The Netflix series GLOW is a fictionalized dramedy set in the 1980s and inspired by the real wrestling show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (1986-89). Centered around a motley crew of women who answer a vague casting call, GLOW weaves the tale of women learning to wrestle on the fly for a show dreamed up by earnest trust-funder Bash (Chris Lowell) and directed by cynical, sexist, coke-snorting director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron).
It stars Alison Brie as Ruth, a try-hard struggling actress, and Betty Gilpin as Debbie, a new mother who left behind the world of soap-opera acting for the domestic realm, and is now forced to find work in the face of marital discord.
While most of the drama revolves around conflict between friends-turned-enemies Ruth and Debbie, the supporting actresses get time in the sun as well. Brie and Gilpin are wonderful in their roles, but the supporting actresses often steal the show.
Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) is one of the more dynamic characters; she is forced to take on the role of wrestling coach after Sylvia foolishly fires the professional wrestler who was originally hired to train the women. Britney Young portrays Carmen Wade, whose in-ring persona, Machu Picchu, is a nod toward the original GLOW performer Mountain Fiji. Rhona (Kate Nash), Sheila (Gayle Rankin) and Arthie (Sunita Mani) are all characters I wanted to see more of.
This show is wonderful because it’s about wrestling, but it’s not just for wrestling fans. The way in which GLOW brings non-wrestling fans into its world of professional graps is subtle and fun, yet it doesn’t feel patronizing if you are already a wrestling fan. It treats the art form with respect and makes its production part of the plot, rather than an easy punchline.
GLOW also shines in its honesty about wrestling in the ’80s. Nationalism and stereotype-based gimmicks were unfortunately the norm, and we see the women having to take on those roles. The characters Junk Chain and Welfare Queen are designed to exploit cheap humor about African-American women, but Cherry and Tammé (Kia Stevens, a.k.a. Awesome Kong) push back against the racial stereotyping. It also is not shy about depicting the sexism that performers did, and still do, face in the world of acting, especially women of color.
The season zips by with 10 episodes clocking in at just half-an-hour each. GLOW packs a lot of character development into that time, but I’d have loved to see more wrestling. Hopefully, a second season will give us more wrestling and even more time to get to know and love the cast. With an on-point soundtrack, high production values, fun costuming and great characters, GLOW is worth a binge-watch (or several).