Netflix's Glow review: These 'gorgeous ladies of wrestling' deliver a choke slam of a show
In the 90s, when I was introduced to the world of Wrestling, WWF (World Wrestling Federation) to be more precise, it was love at first sight for me. Long before the era of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, there was Hulk Hogan - the All American Hero - emerging as an icon for my generation. There was HHH and his famous signature move ‘Pedigree’.
And then, when the rivalry between Rock and Stone Cold was at its zenith, the episodes of RAW (Raw Is War) and Smack Down seemed as important as the Sunday morning ritual of having to watch Chandrakantha and Mahabharat.
Then there were the women - Debra, whose ‘performance’ outside the ring gave many of us sleepless night; Chyna, the queen of the ring before Trish Stratus stole her thunder; Lita, partner of Hardy Boyz, whose athleticism was the stuff of legends; and that infamous episode between Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie which was borderline erotica. It was magical. Little did I know that I wasn’t watching a sport. It was a soap opera.
Turns out that the world of wrestling isn’t just about people seemingly beating each other to pulp and pull off gravity-defying stunts, but also something much more than that - storytelling! 15 years after the world of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), sort of, lost its sheen for me, I found myself sucked into its charm once again, thanks to Netflix’s phenomenal new series GLOW - Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling.
Set in the 80s, GLOW narrates the story of an aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), who finds herself in the midst of several other women who end up for an audition. Their project is called GLOW - a wrestling show. Quite early in the series, we are introduced to Ruth Wilder’s desperation to land a gig, any gig for that matter, to keep herself afloat in Los Angeles.
She’s broke and one night, she ends up sleeping with her best friend Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband. All hell breaks loose when Debbie finds out about it and confronts Ruth in front of Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), the director the show. In that moment, the whole show comes together for Sam and he convinces Debbie to be the star of GLOW with Ruth as her arch-rival.
Created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the series is inspired from a 2011 documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, directed by Brett Whitcomb. GLOW is delightful, funny and at the same time, it’s uplifting in every sense, and a large part of that credit goes to Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch for putting together a great ensemble. Alison Brie, who plays Ruth, is the soul of the series and it’s her playfulness, or eagerness depending on how you interpret it, to prove that she’s fit to be inside the ring that make for some of the best moment in the series.
At the outset, it feel like her role is akin to that of Emma Stone in La La Land; however, Alison Brie goes a step further to embody the struggles of an aspiring actress, who just wants a chance and a stage to prove her acting skills. And she, along with scores of others, find that in the wrestling ring.
Beyond all the wrestling moves, one of the interesting things that the series does is put all its characters in a moral dilemma. They know that they are playing a part - a stereotype that people would either root for or love to hate - but at the same time, all the women are forced to come to terms with how much are they willing to push the envelope to appease the audience.
In one of the episodes, there’s a scene where Ethel and Edna are asked to dress up as members of KKK (Ku Klux Klan) to take on Junkchain and Welfare Queen. It’s the classic case of Blacks fighting against White supremacists, and it shocks everyone. Then, there’s Arthie (Sunita Mani), an Indian immigrant, who’s given the role of Beirut the Mad Bomber, who plays the Arab terrorist going all out to destroy America. But the best is reserved for Ruth, who plays Zoya the Destorya - the Russian who hates American way of life - taking on Liberty Belle (Betty Gilpin), the all American Woman who’ll stop the rise of the Russia inside the ring.
The stereotypes that each of these women represent are intended to be a socio-economic commentary on every major issue that America had to grapple with under Ronald Reagan. And it’s spot on, to say the least. Of course, there’s plenty of cocaine and references to crack. GLOW literally glows under its neon lights and an amazing soundtrack that brings alive the vibe of the 80s. The spandex costumes, waist high jeans, and zany make-up - all this and more lends plenty of authenticity to GLOW.
The series is also a behind-the-scenes take on why filmmaking is a gruelling process. The tussle between Sam Sylvia, the director of the show, and Sebastian Howard, the producer, over the concept of the show and the budget is relevant even today. There’s also an undercurrent of tension between several women which leads to some of the finest moments in the series. It’s about how they make peace with their rivals and also their life to seize the opportunity that life gives them.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t watch GLOW. It turned me into a teenager once again who was hooked on to the escapism that WWE once offered. Little did I realise that I was rooting for the stereotypes that were invented by the show runners to satiate the general need for some action and drama.
GLOW has got women and wrestling. But more than that, it also reminded me of the thrill of watching Stone Cold Steve Austin deliver a stunner to The Rock in Wrestlemania. Or the Choke Slam which the likes of The Undertaker and The Big Show used to deliver on their opponents to finish the game. A big thumbs up!