There was a time I never liked or even respected wrestling. I thought it was a weird over-the-top performance done by scarily proportioned people in colourful costumes. I preferred more intelligent and serious forms of entertainment, like comic books and video games. The hypocrisy was lost on me at that time.
Then I got involved with comic book conventions, and started to talk to a bunch of wrestling fans. They had the same amount of enthusiasm, care, and love for the stories and characters as I do with my friends about comic books. They discussed storylines that lasted too long or fell flat. They argued about heel-face turns, or wrongful crowning of champions. They discussed characters that were great when they came out, but slowly began to get too much publicity and became a sell-out. There were arguments about costume changes and name changes, which characters had the greatest relationship. I started to realize it’s no different than comic books, or soap operas. I judged it because I didn’t know any better. I still don’t know much, but I look at it with intrigue more than anything else.
All this leads me to my review of the new Netflix series GLOW. It’s the semi-fictional documentary about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and how it became a cult hit. The series GLOW was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, with Jenji Kohan as an executive producer and writer. It has only ten 40-minute episodes, so it’s a sensible and easy show to burn through. The main protagonist, played by Alison Brie, is Ruth Wilder, a down-on-her-luck actress looking for a breakthrough role where she’s not credited as « Secretary » or « Party Girl #2 ». As soon as it begins Ruth is offered a risky and inauspicious opportunity, G.L.O.W, a wrestling show about starring only female wrestlers. She takes it because it’s better than going hungry and homeless. We are then introduced to the show’s director Sam Sylvia (played brilliantly by Marc Maron) and the group of women with no wrestling experience to be the stars of the show. GLOW really takes off when Ruth betrays her best, and probably only friend.
This new series has a very similar style to Kohan’s other Netflix series Orange is the New Black. The similarities are too coincidental not be intentional. They both are a Netflix comedy/drama about an unsympathetic female lead brought into a world full of colourful characters, all with their own personal grievances. They both eventually begin to adapt to their new environment. Throughout their stay they are being glared at by a sleazy and sexist mustachioed man, dictating how they should act. The big difference is one involves prisoners while the other involves wrestling. There’s betrayal, sex, comradery and high jinks. Though there are glaring differences deep down, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a familiar formula. Even the series structure is surprisingly similar. Both series begin focusing on a central character, then after a few episodes it starts to spread its wings and put focus to the supporting cast. Each wrestler/inmate is given time in the limelight. The problem I found with this was that GLOW is too new and too short to give the right amount of time to everyone, and a lot of character arcs fall short when we are brought into a new perspective.
One big difference is that Brie’s performance is superb, unlike Taylor Schilling, who I felt was a little too bland and unlikable. Ruth Wilder seems to know what she’s getting into. She seems to know what kind of character she’s playing, and she’s aware of the role she has to take to make the show work. It seems she’s trying to be a good person. Piper Chapman just seems to be whatever the direction the story wants her to be, and after a few seasons she’s becoming too stale. The other great performance is Marc Maron. His natural sardonic humour is perfect when playing the depressed director. He is looking to make a movie focusing on storytelling instead on blood, sex, and schlock. He brings a sense of failure, self-loathing, but just enough empathy to the character. He truly steals the show. Of course, we can’t have a wrestling movie without a heel/face relationship. Ruth Wilder’s foil in the series, and is Debbie Eagan (played by Betty Gilpin), the friend she betrayed. There’s nothing wrong with the performance or character. She is well developed, but she never wowed me. As for the rest of the cast, there are a few likable characters, but the show just seems to shoehorn in stereotypes to cover all the bases. You got your partier, your weirdo, your hedonist, your innocent, and others. My problem is not that these stereotypes are unlikable; it’s just that they seem too one-dimensional. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to make or just lazy writing.
The best part of the series was the choreographed fight scenes. You get to see how the moves are performed. You watch the characters practice, perform, and act out the pain and success of each move. The showboating and hamming up are real and genuine, and it’s just so infectious. All, if not most, of the actors performed their own stunts, learned their choreography, and trained to get into shape. There was an authenticity to the show we don’t often get to see.
One thing I was worried about going into the series was the overuse of period piece tropes. When done poorly there’s an abundance of tongue-in-cheek references thrown in about the future. Too many times I’ve seen a character exclaim « We will never make that mistake again! » with a doofus chuckle thrown in for good measure. GLOW isn’t as egregious as this. There’s the occasional quip but it’s not obnoxious. The hairstyles, music, and technology shown in the series are enough to remind me what decade it’s in without having it shoved in my face.
I’m torn about how much I like this series. I can’t decide if I enjoyed it or if I am simply indifferent. I feel the same way about GLOW as I do Orange is the New Black. I feel is that any criticisms you can throw at these shows can be responded with « it’s a drama it’s not supposed to be fun » or « it’s a comedy, don’t take it too seriously ». Despite the occasional filler episode, the plot flows well, and the lead character is likeable. It’s an entertaining show, but I would advise against it if you are not a fan of Orange is the New Black. With my limited knowledge of 80s wrestling I can’t guarantee how accurate it is, so I took it at face value. My recommendation would be to watch the first 2 or 3 episodes, and if you can’t get into it by then, then I don’t think you will enjoy the rest of the series.