GLOW (2017) hit Netflix a few weeks ago so the gushing about how great it is has passed us by. But this hard-working (sort of) Dad only just finished and feels the need to chime in with some love for it.
GLOW focusses on Alison Brie’s down on her luck actor Ruth as she tries to make it in 1980s LA and ends up joining an upstart all female wrestling troupe. That’s what the show focusses on initially in any case. As the series progresses, more and more of the supporting cast (almost all women) are folded to the forefront of various storylines. Particularly Debbie, the star of the show and Ruth’s former best friend, played excellently by Betty Gilpin. I fell in love with this show basically from the garish neon credits onwards. The show slaps on a proud feminist badge early on which certainly didn’t hurt the appeal. The storytelling is a little slow to get going. But from episode five or so onwards, I was totally hooked. This point also coincides with where GLOW makes its unabashed, innocent love of professional wrestling very clear as Brie starts playing a staple Russian heel. The show explores how wrestling is a very simple, pure form of stripped-down storytelling, in both good and bad ways. The preparation of the show within a show breaks down the questions and process of a storytelling approach that is focussed on “stereotypes not backstory”.
As much as the show is an ensemble, there is no doubting that Alison Brie is the star here. My main familiarity with Brie is from her excellent work in Community (2009-2015), but she is showing a lot of range here. Her performance is winning and hilarious, whilst the writing of the character makes her feel real and deeply flawed. There’s a weight to what she is doing here without it ever feeling overwrought or heavy handed. One criticism of the show that I have heard is that too much emphasis is placed on Marc Maron’s character Sam and his issues. It’s a fair comment and that focus does take away somewhat from some of the awesome wrestling women. But it also provides variety to the storytelling as the women go about their training. In future seasons, when the show within the show is up and running, perhaps it won’t be necessary to have such a heavy focus on Sam.
The entire cast of female wrestlers are brilliant. Both in the writing and performance. Special mention of real-life pro-wrestler Awesome Kong who plays Tamme aka Welfare Queen in the show. In her wrestling days, Awesome Kong was a genuine game-changer in terms of what a women’s wrestler looked like and could do in the ring. Given in this season she shows that she can hold her own on the performance front, I’m hoping she’ll be at the centre of plenty of season 2 as there is (presumably) more and more wrestling action. It is so great to see such a wide variety of female bodies and characters onscreen and performing in an athletic manner. Thematically the show picks up on this late in the season with a focus on the connection between wrestling and the ownership of women’s bodies. The athleticism of wrestling is all their own, no matter their background or current situation.
Verdict: Once it gets going mid-season, GLOW is an unstoppable combination of things that don’t usually go together – a sincere & serious affection for the world of pro-wrestling, stunning performances, consistently funny writing, a huge range of excellent female characters and extended showbiz making-of plotting. It also leaves us just as the show is going into production, meaning there are almost limitless places that the show can take us in season 2 and beyond. There’s an exultant quality to the show that I definitely want more of. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter