Netflix’s newest original series is GLOW, which is the fictional tale of a women’s wrestling federation during the ’80s, loosely based on a real wrestling show. The pilot episode of the comedic drama fully embraces everything from the decade to tell an entertaining and unique story.
The Netflix series is as much like the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in title and concept only. GLOW follows Ruth (Alison Brie), a struggling, out-of-work actress in Los Angeles who goes out to land a role on the newly devised cable wrestling show. Ruth wants to make it but finds her own self-interests harm her advancement as a wrestler and actor. The organization is run by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a sarcastic, miserable man who shows more interest in cleaning his glasses than what’s happening in the ring.
If you’ve watched Weeds and Orange is the New Black, then the first episode of GLOW feels like familiar territory. GLOW has many of the subtle nuances Weeds or OITNB, like comedic and over-the-top–yet incredibly motivated–main characters. The characters are a bit out there, without it being completely unrealistic, and Ruth has both endearing and unlikable qualities. However, GLOW is not as heavy-handed as OITNB. Yes, there is a strong message of being an empowered, working woman during a decade where there was that transition in the workforce, but unlike OITNB, there is not a lot of expositional dialogue explaining that. It’s more “show” than “tell,” which makes a better connection with the audience as we experience Ruth’s struggles with her, rather than her telling us them.
The wrestling-heavy series was created by Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive and is co-executive produced by Jenji Kohan. Kohan created the two previously mentioned series, and Mensch served as producer and writer. Flahive is most notably known for her work on Nurse Jackie and Homeland.
GLOW packages wrestling, which is a weird concept for a mainstream audience, in an entertaining way. While Episode 1 doesn’t have any actual wrestling–just a couple in-ring exercises–it dips the audience’s toes in the water, rather than diving into the deep end and possibly alienating them. Wrestling is merely the backdrop for Ruth’s story, which starts as simplistic, but as the first episode goes on, becomes increasingly complex. GLOW feels more like a gateway drug to wrestling rather than a series about wrestling, which is the perfect formula to grab both wrestling fans and non-fans alike.
The real drive for the show is the dialogue. It’s smart, clever, and incredibly funny. It feels natural. Luckily, not every character on the show is cracking jokes left and right. It feels organic and is a nice introduction to who these characters are. Many of the jokes come from ’80s nostalgia, like references to Steve Guttenberg and Jazzercize, which may be lost on a younger audience. However, Maron’s character, Sam Sylvia, has some hilarious lines, like when he tries to describe a wrestling maneuver as “that move that looks like a cat fight, but fancy.”
Everything about the opening episode is painted in nostalgia for the ’80s. It embraces everything we consider cheesy about the decade as normal, from the clothes and attitude to the music. GLOW takes the show a step further as the camera work and lighting feels like it was ripped from an ’80s film. It’s an excellent way to throw the audience into that era and helps create an enveloping atmosphere. Yes, there are times that you will cringe because the ’80s was full of “Why did we do/wear/listen to that?” moments, but that’s also one of the great appeals of the show.
The only problematic element of the first episode, which we’re assuming will be answered as the series goes on, is, “What’s Sylvia’s motivation to start this federation?” He seems completely uninterested in what’s happening in the ring during the casting process, and while we get an inkling of who he is early on, he seems content with failure. It isn’t until the final moments of Episode 1 where he seems inspired by his potential product.
If you’ve already finished the latest season of OITNB or just need something entertaining to binge, GLOW should be right up your alley, wrestling fan or not. This ’80s-soaked series feels surreal at times, until you remember that this show is based on a real cable television series. Personally, as a wrestling fan, the show was surprisingly great and melded sports entertainment with comedy exceptionally well. GLOW‘s first episode is sometimes funny. Other times, it’s depressing. Most importantly, it’s engaging and noteworthy.
If you’re still curious, check out the trailer for the series. No, the drug-dealing robot is not in the first episode.