Ditch your lightbulbs – ‘GLOW’ is all the incandescence you need
GLOW, Jenji Kohan’s radiant new Netflix Originals show, proves everything she touches turns to gold.
Tracing a fictionalized version of the inner workings of famed television franchise Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, ten half-hour episodes take us on a rose-tinted journey back to the 80s – a time before political correctness, Brazilian blowouts, and the internet. With its fantastic ensemble cast and stellar writing team, we predict this fluorescent delight will be another massive hit for the streaming giant.
Our journey follows Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling yet supercilious thespian living in a down-at-heel apartment in neon-bathed 1985 Hollywood. Broke and professionally disappointed, Ruth also has a nasty habit of falling onto the dick of her best friend’s husband.
Ending up at another insalubrious audition, she meets Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a misunderstood B-movie director looking for “unconventional women” for his new all-female televised wrestling league.
Sam is a misogynistic, misanthropic cokehead hoping this foray into local TV will save him both financially and creatively. The auditions play out like a slow-motion car crash as each supporting cast member comes into focus.
Just when we think Ruth has blown her chances of booking the gig – her “crying, caring desperation” makes her “unbearable” in Sam’s eyes – she’s ambushed by Debbie Egan (Betty Gilpin), her former best friend, cuckquean, and ex-soap star.
Debbie jumps into the ring determined to kick ass while Sam, fresh from powdering his nose, watches the scene unfold from a bird’s-eye view, imagining both women as the stars of GLOW in glorious fluorescents.
Debbie is the wronged all-American girl next door and Ruth is cast as the evil homewrecker whom audiences would soon love to hate. His stardust-tinted vision of the future of GLOW could be the perfect ratings-stealer, but first he must coax Debbie into the ring as a performer.
Creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have steered their writers’ room towards excellence by creating a believable, authentic universe. The dialog is sharp, witty, and revealing, and the show doesn’t at all suffer from the greatly maligned Netflix drift. The first episode hooks the audience from the get-go – a rarity among recent new TV series.
Set up for success by the material, costumes, and dazzling set design, the ensemble soars, each player bringing wit, wisdom, and great comedy timing to the table. Maron is clearly the standout, excelling as the tortured director, with Brie and Gilpin stepping up to exude star quality as the duelling leads. Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, and Jackie Tohn also impress.
The single casting flaw takes the shape of chanteuse Kate Nash’s turn as Rhonda – you’d think a singer would have a leg up in presence & diction. Her inclusion among this exceptional lineup illustrates there are still some persuasive talent agents working in Tinseltown today.
The writers’ decision to follow the story of Ruth, rather than one of her sunnier counterparts, could be viewed as a feminist statement: her character inhabits a space usually reserved for men, a fact reflected in the very first scene of the series. She’s a bit of an anti-heroine, a bitter sad sack whose privilege prevents her from taking responsibility for her own life.
Alison Brie plays the part tongue firmly planted in cheek, proving female losers can be just as pathetic as the male variety. She reminds us a little of Piper Chapman in Orange is the New Black, whose arrogance is the source of her misadventures.
GLOW tackles issues like equality and diversity head-on by forcing the viewers to see things from the perspective of the 1980s. The women of GLOW chose to objectify their bodies, stereotype their race, and engage in “tit grabs, cunt punches, and shrinky dinks” in exchange for a paycheck and a Hollywood-adjacent career.
GLOW is a blinding phosphorous romp, an 80s love letter rather than a period piece, and a welcome escape from our modern lives. Let’s hope team GLOW can keep giving us the A-show for at least a few more seasons.