By Jason Powell
The news of Netflix airing a television series based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling television promotion grabbed my attention. I was never a huge fan of the campy women’s show, but it was easy to imagine how the show’s unique story could inspire a fun television series. My interest level grew to excitement upon learning that Jenji Kohan would serve as the executive producer of the GLOW series (available now on Netflix), which was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch.
Kohan created the fun Weeds for Showtime and followed it up with the exceptional Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Weeds was anchored by a flawed female lead character, and Kohan went into flawed female overload with the OITNB, which is set in a minimum security women’s prison.
Thus, it is no surprise that the lead of GLOW is a flawed female character. Ruth Wilder, played by Community‘s Alison Brie, betrayed her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin). I enjoyed the outrageous antics of pot selling mom Nancy Botwin no matter how far she went on Weeds. I also have no problem connecting with the far more dysfunctional and even murderous inmates of OITNB’s Litchfield Prison.
So why was it so difficult to embrace the Wilder character? Perhaps it’s because the bulk of her remorse is expressed through merely hanging her head in brief moments of shame. Or maybe it’s because there really wasn’t a satisfactory explanation for her actions once she finally verbalized it.
The first half of the 10-episode season left me underwhelmed. There were fun moments along the way (including a crude moment that misses the mark, especially if you are familiar with the story of cast member Kia “Kharma” Stevens’ departure from WWE), but it was hard to connect with a series that was headed by an initially unlikable lead character. It didn’t help that there were so many side characters were being introduced all at once.
Fortunately, the rough first half of the season led to an enjoyable back half of the season. Wilder became more likable through her work ethic and passion for the pro wrestling startup. Some of the supporting characters started to develop better than others, and the story involving the television promotion’s producer took an unexpected twist that made for some fun situations.
The highlight of GLOW season one is Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia. Maron is cast perfectly as a film director who takes the gig of leading the untrained group of women with the agreement that the producer will fund his next film. Maron is GLOW‘s Morris Buttermaker of the Bad News Bears in that he is a crotchety and reluctant leader of his own band of lovable misfits.
Pro wrestling fans will enjoy some of the pro wrestler cameos. Fans of the GLOW promotion will enjoy the way that some of the characters from that ’80s television show are represented. The story of the GLOW promotion that was told so well in the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (also available on Netflix) combined with the direction late in season one left me excited about the storyline possibilities in season two and beyond.
Grade: B-. It took some time for GLOW to find its stride, but it became a solid show once it did, and there is cause for optimism that the series will reach its potential in season two.