GLOW Season 1 Review

By
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TV:
David James

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On June 21, 2017
Last modified:June 21, 2017

Summary:

GLOW is a bright jewel in the already impressive Netflix crown, presenting us with ten flawless episodes in which Alison Brie has never been funnier. Skip at your own peril.

All ten episodes were provided prior to release.

GLOW is about women battling the patriarchy with totally sweet wrestling moves.  The show (very) loosely dramatizes the real life behind the scenes turmoils of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), an all-female wrestling show that aired in 1986-1990 and became a minor cult classic. Actresses, stuntwomen and models, all eager to break into the world of showbiz, auditioned – most of whom had never wrestled in their lives. From this unlikely clay, a vast array of colorful characters emerged, giving GLOW the reputation as one of the most entertaining wrestling franchises around.

Netflix’s take on the material follows struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a shrimpy drama nerd whose dreams of performing Strindberg and Brecht have crashed headlong into unhappy reality. We meet her as she undergoes a humiliating audition for a servile secretary role, which she subverts by ‘mistakenly’ reading the man’s part. Post-audition she accosts the casting director, pleading for a chance to play something other than a dippy doormat. Turns out there just aren’t roles like that. Well… there is this one show that’s looking for “unconventional women”…

It’s a tip that propels Ruth into a world of turnbuckles, suplexes, sequinned costumes and self-empowerment. It turns out to be a passion project of wrestle-mad trust fund rich kid Bash Howard (Chris Lowell), who’s corralled washed up B-movie director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) into directing the inaugural season of GLOW.

The rest of the season follows the GLOW’s bumpy and circuitous ride to the airwaves. Leaving aside the tangled thicket of financial, creative and interpersonal dramas, the biggest hurdle the team must clear is that nobody really knows anything about wrestling. Sure, former Blaxploitation star Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) knows how to fake a fall, and Carmen (Britney Wong) comes from a famous wrestling family, but the vast majority of them simply don’t ‘get’ professional wrestling.

And so each of the characters is on a personal journey from drab domesticity to neon-soaked wrestling superstardom, each having their own ‘eureka’ moment when they finally embrace professional wrestling in all its beautiful absurdity.

There’s an infectious sense of joy embedded deep into GLOW’s DNA. Despite its high-minded moral core (women asserting the power of their own bodies and carving out a place of strength), GLOW never feels remotely preachy. Much of this is down to Marc Maron’s chain-smoking grump-with-a-heart-of-gold director, described as “more sexist than he is racist.” In between coke binges, he instructs the women in the finer arts of “cunt punching” (a phrase quickly repeated for emphasis), invents eye-bogglingly offensive wrestling personae for the ladies (the Indian-American Arthie (Sunita Mani) is told she’s to be ‘Beirut,’ a bomb-chuckin’ Middle Eastern terrorist), and sums up the whole enterprise to a stuffed-shirt network exec as “porn you can watch with your kids… finally.”

Sam’s nicotine n’ coke soaked cynicism finds the perfect foil in Ruth’s peppy idealism, with Maron and Brie positively lighting up the screen whenever they’re bouncing off one another. The duo are responsible for some of the funniest moments in the season, but the rest of the cast are no slouches, either. I’d go so far as to say that GLOW features one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a very, very long time – almost Altman-esque in the way it satisfyingly develops every single character and weaves a complex web of interactions and rivalries.

This all takes place in a beautifully realized 1980s Los Angeles. GLOW resists the temptation to tip over into salmon pink, neon-lit cliché period fetishism, carefully choosing its costumes, scenery and set designs so as not to obscure the drama. That said, there’s a delightful episode that sees us take a trip to Bash’s Nagel-festooned yuppie pad – which contains his Rocky IV-esque robot buddy (who’s stuffed full of drugs), a spot-on skewering of Nancy Reagan WASPs against drugs, and a pitch perfect 80s pop soundtrack. My favourite bit of period detailing came when a character has to take a home pregnancy test. Nowadays you simply pee on a stick, but back in the 80s it seems to be some bizarre alchemical process, combining test tubes of chemicals and piss to byzantine instructions.

On top of all that, GLOW is funny. Really goddamn funny. Alison Brie has proved her comedy credentials many times over in Community, but she’s never been funnier than she is here. Watching her camp it up as Soviet dominatrix bitch ‘Zoya the Destroyer’ is hands down hilarious. But everyone gets a fair share of belly laugh inducing punchlines, with special credit to singer-songwriter Kate Nash’s Rhonda, whose ditzy British wrestler is a particular comedy highlight.

GLOW is a straight up home run for Netflix. The show had me engaged from the first episode and by the finale I was absolutely rapt. I may have even sniffed back a little tear at one critical point. Roll on season 2, and be quick about it!

GLOW Season 1 Review
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GLOW is a bright jewel in the already impressive Netflix crown, presenting us with ten flawless episodes in which Alison Brie has never been funnier. Skip at your own peril.

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