GLOW Review: Goosebumps Galore in a Supremely Fun 80s Wrestling Triumph
Is this an even better banner for feminism than Wonder Woman?
It’s not often you watch a show and straight afterward have to ask yourself: Did I just watch the most exciting, uplifting and goose bump inducing show of 2017. I know there’s no way to compare GLOW to Twin Peaks or Game of Thrones. They’re vastly different in theme and tone, but proclaiming this series as the suprise hit of the year, feels more than justified. GLOW follows the story of Ruth (Allison Brie), a struggling LA actress, desperate for work and validation, who somehow finds herself cast as the ultimate she devil, (AKA “Kuntar”), in a women’s wrestling TV Show. But don’t despair non-wrestling fans, while the show’s back drop does provide entertaining set pieces to build around, GLOW is about much more than what happens in the ring.
Similarly to the way “Friday Night Lights” used football to tell it’s story, GLOW balances its premise and plot with aplomb. The 80s pro-wrestling backdrop, doesn’t dominate the show. However, it does provide levity and entertainment. The fun of the hairspray, high cut leotards, leg warmers and pulse pounding soundtrack combined with the marginalisation of women in the era, create a perfect platform to bond us to our female heroes. By featuring songs like “Invincible” by Pat Benatar and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpion, GLOW’s wisely chosen soundtrack has fun with it’s premise, but never feels like it’s falling into tired 80's cliches.
It’s auspicious for Netflix to release such a detailed, realistic and rewarding show, about a group of women’s journey to empowerment, straight after the success of DC’s Wonder Woman. While both have their merits and have been undeniably successful, GLOW seems to surpise and delight in a way that surpasses it’s comic book counterpart. This wasn’t a perfect demi-god version of feminism and strong female characters. Wonder Woman, for it’s wonderful beginnings on the island of Themiscyra, quickly diverts to a world of men, where the one woman in focus is more of an indestructible weapon, than a fully realised character. GLOW feels like something much deeper, messier and more real than that. It’s a celebration of a wonderfully cast group of three dimensional characters, given the time and space to grow, develop and be explored over the shows ten, half hour episodes.
This is the type of representation we deserve to be seeing on television. Women of all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds and personalities interacting with each other on screen and smashing the hell out of the Bechdel test. It’s one thing to create a lovable character in a television show, but as I go through the cast of the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” I struggle to think of a character I didn’t love. Allison Brie is a standout choice and a highlight of the show, but the support she receives is outstanding. From Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang to Britney Young as Carmen Wade and Gayla Rankin as Sheila She-Wolf, literally every other cast member in the show adds layers and flair to the fold.
The overall intelligence, subtlety and subversive story telling at play in this series was of such a high standard that it blew me away. The power of certain moments were so suprising in the way they confronted every day truths in a non linear way: Sheila confronting Ruth to tell her that she dresses like a wolf for herself and nobody else; Debbie and Ruth taking ownership of their bodies and discovering their power through wrestling; Arthie processing the crowd’s reaction to her playing a terrorist in the ring; and Carmen overcoming her stage fright in the finale episode. These were all standout moments of the series. Their messaging was never explicit, there was no signposting, or expositional dialogue to state the themes of the moment. Instead, the writers attacked their issues from oblique angles, through perfectly crafted metaphors and the result was goosebumps nearly every single time.
Despite the level of kitsch that keeps the show humming along at a joyfully hectic pace, there is genuine drama and pathos in the story telling too. Betty Gilpin as Debbie delivers some outstanding and heartbreaking scenes, while Marc Maron’s “more sexist than he is racist” director, Sam Sylvia, is the perfect sometimes heel/ sometimes face of the show. His ‘discovery’ late in the season is another highlight and example of GLOW’s ability to surprise, disturb and delight. GLOW’s characters aren’t perfect and sometimes they’re even maddening, but like the best super hero films recognise, it’s their flaws that make them so appealing.
The general meme driven narrative that seemed to emerge from the release of Wonder Woman, was to celebrate having a kick ass female lead character. With GLOW you not only have the lead, but a whole host of rich, female characters that shine just as brightly as the neon lights in the title. GLOW is a stunning continuation and evolution of the growth of fair representation and diversity on screen. It’s an entertaining, original story that anyone could see themselves in and have a truly cathartic experience through watching. More of this please Hollywood, trust the process.
To listen to Matt and I discuss the show, the themes and if I’d ever get nude on camera, please listen to this week’s episode of Netflix and Grill, where we deep dive into the world of pro wrestling and everything to do with GLOW.