‘GLOW’ shines brightest in the main characters’ lowest moments
If you’re looking for something to binge-watch when it’s too hot to venture outside this summer, you should get comfortable on the couch and watch “GLOW,” Netflix’s newest offering.
Set in Los Angeles in 1985, it’s inspired by the real-life campfest known as “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” so there’s plenty of colorful spandex, teased hair, and metallic lipstick...but the show doesn’t rely on camp for entertainment, which is no easy feat given the schlocky subject matter at hand.
The first episode introduces Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie), a struggling 20-something actress who ends up auditioning for the low-budget female wrestling series unwittingly out of sheer frustration of the acting offers she’s relegated to (one-line secretary or porn). She’s given the opportunity after showing up to another audition to try and nab the meatier “man’s” role, but her brazen move convinces the casting director to pass along a new wrestling series her way. Alison gives the show a chance against all odds because, well, why not?
Her best friend Debbie Eagen (played by Betty Gilpin) is a fellow actress going through her own struggles, as her recurring role on a soap opera is drying up amid marital problems and the birth of her first child. Things immediately get worse for both women when Debbie realizes Ruth is sleeping with her husband Mark.
After a real-life brawl in the ring over the affair, the two ladies end up starring together in “GLOW,” and the 10-episode season chronicles a crew of underdogs like Ruth and Debbie navigating their broken friendship, dealing with sexism and stereotyping at every turn, and figuring out how to turn such a ridiculous spectacle into something they can make their own.
The dramedy highlights how much has changed for women since 1985, and sadly, how much hasn’t. From a misogynistic male director named Sam (played by Marc Maron) to women being placed in boxes based on looks and appearance, the show ultimately wins because of the resilience of its characters, even when they’re not very likeable.
Ruth’s actions are pretty reprehensible, yet “GLOW” shines in the moments where she’s learning how her actions affect those closest to her, especially Debbie.
The show’s first season tackles other weighty topics, like the episode where Ruth realizes she’s pregnant and decides to have an abortion. Watching the story unfold through a 2017 lens is eye-opening, as we see her take ownership of her decision, simply saying, “It’s not the right time. Not the right baby."
Sam even has his own glimmers of humanity, accompanying Ruth to her abortion appointment, and supporting her, without judgment, despite his horrendous treatment of the women much of the time. Planned Parenthood has even praised the show’s “authentic depiction of abortion,” releasing a statement that said, “While the show takes place three decades ago, the story line remains relevant today, as politicians continue to attack women’s health and chip away at access to abortion in America.”
“GLOW” is a great springboard for a diverse group of women — and while the nods to ‘80s culture keep it fun and lighthearted, it’s the little moments among the amateur wrestlers that give it its depth and soul. The show depicts women quite literally fighting an uphill battle, doing everything they can to succeed in a world that only wants to knock them down, figuratively and literally.
After the lightning rod success of Netflix’s first female-led ensemble series, “Orange is the New Black,” it’s great to see OITNB creator Jenji Kohan, producer Tara Herrmann, and writer Carly Mensch at the helm of “GLOW” too.
“GLOW” is an easy summer watch even if you’re not a wrestling fan (perhaps especially if you’re not a wrestling fan!). It’s funny without being silly, optimistic without being sappy, and shows how fun it can be when women band together and reclaim their power...neon leg warmers and all.
"GLOW" season one is now streaming in full on Netflix.
Photo Credit: Netflix