By April Lavalle
When I first heard about the Netflix series GLOW, I couldn’t help but feel like the show was meant for me. As a woman who loves wrestling and big hair, the prospect of a series that revolved around female wrestlers was extremely intriguing. When I heard that the show was created and produced by a female-led team (Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch & Jenji Kohan) I knew that it would be a bingeable excursion worthy of not leaving my apartment for three days. For the record, I finished it in a day and a half. Oops.
The first three episodes of GLOW were not what I expected. I wasn’t disappointed, per se, but after nearly two hours of watching, the show felt a bit directionless. In the pilot episode, we meet theatre-kid-all-grown-up Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and her soap opera star turned housewife best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin). We also learn that Wilder is boinking Eagan’s jerky husband (Rich Sommer) behind her back. The show focused largely on the tumultuous relationship between the two leads, especially in the early episodes, leaving me feeling cold toward the characters. It is hard to care about characters you don’t feel emotionally invested in. That said, GLOW started to find its footing when their larger ensemble was featured, allowing the show to shine just as its name suggests it will.
The show picked up speed after downtrodden director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) assembled his team of misfit first-time wrestlers and we were introduced to the somehow-likable rich yuppie Bash. Standouts like Gayle Rankin as Shelia the She-Wolf and actual professional wrestler Kia Stevens (formally known as Karma to WWE fans) as Tammé Dawson round out a strong cast and are criminally underutilized on the show. Seeing small glimpses of each woman’s personality was the most compelling part of GLOW, and I left wanting more of that. Maron does his usual cynical curmudgeon bit, but in the context of the show, it works wonderfully. We can only hope that in future seasons GLOW will take a page out of Jenji Kohan’s other Netflix hit, Orange is the New Black, and better flesh out each character’s back story.
Also, in future seasons it would probably be better if the creators stop trying to convince us that Alison Brie is ugly. Even with bad hair and thick eyebrows, I ain’t buyin’ it. No one is.
I know that many women, myself included, were excited at the prospect of GLOW because we could see a very masculine industry, professional wrestling, presented through a more feminist lens. The reason I got into wrestling late in the game was that I never felt welcome as a fan. Mainstream wrestling always made it abundantly clear that the sport was a “boys club.” Many fans and wrestling promotions, big and small, fostered an exclusionary environment that showed that women were valueless sex objects used primarily as eye-candy (or worse). It was only after the “Women’s Revolution” that I saw a place for me in the wrestling community as a fan, and even now, female fans are continually working hard to ward off toxic male fans who feel that their territory is being encroached upon.
How does this all relate to the show? In my opinion, GLOW presented the female experience in the wrestling community accurately. I think the show could have easily slipped into an overly-simple, cliche “girlz rule” type of show— riding the feminism “trend” but offering no real substance. Instead, it shows the very real (and very relatable) ways women have to navigate male-dominated spaces. Ruth can’t tell Sam to f— off and stop being such a creep. If she did, she would be fired. Debbie can’t just leave her cheating husband because he provides for her and her son. Instead, we see women doing what women do every day— toe a fine line to preserve both their livelihoods and their dignity. Although Bash and Sam are the ones “in charge” of GLOW, they quickly fall apart and we get to see the lady wrestlers take the reigns and pick up the pieces, creating a show that perhaps isn’t completely representative of them, but is a direct result of their commitment, their handwork, and their persistence.
All of that to say, there is one area where GLOW faltered—the actual wrestling. I understand that much of this season was establishing the world, time period and characters, but I felt that there just wasn’t enough wrestling in a show about wrestling. Throughout the ten episode season, we only get to see two actual wrestling shows. This is a measly amount of wrestling action when compared to an entire season. The two episodes where the women do have matches were my favorite moments of GLOW.
The first season of GLOW is definitely worth checking out. Gripes aside, I think season one serves as a sign of promising things to come. The show has some insanely fun moments and features superb acting and world-building throughout. Before you watch, I would highly suggest taking the time to check out the documentary on the actual campy ‘80s wrestling show entitled GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The last line of the series is not only a beautiful summation of the show, but of women’s wrestling as a whole: “We’re not there yet.”