New series arrive on Netflix every single week and it seems that at least half of them are almost immediately designated as ‘must-watch’ viewing material. This was certainly the case with GLOW – a female-led drama from the team behind Orange is the New Black that focuses on the development of a professional wrestling show in the 1980s. It’s based on the true trials and tribulations of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which ran from 1986 until 1990.
For anyone with an interest in professional wrestling, it’s a wry look behind the curtain at the way the industry looked in the 1980s, at the height of Hulkamania and with Vince McMahon having just put on the first WrestleMania event. However, GLOW is also a show that caters to those who don’t know their heel turns from their headlocks. It’s an accessible comedy, helped along by the bombastic visual style of 80s camp and a roster of memorable performances from some great female actors.
So here are nine reasons why, if you haven’t already, you should find the time to make GLOW your next Netflix binge-watch.
It’s painfully, fabulously, 80s
GLOW wears the bubblegum craziness and camp of its time period on its sleeve. The characters wear glittering spandex, the cultural references are high camp and the soundtrack is packed with lashings of synth and disco. It’s not afraid to embrace weirdness, to embrace silliness and to use its setting as a means of generating nostalgic comedy. This transfers most clearly into the wrestling sequences, which are a prime example of how ridiculous the medium can be. Speaking of which…
It knows how silly wrestling is
Wrestling is really silly today. In the eighties, it was even sillier. In fact, it was xenophobic, pretty misogynistic and very reliant on stereotypes. GLOW is fully prepared to depict the shortcomings of wrestling, but it does so with a nod, a wink and an almost nostalgic fondness for how basic wrestling ideas can be. Alison Brie finds herself playing a ludicrously-accented Russian villain against Betty Gilpin‘s caricatured all-American hero Liberty Belle and it’s as charming as it is ridiculous.
The connection between acting and wrestling is made evident and in one episode, a more reluctant member of the ensemble has a moment of epiphany when she realises that “it’s a soap opera” for jacked-up men in colourful spandex. GLOW doesn’t excuse the stereotypes of wrestling, but it does shine a light on just how stupid they look to modern eyes.
The headline name in the cast of GLOW is Alison Brie, who is best known to viewers for her roles in Mad Men and on the whip-smart sitcom Community. She’s absolute dynamite here as a serious actress unable to get an audition for any strong female roles, forced to take on a part in GLOW in a desperate attempt to finally make some money with a long-running role on screen. Brie does a great job of balancing the silliness with some of its more serious turns – particularly her tumultuous relationship with her best friend, played by Betty Gilpin.
The other girls are fantastic too
But it’s not just about Brie. One of GLOW‘s most compelling features is its large array of supporting players, from Jackie Tohn as party girl Melrose to British singer Kate Nash, who takes on a bookworm gimmick in the ring. These characters are all colourful and well-sketched throughout the series.
In the opening episode, it perhaps seems like there won’t be room for all of these people to have a proper story, but almost all of the major players get a well-defined arc, whether it’s Gayle Rankin‘s identity crisis as Sheila the She-Wolf or Sydelle Noel‘s ascent from bitchy stuntwoman to become one of the most important parts of the GLOW ensemble. This is a series that is not just interested on its central characters, but on building a roster of great performances.
The characters are as weird as their personas
Everyone who knows anything about wrestling is aware of how outlandish in-ring personalities can be. Indeed, one episode of GLOW sees a character introduced to an independent wrestling show where one of the main event players is an over-the-top money-grabber known as Mr Monopoly. In the world of GLOW, though, these characters are as unique and unusual as their in-ring personas.
This is most obvious in the case of Sheila the She-Wolf, who dresses in her own unique way to hide her true self, but it also manifests in Jackie Tohn’s Melrose, who is described in the first episode as having a “please objectify me” vibe, but soon emerges as a far more vulnerable and troubled human being. Part of the reason GLOW‘s supporting cast is so memorable is that every character has something unusual about them outside the ring.
It tackles real human drama outside the ring
As much as GLOW does follow these women as they prepare to get inside the ring, there’s also plenty of drama surrounding the characters themselves. Chief among these stories is the fractious relationship between Brie and Gilpin’s best friends, but there’s also a family-themed arc for Britney Young’s second-generation professional wrestling performer and an intriguing mystery behind Britt Baron‘s young woman and her reasons for taking part in the show. It’s these stories that deepen GLOW beyond its comedy and keep you going on to the next episode every time Netflix asks if you still want to continue watching.
Marc Maron is king of sleazy cynicism
The main male character in GLOW is Marc Maron‘s director Sam Sylvia. From the moment he first walks on screen with the words “I said I’d do anything, so here we fucking are”, he’s the personification of jaded cynicism. He’s a fiercely creative person who is proud of his own abilities, but gets little respect from others, who often see him as a pathetic purveyor of trash. He gets many of the most cutting lines and Maron’s performance has more nuance, particularly later in the series, than is evident from his first appearances.
It isn’t afraid to include real wrestling detail
GLOW isn’t just for wrestling fans, but there’s plenty of Easter eggs for those of us who know our way around the squared circle. There are detailed discussions of face-heel dynamics and the actors in the show received training from wrestling legend Chavo Guerrero in order to be able to do a surprisingly solid job of the actual mechanics in the ring. There’s also a wide array of cameos, from Johnny Mundo’s appearance in episode one, to Brodus Clay and Carlito as Britney Young’s brothers and an indy show face-off between former WWE star Alex Riley and famed sleazebag Joey Ryan.
As much as GLOW is a programme that is designed to be accessible to all, it knows that it has a duty to shine a light on wrestling and how it all works. This isn’t a show that will frustrate wrestling fans with its inaccuracies and it’s instead a loving portrayal of one of the most unique forms of theatre in the world.
The finale is just euphoric
It’s not a spoiler, given its prominence in the marketing material, to say that GLOW culminates in the filming of the show within the show’s pilot episode. It very much feels like the culmination of everything the series has been building towards and is an utterly euphoric conclusion for a show that has been fun from start to finish. The final episode is a playful working of wrestling conventions to create something that is formulaic as far as wrestling is concerned, but also surprising, unexpected and deliriously entertaining. Bring on a second season!
Have you seen GLOW? What did you think of Alison Brie and the rest of the cast? Let me know in the comments section.