By Catherine Pearson
It’s 1985 in Los Angeles and Ruth Wilder (Brie, who confusingly appears to have lost her chest of late) is offered a gig in the porn industry, having failed to land yet another one dimensional acting role. Broke, desperate and refusing to sell herself to make a living in Tinseltown, she attends an open call for a project looking for ‘unconventional women’. On arriving at a gym with a wrestling ring front and centre, she is introduced to the world of GLOW; the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It is an opportunity to be a part of an all-women’s professional wrestling promotion whose show will air in a glitzy TV special and, even better, this new Netflix series is based on a group of kick-ass young female performers who did this for real.
In a world where female performers either played the secretary or the seductress, GLOW was an absolute revelation. It was an opportunity to transform the supposedly fragile female form into a powerful weapon and, as is the case for Ruth Wilder in the series, a much-needed role in a competitive industry.
Mark Maron delivers a fantastic performance as GLOW director Sam Sylvia, a man apparently torn between a paternal instinct and a troubled attraction towards the twelve selected women he is responsible for training. Maron is placed in the tricky position of playing a 1980s sexist for a 2017 audience, but he pulls it off with expert comic timing, some brilliant one liners and a genuine likability, for which we have writers Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch to thank. Maron’s highlights include introducing the women to the all-important ‘cunt punch’ move, informing the overtly sexual Melrose (Jackie Tohn) that he digs her “please objectify me vibe” (a clear nod to the modern audience) and his dashed hopes at creating a frenzied Freudian “semi-autobiographical psychosexual time travel drama” when he is informed that he is basically describing the plot to the recently released Back to the Future.
GLOW may be problematic looking through our modern day lens with all of the skimpy costumes, bum wiggling and fighting over men, but it is crucial to see it for the baby step the show was for women in the 80s entertainment industry. In this vein, there is also very little difference between female wrestling and the antics of male wrestlers at the WWE; it’s all bulging biceps, tiny hot pants and fighting for women over there. Under the instruction of the strong and zero nonsense Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel), the female cast of GLOW are a delight to watch as their personalities develop both in and out of the ring. The show’s training sequences and wrestling performances are by far the highlights of the show and are made all the more entertaining by the hilarious wrestling personas assumed by the cast.
There’s the wincingly funny ‘Beirut the Mad Bomber’ played by Arthie Premkumar (Sunita Mani), a woman of Indian heritage who is told to play the ‘Arab stereotype’ by producer Bash Howard (pretty boy Chris Lowell) and the loveable ‘Welfare Queen’ performed by Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens), an African American mother who comes to embrace her food stamp loving wrestling alter ego. Britney Young and Kate Nash put in top performances also, playing the daughter of a wrestling pro and the token English girl respectively.
Alison Brie brings the house down as the morally dubious Ruth with heart and a painfully real insight into those drama school types. A keen actress, Ruth has done all of the standard performing arts stuff – mask work, clowning, script workshops – and brings her perfectionism and neurosis into the ring complete with an array of accents. At times she’s fun to watch, at other points it’s utterly cringe-worthy but she is unfailingly engaging and every inch the star. Betty Gilpin, too, is a force to be reckoned with and a face you just can’t take your eyes off. A woman introduced to the group as the blonde bombshell star of the show, she is excellent as the sickly sweet ‘Liberty Belle’ opposite Ruth’s ‘Zoya the Destroyer’.
The series is not without a few dull moments that could have been cut out, or frankly replaced by some more training action, but overall GLOW is a colourful ride with a killer soundtrack. Who doesn’t want a fun series with flamboyant 80s costumes and a snappy, relevant sense of humour?
GLOW is out now on Netflix