When I was a kid, growing up in the early nineties, I was obsessed with professional wrestling. I mean, how could you not be? They were weird and colorful real-life superheroes who has absurd gimmicks and would engage in boisterous fights that were rife with hammy drama and juvenile humor. As I got older I stopped caring about it though, especially when the idea of the gimmicks went away. No offense to people who are still into it, but I don’t get the appeal of watching guys wrestling with normal names and no crazy backstories. I much prefer a dude who called himself Jake the Snake and had a literal snake with him. And I do still see the appeal of wrestling. Especially among people who love comic books. Because it’s a very theatrical and over-the-top storytelling deliver system, giving you larger-than-life characters who solve their goofy conflicts by dressing up in tights and beating the bajesus out of each other. I talk about Batman every week on this site, so that’s an aesthetic I can get behind. It’s just that wrestling isn’t for me anymore. But, I still have quite a bit of nostalgia for the old days, the colorful and campy days of wrestling. So of course I was going to be intrigued when I heard that Netflix was going to be making a show not only about the eighties heyday of wrestling, but specifically a fictionalized take on the origin of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling franchise. It promised drama, comedy, goofy vintage wrestling, and a loving mockery of the whole endeavor. And it delivered.
Glow tells the story of several women who have answered a casting call for a mysterious new project. And when they arrive at the shady gym in the middle of the Valley, they find a washed-up grindhouse director named Sam Sylvia waiting for them, with a strange proposition. He and a trust fund kid producer named Bash have an idea for an all-women wrestling show, and they want these women to be their wrestlers. Several women accept this task, but for the most part we focus on a specific pair of them, Ruth and Debbie. The two were friends for years, acting together, until Debbie got her break and began working on a famous soap opera. Her success drove a wedge between the two, especially when Ruth continued to find no luck in acting, becoming depressed. And then Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband. Multiple times. This pretty easily shattered the two women’s friendship, and when the two get in a brutal fight at the gym, Sam realizes that their authentic antipathy towards each other could be used well for the show, and he manages to convince both of them to stick around, and become the stars of GLOW.
And from there the show starts coming together. The girls begin learning how to wrestle, using the expertise from stunt-woman Cherry Bang and a woman named Carmen whose father and brothers are famous wrestlers in their own right. And after getting some basics down, they end up finding their characters, building their stereotypes and deciding if they’re faces or heels, heroes or villains. And while this is happening the women slowly bond, forming friendships and partnerships, becoming a cohesive unit that actually begin to love wresting. Ruth and Debbie manage to begin repairing their relationship, creating a dynamic between the two of them where Debbie gets to be the triumphant American hero over Ruth’s evil Soviet character. And while all of this is going on we get to see the drama behind Sam and Bash trying their best to get the show off the ground. They meet with sponsors, hustle network executives, and try to get a home for this show. And along the way these women find purpose in their lives, they realize how much they love wrestling, and they become a family. They find a cause to fight for, and succeed in putting on the best damned show that they can, setting them up for a future together where they can continue growing and finding success.
This show is an absolute delight. I don’t actually know a lot about the history of wrestling, particularly the history of GLOW, so I have no idea if this is a particularly realistic or faithful approximation of the history of GLOW. But I do know that this show takes that goofy glee that I felt as a kid watching Macho Man Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior beating each other up, and fills it with likable characters and genuine emotion. Every single person in this show nails their performance, and bring all of these characters to life. Allison Brie and Betty Gilpin do a lot of the heavy lifting as Ruth and Debbie, putting their fractured friendship and burgeoning partnership front and center, and they both are terrific. I’ve been a fan of Marc Maron for a long time, and I really didn’t know he had this kind of performance in him as Sam, giving him a sleazy charm that hides some serious depth. Every single one of the other wrestlers are terrific, each getting their own chances to shine, and their own great arcs and performances. I was genuinely pleased to see that there really wasn’t any sort of villain in this show. There was no evil producer, or scorned wrestler who was trying to destroy everything. It was just a lot of people, doing their best, and trying to put something into the world that other people will appreciate and enjoy.
For he most part every one of these characters began the series holding the idea of a wrestling show in disdain. Really only Bash and Carmen had any interest in it from the get go. Everyone else just thought it was a job. A way to spend some time, get some money, and maybe get recognized. The show is a means to an end, a job and nothing more. But as the show progresses and they get closer and closer to getting GLOW off the ground things slowly start to change. Yeah, they start to grow as friends and become a makeshift family, but they end up realizing something more important. They love this. They love being superheroes and supervillains. They love the cheers and boos of the crowd, getting up and being powerful, and doing whatever they want. There’s a great moment in the show when Debbie finally admits to Ruth that she loves wrestling. She loves the soap opera aspect of it, but she also loves the fact that she can feel strong, using her body for herself. The show takes pains to remind us that even though women were making slight progress in the eighties, things were still far from equal. Hell, they still aren’t. We see these women get condescended to, and treated like garbage, told that they’re just silly women who can’t be professional actors, who can’t be athletes, and who won’t amount to anything. And yet, they do. They find their passion,and embrace it, and become better people for that. Everyone needs a passion. We all need something that helps us feel whole, makes us feel powerful. And these people found it. Which means we all could someday.
GLOW was created by Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive and released by Netflix, 2017.
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