04th Jul2017

‘GLOW: Season 1′ Review (Netflix)

by Phil Wheat

Glow_UK-poster

As a wrestling fan I was aware of the GLOW promotion thanks to the fact that, during my college years, I used to frequent a weekly flea market, snagging old VHS tapes like they were going out of fashion (little did I know that by the end of my Uni years they WOULD be out of fashion). Horror, action, scifi and in particular wrestling… I grabbed whatever wrestling tapes were on offer and what I could afford. You see, until 1999, I never had access to wrestling on TV. Yorkshire TV never screened WCW (unlike the neighbouring Granada which showed WCW on Saturday afternoons) and WWF was a Sky TV-only product. So all my wrestling viewing at the time was through the old Silvervision VHS tapes and, bizarrely, weird (and I’m sure not-quite-legit) videotapes of GLOW – the 80s womens wrestling promotion that I bought from a creepy dude that I’m sure was also the local pirate… Why GLOW? Well – confession time – well, maybe not a confession, more stating the obvious: I was a horny teenager and to watch something that combined wrestling and sexy ladies? Sounded like my idea of heaven!

When I first heard about Netflix’s GLOW I did worry that, much like wrestling documentaries ,would spoil the mystique of GLOW. There’s just something about seeing “behind the curtain” of wrestling that spoils the illusion of the “sport”. However, Netflix’s new series is only loosely based on the actual promotion… Instead of telling the true tale of the Gorgeous Ladies Of WrestlingGLOW tells the fictional story of Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), an out-of-work, struggling actress in 1980s Los Angeles who finds one last chance for stardom when she’s thrust into the glitter and spandex world of women’s wrestling.

The first episode sees Ruth down on her luck and out of work, trying to make it in Hollywood – all the while trying to maintain a modicum of decency and respect… so much so that in the first scene we see Ruth get her wires crossed and read the lines for a male lead in one of her auditions. Which not only says a lot about the character, but also where the show is clearly aiming. Like Orange Is The New Black, this is a show about strong women fighting for what they believe in; and in this case also fighting each other in the ring.

Eventually Ruth scores an audition for a new TV show, G.L.O.W. and, desperate for cash and more importantly an acting job, she decides in-ring action is for here. Especially if she can show off her acting prowess and stand out in the sea of women wanting to get a chance at fame and fortune, no matter how meagre. In addition to working with 12 other misfits who’ve been chosen to be the line-up for the first season of GLOW, Ruth also has to compete with Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) a former soap actress who left the business to have a baby, only to be sucked back into work when her picture perfect life is not what it seems. And at the wheel is Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a washed-up, B-movie director who now must lead this group of women on the journey to wrestling stardom…

GLOW is a very clever show. Packed with neon-tinged artwork and classic 80s pop tunes from the get-go, the audience is – somewhat – lulled into a false sense of security. You’re driven to expect this will be a fun, light, show about female performers coming together to start a brand-new wrestling promotion. If this had been made in the late 80s/early 90s I’m sure that we would have seen a myriad montages of the women working out and getting sweaty, all set to the same 80s tunes. But this is FAR from a cheesy dramatisation of the story behind the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Instead we have a show about 80s female wrestling that is a hot-bed of excitement, intrigue, laughs, tears, drama and comedy. Who knew? And best of all? The characters are, for the most part, fleshed-out and well rounded. The time we spend with the women, inside and outside the ring, which really allows for some solid character development and audience investment. The time spent with these ladies really does ramp up the empathy, meaning you care about each and every person, about each and every life-changing incident – all building to that first televised show, where you can’t help but root for these particular Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling to succeed.

Whilst it would seem, given the early advertising for the show, that GLOW would focus on the high-concept women’s wrestling and the pomp and spectacle that would come with it, the series is instead a touching look at a bunch of misfits and outsiders who make themselves a family; a family who just happen to wrestle (actually, who WILL wrestle) for a living. It’s a fantastic story about women working hard to make it in a sexist Hollywood, having to carve out their own career paths any way they can – even if that means living life as a feral, living up to racial stereotypes or becoming parodies of themselves. These women own their destinies, ultimately controlling the narrative of both the show and their own lives come the end of the first season – much moreso than the men behind the camera, who struggle even with coping with life, never mind basic concepts of morality and decency!

It will be interesting to see how the cast and crew can build on such a strong first series. There was so much packed into GLOW that I fear that there’s no where else to go but downhill. I know in the promotions history, the second series of G.L.O.W. moved the action to Las Vegas rather than the L.A. setting of this first season – maybe that will be enough to spark some new drama. Maybe. But as it is GLOW could bow out as a mere one-season Netflix show and still be considered one of the services very best.

***** 5/5

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