By Will Hardie (@netflixandwill)
Spoiler alert: you like wrestling. Wrestling is storytelling distilled to its purest base contents: there is a force of good, there is a force of evil, there is a conflict, and there is a resolution. Wrestling is the last true performance art, in this huge wrestling nerd’s humble opinion, and GLOW, the new Netflix series based on the real-life 1980s women’s wrestling company Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, conveys this fantastically.
The show follows a myriad of characters, both in their “staged” wrestling personas, and authentic selves, through their attempts to start a women’s wrestling promotion. The director Sam Sylvia, the archetypal sleazy horror movie director played expertly by Marc Maron, is assigned the task of casting women to play wrestlers for a TV pilot; ranging from Alison Brie’s lead character Ruth, a struggling actress newly entranced with the world of wrestling, Betty Gilpin’s Debbie, an established soap actress juggling a newborn baby with a broken-down marriage, actual Kate Nash off of the music charts and everything playing British model Rhonda, and Gayle Rankin’s Sheila The She-Wolf, who finds that the “costume” she finds herself wearing every day is not too dissimilar to the wrestling personas adopted by others.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons between GLOW and Netflix-stalwart Orange is the New Black, created by the executive producer of GLOW; certainly, the female-driven ensemble cast and the gritty storylines draw more than their fair share of similarities, but GLOW definitely shines brightly in and of itself. The attention to detail in terms of the period setting is spot-on; however many leotards you think there might be in an athletic-focused 10-episode series, there are definitely more. There’s also a gratuitous roller-skating scene, because of course there is. It features a range of complex characters, each with their own unique motivations and reasons for getting into the wrestling business, and each character is given room to grow throughout the 10 episodes. For an ensemble cast, there is a refreshing lack of stock characters.
The show perfectly captures the camp, cheesy gloriousness that was the 1980s, wrestling, and 1980s wrestling. The blending of real life and the hyper-exaggeration of professional wrestling matches is effortlessly displayed in Debbie’s realisation that wrestling is just a soap opera with added brutality. And motorcycles. And fireworks, and crowns, and glitz and glamour, and anything that makes the base senses swell and excite towards a terrific climax. Cameos from real professional wrestlers, both on the show itself and behind the scenes, help add to the show’s sense of authenticity, and the range of storylines, will keep you hooked at every turn.
GLOW deals with the balance of real-life interpersonal conflict, and staged, hyper-exaggerated conflicts in the context of a wrestling ring; the audience comes to realise, however, that there is very little difference between the two. GLOW highlights the wrestling-ness of the real world, and the real world-ness of wrestling; in Sunita Mani’s character Arthie’s struggles to draw on her heritage to play a problematic “bad guy” character that draws seemingly real anger and revulsion from the braying mob of a wrestling audience, we see the intense blurring of the lines between “characters” and their actors. It becomes hard to distinguish from the “fake” rivalries between wrestling characters, and the real rifts between their creators.
The show does not shy away from addressing wrestling’s tricky public image; rather, through the character of yuppie producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard, there is a real effort on the part of the show’s creators to highlight positively those with a genuine passion for the pageantry, the extravagance, and the visceral brutality of wrestling. GLOW puts forward the case that wrestling fandom is not something to make apologies for, or to hide away from, but to be celebrated for its ability to bring people together.
Put simply, GLOW is a loveletter to the art of wrestling, and it makes no apologies for being such. It’s satire. It’s comedy. It’s tragedy. It’s romance. It’s everything a storytelling medium can and should be. You might not be a wrestling fan at the moment. After GLOW, your curiosity might just have been peaked. If it is, watch some Sasha Banks matches on YouTube. You won’t regret it.