GLOW

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - IAN FREER VERDICT Over­stuffed with more story than laughs, GLOW still de­liv­ers an en­ter­tain­ing romp into a world where big hair meets body slams.

SHOWRUNNERS Liz Flahive, Carly Men­sch CAST Ali­son Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, Brit­ney Young, Sy­delle Noel

PLOT Los An­ge­les, mid-’80s. Sick of play­ing sec­re­taries to pow­er­ful men, strug­gling ac­tress Ruth Wilder (Brie) can’t make ends meet. In des­per­a­tion she takes an au­di­tion for ex­ploita­tion film­maker Sam Sylvia (Maron) for cable TV show ‘GLOW’ — Gor­geous Ladies Of Wrestling.

IT’S EASY TO see why Liz Flahive and Carly Men­sch’s pitch for GLOW turned Net­flix’s head. A fic­tion­alised ac­count of an ac­tual fe­male wrestling cable TV fran­chise in the mid-’80s by the writ­ers of Nurse Jackie and Or­ange Is The

New Black, with still rel­e­vant gen­der in­equal­i­ties wrapped up wrestling hoopla, gaudy style and elec­tro pop. Though en­joy­able, the show only partly de­liv­ers on the prom­ise of the premise.

At its heart is Ali­son Brie’s Ruth Wilder, a se­ri­ous-minded ac­tress who brings thes­pian as­pi­ra­tions to ‘GLOW’, a cheap cable TV wrestling show she is forced to take to pay the bills. Brie is al­ways like­able but, as she flits be­tween the sen­si­ble sur­ro­gate for the au­di­ence and a kooky comic pres­ence, we never get a han­dle on Ruth. The show sets it­self as be­ing Ruth’s ‘jour­ney’ to dis­cover who she is — it plays out in her in­abil­ity to land on a wrestling iden­tity — yet any self-re­al­i­sa­tion gets sub­sumed in the plot of get­ting ‘GLOW’ to the screen.

The most sat­is­fy­ing arc be­longs to Betty Gilpin’s ex-soap star Deb­bie, a “Grace Kelly on steroids” who must re­build her life after her hus­band sleeps with her best friend, and finds strength in wrestling to help take back con­trol.

With the sup­port­ing cast of wrestlers rank­ing around a dozen, the writ­ing never finds the cor­rect hi­er­ar­chy for ev­ery char­ac­ter to de­velop. Those that do in­clude Brit­ney Young’s Car­men Wade, who bat­tles with the shadow of her male wrestling fam­ily dy­nasty, and Sy­delle Noel’s Cherry, a stunt dou­ble for Pam Grier look­ing for some on-cam­era ac­tion. But other promis­ing char­ac­ters — Jackie Tohn’s party girl Mel­rose and Gayle Rankin’s feral Sheila The She Wolf — shine brightly for mo­ments, and then fiz­zle. Oth­ers don’t get enough screen time at all.

The sig­nif­i­cant male in the mix is GLOW’S pro­ducer Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), an ex­ploita­tion film­maker who di­rects ‘GLOW’ in re­turn for fi­nance for his mag­num opus, Moth­ers

And Oth­ers. Sam starts out as sleaze mer­chant, but has hidden depths — he gets an af­fect­ing plot strand in­volv­ing fan/stalker Jus­tine (Britt Baron) — and has a pro­gres­sive agenda. Us­ing the per­sonas of the wrestlers (Wel­fare Queen, For­tune Cookie, Beirut) he com­ments on gen­der, racial and Amer­i­can pi­geon-holes — the women are lit­er­ally wrestling with stereo­types. This is the show’s best plot point, de­liv­er­ing on po­lit­i­cal/fem­i­nist ideas that are only hinted at else­where.

GLOW has fun with the time that taste for­got. It skirts with OITNB’S edge — it’s unashamedly sweary and pushes the en­ve­lope of taste, but tem­pers it with more main­stream plea­sures. As it de­vel­ops, the show be­comes a me­chan­i­cal-yet-watch­able story as the women learn the (lit­er­ally pink) ropes. Pre­dictable, it taps out with a win­ning en­ergy, some killer lines, strong per­for­mances and a gen­tle but per­sua­sive re­minder that women to­day are still fight­ing sim­i­lar bat­tles to those of 30 years ago.

Dukes up! Ruth Wilder (Ali­son Brie) gets ready to wres­tle.

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