the show itself were as articulate: When Tamee (Kia Stevens) suggests that some of GLOW’s big ideas are actually harmful stereotypes, Sam counters with the philosophy he applied to his faux-filmography of grindhouse fare like Gina The Machina, Swamp Maidens Of The Vietcong, and Couch Of Pain: “I like to push the envelope. I like to jolt people into consciousness.” Sam’s argument doesn’t seem to sway Tamee, and the comedic tinge of the scene—the titles of Sam’s films, the airs he puts on—suggests that it isn’t supposed to sway the viewer, either. Later on, when Arthie dons a turban and bandolier to take the ring as a ululating terrorist, she riles up some good ol’ boys in the audience, who hurl racial epithets, saliva, and, eventually, a beer can in her direction. If this series does get a second season I would like to see more of other characters like Sheila “The She-Wolf”, Justine “Scab”, Reggie “Vicky the Viking” or Carmen “Machu Pichu”. It was not because they were hilarious characters, because they seemed like they had a story to tell behind the glamour and the makeup. The main character of the show Ruth is not particularly interesting, she seems like a passive protagonist that just allows events to happen to her. I would like more character development for her, I would like to know who she was before she was Ruth Wilder, some real motivation to her character and a reason to want her to succeed that the typical money problems that has been churned out constantly. Of course, it also helps that the series is often quite funny. That it does so without taking the wrong sort of aim at its subject matter is important. To be frank, it would have been very easy to paint the ’80s wrestling industry with a broad comedic brush and end up mocking it for cheap laughs.

It’s to Flahive and Mensch’s credit that this doesn’t happen; in fact, the series embraces its unabashed respect for the business from the start. While most of the characters (including Sam) don’t have a lot of respect for wrestling going in, they learn just how difficult it is, and how talented its performers have to be. Training sequences show the rough road of learning the art of putting together a good match, and Ruth struggles to find her proper heel persona at first. The women learn to respect and love wrestling and, through the eyes, so should the audience. The show also can be considered a period piece, as it uses its 80s setting superbly well. Granted there are VHS tapes, aerobics classes and many other quintessential 80s tropes, but it never goes overboard on them. In fact, there might be only one “cheesy” montage in the whole season come to think of it. Additionally, the show doesn’t rely on the nostalgia aspects that a lot of media does nowadays, instead it puts its eccentric cast of characters, female empowerment and wrestling center stage. There are a few familiar touches here and there which are hard to get away from in a series like this, and the series does lean into predictability a time or two. This is a story of personal identity and empowerment wrapped in the trappings of an underdog sports story, and most people who have seen even a few of those will be able to call some of the show’s plot twists early on. But that doesn’t stop the telegraphed story turns from being handled well. The performances are uniformly excellent. Alison Brie (Community) is a marvelous lead here, not just for physically throwing herself around the ring (of which all the actors did some variation of their own stunts and moves), but for also bringing a real and layered character to the screen. Brie has shown her considerable talents in several recent projects, however here she deserves special congratulations as she throws herself with abandon into her part and truly brings her character to life. Betty Gilpin is fantastic as she breaths real life into the convoluted conflict the show throws her into for the sheer sake of rivalry with Brie. And finally, there’s Marc Maron, whether or not you’ve heard about him yet, you will soon and it will be because of this role. Maron exemplifies everything great about this show. Here, Maron creates a man (who should be contemptible) highly relatable and believable, and even after all the nasty things he says you’ll always have some modicum of sympathy for him. The rest of the cast consisting of Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Jackie Tohn, Kate Nash, Britt Baron, Chris Lowell, Bashir Salahuddin, Rich Sommer, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Sunita Mani, Kia Stevens, Gayle Rankin, Ellen Wong, Marianna Palka, Alex Rich & Amy Farrington are just as commendable. All the characters are just as varied as their in-the-ring personas, and each get their fair share of screen-time and story, like Orange is the New Black this is a true ensemble piece. On the whole, ‘Glow’ is a really funny, heartwarming and exciting show that uses a good combination of relatable characters & sharp writing to deliver a show that is worth the look.

Creators – Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch

Starring – Alison Brie, Marc Maron, Betty Gilpin

Status – Season 1 (Completed)

Network – Netflix

 

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