If you haven’t heard of the 1980’s “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” or GLOW for short, don’t worry, you are not alone. The only wrestler I had heard of in the ’80’s was Hulk Hogan, and that’s just because he appeared on the lunch-boxes and t-shirts of my fellow classmates. But, knowing the whole history of the women’s wrestling phenomenon that was GLOW, is not necessary to enjoy Netflix’s new original show.
While I had never heard of GLOW until a few weeks ago, I did find a documentary on Netflix of the true story behind these ladies of wrestling. I’m assuming they put this out to get people excited for their new series, GLOW, which premiered today. I mean, it worked on me. I don’t think it’s necessary to watch the documentary before you watch the show, but I really enjoyed hearing the real stories behind it and then seeing these characters pop up in the series.
Let me break down the basic premise for you. GLOW was a show that ran from 1986-1989 with females wrestling, however, the majority of them were not actual wrestlers, or even athletes. I think that’s a pretty important part of it. In 1986, a bunch of actresses showed up for a casting call and, once they were hired, they spent all of 5 weeks training to fight each other in the ring. Some of the real GLOW members told us that the ring was hard wood and steel, instead of soft mats. The fighting was also often real and injuries were common because the audience could sense when it was fake and wouldn’t stand for it, according to GLOW members. They created larger than life characters and even rapped (well, by ’80’s rap standards). Don’t believe me, watch this gem below.
The Netflix Original Series GLOW is a re-imagining of the original. However, the first season a doesn’t seem to be too far off from the truth. The character names have changed, but the story itself is fairly accurate, at least as it was presented in the documentary. We get to watch the ladies learn wrestling moves, come up with characters, struggle with the identity of these characters (a lot of racist stereotypes), and grow into their own. It has a very A League of Their Own meets Whip It meets hair spray, spandex, and blue eye shadow.
The story follows Ruth (Alison Brie, Community), an out of work actress, who is tired of auditioning for secretaries and wants a role of substance. She is out of money and out of choices though, which leads her to GLOW. The director of GLOW, played by Marc Maron, immediately dislikes her, but, much like Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, the two learn to work together for the team. The rest of the cast is made up of mostly unknown actors, which is one of the many things I like about Netflix Originals, but everyone holds their own. We don’t really get to know much about most of the other characters, but hopefully that is something a second season will bring.
This show is mostly light and fun. The wrestling personas are campy and the costumes are full of glitter. The show lightly touches on some of the issues surrounding GLOW, such as a black woman struggling with having to play the role of the “Welfare Queen” because of the racial prejudice. Maron’s character tells her it’s a comment on the stereotype, which is smartly followed up with, “yeah, but who’s gonna get that?” (not an exact quote). Another woman plays a middle eastern terrorist and grapples with the hatred of the audience that boos her and calls her a towel head. It also shows a housewife trying to break away and form her own identity without her controlling husband. And a daughter, trying to break out on her own away from the legacy of her family. There’s talk of sex, periods (gasp), lactating breasts, and abortion. Things that are often still rarely talked about openly today.
Maron’s portrayal of the director as a crotchety jerk seems to be a watered down version of the real life director, Matt Cimber. In the GLOW documentary, the women recalled how Cimber would often shout abusive statements at them during rehearsals, telling them they are fat and disgusting, and so on. While Maron’s character is definitely not the most likable, he isn’t as abusive as the real Cimber was. He’s more of a sad washed up director with no where else to go. Perhaps it’s because that would take away from the show’s theme of women empowerment. That’s probably why the wrestlers weren’t ever shown as really hurt or tending to injuries, even though many of the real life wrestlers now have permanent disabilities due to how rough they were on each other in the ring.
As far as overall production quality and acting, I really like this show. I think it should definitely get a second season. As far as the story and theme, I hope that they will take more time to tackle the blatant racism and sexism that exists around the show. I think the empowerment that came from these women finding an outlet and a place where they can be strong without apology is super important. But, the fact that the women are also paraded around as sex objects and treated poorly by the men who manage them is also an important aspect of the story.
In short, if you found yourself wishing that A League of Their Own had bigger hair, more glitter, fouler language, and a lot more color, then this show is for you! So get your favorite snacks and cozy up in front of the TV for some butt-kicking fun.