An inspirational comedy-drama about women in tights, GLOW is a new Netflix series starring Community’s Alison Brie. It’s fiction based in actuality: the real-life, 1980s wrestling TV show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, aka, GLOW. Brie plays Ruth, a struggling actress who gets involved in what looks to her, initially, like a crazy get-rich-quick scheme: assembling a group of women who’ll invade the burgeoning, male-dominated phenomenon of TV wrestling. Skeptical but intrigued, she allows herself to be drawn in by the hustling director, played by comedian Marc Maron, who will mold the disparate group into a TV-friendly team.
Created by Liz Flahive (Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Orange Is The New Black), GLOW is, inevitably, a feminist-themed show. In the first part of the series’ 10-episode season, we see Ruth going to auditions for TV shows and movies where she’s outwardly meek but inwardly seething at the small, subservient roles written for women. Her best friend Debbie (Nurse Jackie’s Betty Gilpin) is a soap opera star who’s given that up to be a stay-at-home mom to her infant child and her infantilizing husband (Mad Men’s Rich Sommer, in an angry-sad-sack role). There’s friction between the two women that I won’t spoil, but they end up on this team of “lady wrestlers” because it seems like an adventure and an opportunity to portray more aggressive, powerful figures than any casting director is going to allow.
GLOW is executive-produced by Jenji Kohan, creator of Orange Is The New Black, and GLOW features a similar raft of female co-stars — in this case not inmates, but the GLOW team — that are walking clichés who gradually become somewhat filled-in creations. The weakest parts of GLOW occur when the action stops to trace the backstory of this fighter or that one — in other words, when GLOW is most like OITNB. It’s best when the show is exploring the complex friendship between Ruth and Debbie, or whenever anyone is bouncing off of Maron’s director Sam Sylvia. I’ve never had much use for Maron’s stand-up comedy or his woe-is-me comedy podcast, so I was surprised how much I like him in GLOW — especially when Maron makes it look as though he’s improvising, riffing cynical insults about the corrupt world of showbiz.
GLOW succeeds in its most crucial challenge: It makes the occupation of 1980s televised wrestling — the fake, stunt-filled spectacles featuring hacky storylines about heroes and “heels” — seem interesting. As you might have assumed, it requires a lot of training, choreography, and imagination to execute the extravagant body slams without hurting a teammate, and I was impressed to see that Brie, Gilpin, and many of the others rarely appeared to use body doubles or stuntwomen.
Brie is especially impressive. Initially, she seems miscast: Would so slight a woman as Ruth possibly make it past a wrestling try-out? Then, too, we’re not quite sure whether Ruth is a good actress who just hasn’t landed a good role, or a mediocre one who turns to wrestling because that’s probably as good as she’ll ever get. But Brie plays that doubt perfectly, and then goes on to show how Ruth enriches the GLOW team with her imagination and grit.
If you really get hooked on GLOW, you can also use Netflix to look at the documentary that was doubtless its prime motivation: 2012’s G.L.O.W.: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, an excellent movie by filmmaker Bret Whitcomb.
GLOW begins streaming on Netflix on Friday.
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