Published in Catalogue, 2017
Much like every other woman with a Netflix account and access to Wifi over the past few days, I have spent a considerable amount of time diving headlong into GLOW, Netflix’s latest female-fronted venture about women’s wrestling.
GLOW (the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) is a show that may well sound schlocky on the tin, and it’s supposed to; this is a show that subverts trash TV, by being about trash TV. It follows the story of Ruth (played by Allison Brie, who you may recognise from Mad Men or Community), an out-of-work actor in Los Angeles struggling to make ends meet who finds herself amongst a motley crew of women being cast and trained to become America’s first all-female wrestling promotion broadcast on television.
To my mind, GLOW admittedly sounded at first like an arena largely for fast-paced comedy dialogue and gratuitous, insubstantial plotlines; in the wake of Netflix’s most recent – and quickly cancelled – female-led show Girlboss I believe I can be forgiven for suspecting it may have been another thoughtless ploy to engage audiences by being ‘on-trend feminist’ rather than being of actual substance. GLOW surprised me and I absolutely fell in love with it. In the capable hands of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the creators of the multi award-winning Orange Is the New Black (which itself was, if you remember, packaged as a comedy once upon a time before it got seriously fucking hectic), GLOW’s first season has the emotional intelligence, social awareness, and character complexity to grant it real longevity.
One of the most brilliant aspects of this show lies in Flahive and Mensch’s ability to immerse their audience in the 80s both in terms of aesthetics and flavour. Sure, there are white Reebok sneakers, a surfeit of questionable crop tops, and one dodgy robot at a Hollywood party that dispenses cocaine but there are also warm nostalgic nods to the era and plotlines that could be construed as inexcusably cheesy without the context.
For example, when we are first introduced to the odd mingled group of women auditioning, it does feel exceptionally Breakfast Club-by and there are certainly moments too implausible and overly familiar to a discerning audience in 2017: cue Debbie (Betty Gilpin) breaking into the ring to kick her best friend Ruth’s ass for having sex with her husband or perhaps the moment where Ruth saves the day and the team’s sponsorship from a patio company by play-acting as a soviet Russian. These are moments that may very well seem silly in 2017 but we’re not in 2017 we’re in 1985, stupid.