You’ll Never Look at Wrestling the Same After ‘GLOW’

GLOW is Netflix’s new Wrestling program. It’s funny, exciting, empowering and a must watch series.
By  · Published on June 19th, 2017

GLOW is Netflix’s new Wrestling program. It’s funny, exciting, empowering and a must watch series.

It is hard to believe that something like GLOW existed at one time and isn’t just some wild idea for a television series in 2017. GLOW started in the mid-1980s and was the first of its kind, an entire show dedicated to women’s wrestling. It had wild costumes, larger than life personalities, and a rapping theme song. As interesting as the scripted wrestling event itself, was the friendship and bond between the women. The ladies of GLOW lived together in an apartment complex. The ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’ were separated but had those moments been recorded it would’ve predated The Real World as a reality television program. Can you imagine what life was like for these ladies?

The 2017 GLOW takes that idea and runs with it. There is still plenty of good old fashion 1980s wrestling, there is also an extended focus on origins the program and personalities behind the women of GLOW. It is a fantastically good time, that perhaps the only downside is that GLOW is over too soon. Even if you don’t think wrestling is for you, you’ll find yourself rooting when these ladies square off in the ring.

One of those women is Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) who has had nothing but bad luck when it comes to finding a job in the acting profession. It’s not that parts aren’t available, but she wants better parts of than a secretary or soap opera fling. She learns about the opportunity to be part of GLOW and things don’t turn out so well at first. Her life experiences have filled her with confidence that she should be above and beyond the other women auditioning, but instead, it just aggravates the shows’ director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). That makes casting her as part of GLOW extremely difficult. She takes this opportunity to learn more about wrestling, including taking inspiration from Hulk Hogan. With these new skills in place, she arrives in the gym with a persona down pat and finally gets accepted.

That isn’t exactly all of it. It seems that Ruth has made some poor life choices as of late. This leads to a confrontation and the entire production of GLOW comes into focus for Sam. He sees Ruth battling it out in the ring with a full television set of cameras and lights. The success of GLOW isn’t just important for the ladies, but for Sam as well, since his most recent string of B-movie releases haven’t exactly lit the world on fire. Perhaps with GLOW, he can finally make something good again.

GLOW is absolutely in love with the 80s. Obviously, that is when the television was active, but so much of why GLOW worked as a television show then, is why it is an exciting television show today. The big wrestling sequences are accompanied by the fantastic music of the era from Journey, Pat Benatar, and Stan Bush among others. The World Wrestling Federation (currently known as the WWE) was big into exaggerated personas for their characters. There were guys like The Honky Tonk Man, who was an Elvis wannabe and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake who brought hedge clippers down to the ring to cut combatants hair. The women of GLOW looked to these examples and made characters of their own and they are absolutely perfect.

Even though GLOW is based on a wrestling program, it also touches upon a lot of politics. There was obviously a lot of inequality that women faced during the 80s and many of those same challenges exist today. GLOW can walk a fine line between exploitation and empowerment, that’s why it was so important to bring this new series to life. At one instance these women are being asked to portray exaggerated stereotypes of their nationalities and religions. On the other, it is showing that women are just as capable as men in going toe-to-toe in a wrestling ring.

Just how the wrestling had to look believable to audiences in the 80s, it must look believable today as well. Show runners and creators Liz Flahive (Homeland) and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black) hired professional wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr. to train the women on the program, which is a coincidence considering Chavo’s Uncle, Mando Guerrero, trained the women on the original program. That isn’t the only illusion to the original show that this new incarnation has. Most notably is the character of Machu Picchu (Britney Young) who seems like a direct nod to one the more iconic wrestlers from the original program Mt. Fuji (Emily Dole). Just how vital Mt. Fuji was to the success of Glow can be seen in the GLOW documentary on Netflix, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Watching the documentary certainly adds some background to the new series, while simultaneously reminding you that this is something that existed. It was also what influenced Flahive and Mensch to make GLOW into a television series.

Since GLOW is executive produced by Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black), there are certain expectations in place. One of those is a memorable extended cast and GLOW certainly continues that trend. The fourteen women who were cast in GLOW all have unique personalities and compelling backstories.

Some of the standouts include Shelia the She Wolf (Gayle Rankin) whose costume is more than what it seems and Justine (Britt Baron) who is a little odd in her appreciation of the directors’ filmography. Perhaps the most unfortunate element of having such compelling ancillary characters is that there just isn’t enough time to learn about all of them in one season. Most of the season is concerned with the exploits of Ruth, Debbie, and Sam. Thankfully all three of them are extremely compelling characters. While Alison Brie is the star of the show, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron do phenomenal work. Gilpin has this character who is a soap opera star who is trying to get back in the spotlight. Maron puts on his best performance of his career, completely embodying a chauvinist attitude toward the women and a failing director who has perhaps been given his last opportunity.

Set up the ring, put up the pink ropes, and prepare yourself for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. GLOW is another fantastic series for Netflix and its greatest flaw might be that it ends too soon. The original GLOW was abruptly cut short when the financial backing of the show pulled out. Netflix has been canceling shows far more quickly as of late, but GLOW should find itself among the top-tier of the shows on the service. Women wrestling, female empowerment, killer 80s tunes, what more could you ask for?

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.