If I have headphones on while making breakfast/at the gym/on a plane/during a spell of terror-inducing insomnia, it’s more than likely that I’m listening to the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. Over the past five years I’ve followed Maron’s journey as he went from podcast host to celebrity podcast host to character actor to lead actor in a show – the latest being Netflix’s new original series GLOW. I know, I know. There are 14 women in the ensemble cast and I decided to check it out because of the one dude. Being a woman, I’ve let down the sisterhood right? Hang on though, you can decide if I get to keep my membership card at the end of this review.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of GLOW – it’s all in the title. It’s about the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, based on the 1980s women’s professional wrestling circuit. Struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) will take any job she can get and that’s how she finds herself at an audition for a pro-wrestling show that can best be described as ‘Are you fcking kidding me?’. Just when she thinks that ordeal is almost done, her personal life explodes all over everything and now she finds herself – the only real actress in the group – a pariah because she did Something Very Bad to her best friend. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it really was an asshole thing to do.
So Ruth, with her high-art aspirations, destroyed friendship, and bleak prospects, has to work with hostile cast-mates and a cranky and highly inappropriate director on a show that doesn’t even know what it wants to be.
GLOW – the actual show though – knows exactly what it wants to be and it is glorious. Let’s examine the various elements:
- The ensemble cast. When you have that many characters together for the majority of a show it can be hard to do justice to them. GLOW manages to make everyone a standout and that is a massive achievement. Brie, of course, gets to explore serious range as the lead and she is fully committed. She said in an interview that it was really hard to convince the powers that be to even consider her for the part. Watching this, I can’t imagine who else could have done it better. Then there’s her friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin) who is the most nuanced Woman Who Has Been Betrayed I have seen on screen in a long time. On anyone else, the setting would have alternated between weepy and shrill but Gilpin is a livewire who radiates emotion without resorting to theatrics. Mad props. Also a shoutout to the very focussed Cherry (Sydelle Noel), the delightful daughter of wrestling royalty Carmen (Britney Young), the She Wolf Shiela (Gayle Rankin), the super earnest Arthie Premkumar (Sunita Mani) and the So-Successfully-A-Bitch-You-Want-To-Slap-Her Melanie Rosen (Jackie Tohn).
And then there’s Maron. He plays Sam Silvia, the director of the show, a man so cranky and inappropriate there is no way he doesn’t get slapped on a regular basis. On paper he was probably supposed to be really creepy and sleazy but somehow Maron’s portrayal removes any malice from the equation – he just comes off as a man with absolutely no filter, a straight-shooter whose years of artistic frustration have led to an inability to suffer fools. He believes in storytelling, he is committed, even in a setting like this one, to bring intellect and integrity to the show even if it is the absolute wrong fit for it. You can’t not like him.
- The writing. Sharp as a tack, hilarious without trying too hard and free of all fat.
- The music. Can we please applaud the soundtrack? Again, just like everything else in the show, it achieves a great balance. It sets the mood, transports you to the time and then gets out of the way.
- The period setting. It’s really hard to do period fiction without going over the top and drawing too much attention to the details. GLOW has everything that the 80s were about – the haircuts, the blue eyeshadow, the music, the cars, the drugs, the leotards (oh the leotards!) – and it sits just right. You’re aware of the time in which it’s set and then you move on to the story.
- The overall effect. When you manage a show as solid as GLOW you know what happens? You stop viewing it through the lens of gender. I don’t know about you, but I just saw a fantastic group of characters navigating their lives in this outrageous setting, making friendships, working out insecurities, dealing with betrayal, heartbreak and frustration and I thought it was an excellent portrayal of the human condition. One that both women and men can relate to. You don’t have to be a woman to feel Ruth’s turmoil, Debbie’s heartbreak, Shiela’s deep struggle with self-image, Carmen’s fight for independence, or Cherry’s stoicism in the face of loss that still cuts deep. It’s what makes us human.
Am I projecting too much on a show that features crazy costumes, a drug-transporting robot and a movie called Blood Disco? I don’t think so. Shoutout to creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. I’ve spent what was supposed to be a working weekend watching the show. You should check it out too.