GLOW Season 1 Review

In the mid 1980s, wrestling ring announcer David B. McLane decided to take a chance on something believed to be nothing more than a novelty act: women’s wrestling. Before the days of WWE’s “Women’s Revolution” and all-female promotions like SHIMMER: Women Athletes there was GLOW – Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. But McLane didn’t want his company to simply be a footnote in the then-current world of wrestling as he pushed forward the idea of focusing on the “entertainment” aspect of what is now known as “sports entertainment” by creating memorable & marketable characters that the eventual loyal fans of Las Vegas would talk about as the company existed and beyond. While the original incarnation of GLOW showcased its outlandish characters on the small screen to draw even more attention to the wacky world of pro wrestling during the height of what has now become known as the “Rock N’ Wrestling” era, the Netflix version of “GLOW” allows the characters behind the in-ring performers shine to fantastic results.



Case in point – the series’ focal point and “tweener” (a pro wrestling term referring to someone who can be considered either a good guy or a bad guy depending on the situation), Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie). Ruth is immediately presented as a wannabe actress down on her luck hoping to catch her big break even if it means presenting herself as everything from a dimwitted individual to someone who will attempt to tear down barriers on the smallest of scales. So it’s almost like fate itself spotted Ruth and placed her in the path of another person downtrodden by the fickle world of film, Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Sylvia – a director past his prime apparently struggling to get his believed magnum opus script turned into a film – essentially lowers himself to create a TV series thanks to the large, though strained checkbook of Sebastian Howard (Chris Lowell) – an excited, misunderstood, somewhat sheltered individual fueled by cocaine and the potential bright lights of GLOW – based around actresses learning how to wrestle while playing characters stereotypical, racially offensive, and, to a certain extent, uninspired even by 1980s wrestling standards such as “The Welfare Queen” (“Tamme Dawson” played by Kia “Amazing/Awesome Kong” Stevens) and “Fortune Cookie (Ellen Wong playing “Jenny Chey”). There are also several homages to the original GLOW characters including Carmen Wade playing the “Mt. Fiji”-inspired grappler known as “Machu Picchu”. There’s even a GLOW rap similar to what was seen several times during GLOW the wrestling company’s existence.

Rather than stick with the rise of these ladies in simply learning how to wrestle and produce GLOW’s pilot episode, “GLOW” uses the art of pro wrestling to enlighten and expose the mindsets of its latest intended personas thanks to several interactions between a majority of the cast including Ruth and her best friend, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who actually stops her successful acting career to raise a family with a man who feels unloved by his wife to the point he cheats on her in the first episode to create a season-long rivalry between the two core female characters. This problematic union between Ruth and Debbie ties in greatly with the way wrestling is presented to the viewing audience as they are informed that just because two people don’t care for each other doesn’t mean they can’t work together for the betterment of what’s going on around them – be it the wrestling audience or a child who needs both parents to be raised properly. Add that to the fact “GLOW” definitely brings up some talking points for viewers (and maybe even some show business industry figureheads) to discuss including gender discrimination, the lacking of strong female leads not easily defined in terms of morality & ethics, relationships between strangers trying to accomplish a single goal, and the general perception of stereotypes not only in the 1980s, but also now thirty years later. Thankfully it’s not all serious moral dilemmas and broken friendships as a few characters prove to be there simply for comedic purposes – Stacy Beswick (Kimmy Gatewood) & Dawn Rivecca (Rebekka Johnson) being the “GLOW” equivalent of Leanne & Angie from “Orange is the New Black”.



Though the in-ring action isn’t the focal point of “GLOW’, it’s necessarily showcased throughout including footage of Hulk Hogan (whose daughter makes a cameo) and Ric Flair glistening on Ruth’s TV screen to inspire her to embrace her inner “Hulkster” (to hilariously bad results as she attempts to be a pro wrestler without truly embracing the nuances that turned the greats into legends) and Debbie’s awakening to what pro wrestling provides for its audiences when she’s taken to her first live wrestling event and witnesses actual current pro wrestlers Christopher Daniels, Joey Ryan, Frankie Kazarian and Alex Riley perform in what she summarizes as a “male soap opera.” There’s also a true appreciation for pro wrestling fans seen throughout “GLOW” as the various crowds, though not presented as the most educated aristocrats, are given the respect of understanding that everything happening from bell to bell is for entertainment purposes only even if a few bad apples can almost ruin the mystic through bigotry – something that can happen in any form of aggressive entertainment. Wrestling fans are also given credit for controlling the future of a product & its characters. Midway through the season the first GLOW test show is presented in the warehouse the ladies train in on a daily basis. The crowd initially proves to be apathetic thanks to the lackluster characters and poor wrestling. It isn’t until something relatable and empowering happens (two African Americans beating up a pair of faux Ku Klux Klan members played by the aforementioned dimwits, Stacy & Dawn) before the crowd is drawn into the show while encouraging the TV producer looking to see if “GLOW” can pop a rating courtesy of enthusiastic and potential diehard fans.

Not only that but there are also a few training montages featuring more current wrestlers including Johnny “John Morrison” Mundo, “Brodus Clay” Tyrus & Carlos “Carlito” Colon teaching the girls the literal ropes; though the lack of respect to some of the actual rigors of taking bumps and rookies being unable to throw “work” (realistic looking, but ultimately fake) strikes not being showcased is troubling for a long-time wrestling fan or someone who’s actually been in the ring. But that problem is rather minor considering this isn’t necessarily a pro wrestling show, but a comedic drama hinging on the power of its cast. With each episode going slightly over or under the thirty minute mark, “GLOW” gains an “easy watch” ability while sacrificing some of the character building for more than the obvious leads of Ruth, Debbie and Sam. For example, one scene features Tamme telling Sam about her reservations about playing such a demeaning character in regard to African Americans and, most importantly, how her son will view his mother & himself in the future. Sam brushes off the worry and Tamme goes about her wrestling career without an apparent care. It’s moments like the one featuring Tamme that are hurt by the show’s time limits with the only hope that more of the secondary characters get their time to shine beyond the ring if a second season does occur (similar to what happened during the subsequent “Orange is the New Black” seasons following the initial one).



From an aesthetic aspect, “GLOW” looks, feels & sounds so wonderfully eighties with the bright clothing & signage (or dull & drab in regards to the seedy motel the girls have to temporarily live in), skater punks with no sense of regard for their elders, and an expected stellar soundtrack (including Stan Bush’s “Dare”) makes “GLOW” stand out amongst a pack of shows becoming enamored with the last real decade of decadence including Netflix’s own “Stranger Things”.

Similar to the entertainment medium that made the original GLOW so monumental, “GLOW” can easily be misjudged by its outward appearance (the very pro wrestling-infused promotional materials specifically). But just like pro wrestling itself, “GLOW” is larger than life thanks to its dramatization and memorable characters both in and out of the ring. “GLOW” does a mostly great job respecting the craft & fans of pro wrestling while giving non-wrestling fans the type of “dramedy” some of the most popular Netflix shows have presented in different forms. While there’s something left to be desired with the overall season – some secondary characters being one-trick ponies lacking character arcs – one can only believe a second season will fix this glaring fault. As a whole “GLOW” season one definitely lives up to its grandiose namesake while partially changing the point of emphasis (focusing on the characters out of the ring rather than solely those caricatures in-between the ropes) to produce an easily “digestible” season that should leave a lot of viewers excited about a second go-round (or season) with these gorgeous ladies.


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