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.