My maternal grandparents were wrestling fans. This means wrestling was playing on their television whenever I visited them, and since we lived in the same smallish town, that was often.
They swore that wrestling wasn’t fake. Even when the WWE (or maybe it was still the WWF in those days) had to admit that what they were producing was scripted “entertainment” rather than a “sport”—perhaps to avoid some sort of external regulation—my Nanny and Granddaddy clung to the belief that some of it had to be real. I mean, look, that dude just took a leap from the top rope and flattened that other guy out. That’s not fake.
I don’t think I was ever really a wrestling fan. I mean, I watched it. Just like I watched professional football and NASCAR races. Just whatever happened to be on the television screen. As a child, I had very little control over what I watched on television unless I woke up earlier than everyone else in the house. In my own house, my dad didn’t even want anyone else using the device that rotated the antenna on the side of the house. And, trust me, he would know if I had touched it.
But, I digress—
I watched wrestling. Even today, I can wax rhapsodic about “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, Andre the Giant and Ivan Koloff. I even attended a professional wrestling event in a high school gymnasium with my Granddaddy and uncle. I don’t remember which wrestlers were there, but there was an excited old man in the second row who died of a heart attack during a match. That’s difficult to forget.
Although I didn’t keep up with it in later years, I was aware that professional wrestling went through a Renaissance, of sorts, becoming much slicker, with higher production values, with characters such as Hulk Hogan, Sting, The Undertaker, and other living cartoons taking center stage. The WWE seemed to embrace its ludicrous nature and raked in the dough through pay-per-view events and an endless amount of merchandise. In my years as a retail manager, I sold WWE action figures aplenty, to adults more often than children, honestly. And, once, when I was working in Memphis, I had to change my truck schedule because half of my team would call in on the night SmackDown was on.
So, if I find myself trapped in a conversation with a diehard wrestling fan, I can fake my way through it. I know about chokeholds and suplexes, full and half nelsons, backbreakers, brainbusters and piledrivers. I know who Vince McMahon is, and I knew who “Mean” Gene Okerlund was.
Still, I’m not a fan. Maybe I can help dispel the myth that all white southern men are Confederate flag-waving, tobacco-dipping, Budweiser-drinking, country music-loving, racist WWE fans. Some are, for sure. Not to stereotype anyone, some of those are the same ones now whining that wearing a surgical mask violates their inalienable rights. This probably isn’t the appropriate venue to talk about that, though.
G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) was a real thing in the mid-’80s. I was aware it existed, although I don’t remember ever watching it. It sounds like a sure-fire idea for the time. All the showmanship and over-the-top action of McMahon’s shows, except with only women in crazy costumes and makeup. I don’t even have to do any research to know that the reality of G.L.O.W. probably bears little resemblance to this Netflix original series, also called GLOW.
That’s okay, though. This show isn’t really about wrestling, anyway.
Sure, it’s set in the mid-1980s, and the milieu is professional female wrestling, and these are the things that inspire a lot of the plot of this series, but very little time is spent on the actual wrestling events themselves. This is a character-driven dramedy. I hesitate to call it a “sitcom,” although it probably fits the description.
While this is an ensemble series, the character Ruth Wilder (Allison Brie) is almost instantly the female lead. Ruth is a struggling actress in Los Angeles, who ends up auditioning for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) with hack director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Ruth fancies herself as a future Katherine Hepburn, so it’s easy to see how Ruth’s pretentious acting chops will cause her to come into conflict with the acerbic Sylvia. To sweeten the drama in the pilot episode, Ruth’s best friend, actress and new mother Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), discovers that Ruth is having an affair with her husband. Naturally, Debbie becomes one of the GLOW lineup as well.
The characters on this show are introduced en masse, and the viewer gets to know them as they watch the episodes. Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell) is the producer of the wrestling show, a spoiled rich kid with a Malibu mansion. Cherry “Junkchain” Bang (Sydelle Noel) worked with Sam Sylvia before as a stuntwoman in his B-movies. Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young) is descended from professional wrestling royalty. Sheila “The She-Wolf” (Gayle Rankin) isn’t playing a character, she is the she-wolf. Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson (Kate Nash) is British and sleeps with Sylvia. Justine “Scab” Biagi (Britt Baron) is the cast youngster and she has a secret. Tamme “The Welfare Queen” Dawson (Kia Stevens) is a heavyset mom with a son in college. Melanie “Melrose” Rosen (Jackie Tohn) is the street-tough party girl with an East Coast accent.
Seems like a lot of characters, doesn’t it? Trust me, there are a lot more. This series has a big cast.
Much of this first season concentrates on the struggles to create a low-budget wrestling show, train the wrestlers and create their personae, and produce the first show—at least on one level. The other levels concern individual character arcs, or the beginnings of them. Ruth and Debbie, former friends, have story threads that are entwined, their rivalry coming to a head in the finale. Even Bash and Sam get their own story arcs in this one. The episodes are funny, but not without drama. The casting seems perfect to me, and the acting is genuinely good throughout.
I’m making this a mostly spoiler-free review to encourage more people to watch the series. I will say that nothing truly unexpected happens, but it is the journey from episodes one to ten that is the important part. As the viewer begins to understand each individual character, it’s difficult to not get sucked into the plot. While the stakes are never life-threatening, they remain pretty high on an emotional level. There is some subtle character work going on here.
Three seasons of GLOW are already available on Netflix. I didn’t begin watching it until I learned that Season 4 will be the final season for the series. This was good stuff. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of it.
Firewater’s Who-Doesn’t-Trust-a-Man-with-a-Mustache-Full-of-Coke? Report Card: A
Can you smell what GLOW is cooking? Oh, Yeah!! And, Woooo!!