GLOW, a series based on and funded by the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling franchise, has a brilliantly comedic tint, and induces lots of laughs. It’s certainly a league above most popular comedies on TV today, which might as well be called ‘smile-coms’, with their real riotous moments rare compared to their fast and furious occurrences on GLOW.
GLOW is a show within a show, in which a group of fourteen women train for a wrestling TV show directed by washed-up horrorcore director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Jenji Kohan, creator of Orange is the New Black, has a role as Executive Producer, and the format of a largely female cast (14 women and 2 men) is not the only similarity between the two Netflix shows. GLOW is also funny, with laughter abound and hilarious scenarios which possibly even outnumber those on Orange Is The New Black.
Alison Brie’s insecure and enthusiastic lead Ruth is at the centre of this, but the premise of women who are largely neither actors nor wrestlers, suddenly thrust into both acting and wrestling, is generally already bound for a ludicrous breed of profundity and sisterhood. In the show’s opening episode, the focus on Ruth’s friendship with Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and the former’s decision to read the male lead instead of the female secretary at audition introduces a feminist premise, but this is undermined as reality bites. Ruth has been sleeping with Debbie’s husband, and the brilliant first moment of ‘wrestling’ comes when Debbie arrives at one of the first training sessions for the show, having discovered this infidelity, and they fight in the ring.
GLOW consistently tries to subvert and critique [American political archetypes]…
Kia Stevens, (an actual renowned wrestler), is exceptionally good in her role as ‘Welfare Queen’, and probably the best example of how this show directly takes on the stereotypes of wrestling in society. Her wrestling persona is based on the American political archetype of black mothers living like queens on welfare, a skewed representation of black women born during the Reagan presidency which was meant to demean and systematically disempower black families. GLOW consistently tries to subvert and critique these stereotypes, with Stevens’ character initially telling director Sam that her role will send the wrong impression to her son, but later embracing it as a source of empowerment and a fuck-you to the Republican party.
Arthie, played by Sunita Mani, has a slightly different experience playing ‘Beirut’ the Lebanese terrorist, when she has to perform in front of the public and has beer cans thrown at her by racists. “They really hated me,” she says to Rhonda (Kate Nash), shuddering. “I guess that’s good?” is the unconvincing response. It’s quite a clever comment on the dangers of wrestling (and other) stereotypes which are produced ‘ironically’ – it’s all fun and games until people take them literally, and they encourage hateful violence.
the creating of roles based on existing identities of women reveals the bizarre nature of the world of wrestling and acting, as well as the absurdity and vulnerability of our own everyday performances
Probably the most brilliant moment in the entire series is Ruth fighting with herself in the ring. At once a display of complete desperation and amazing physical and emotional strength, it is a reminder of the absurdity of some of the things actors have to do. And it also lays bare what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this show – performativity. Brie, performing as Ruth performing as her wrestling persona, is constantly acting; trying to be perfect, trying to be her role and encapsulate it fully. Throughout, we see the power of performance in strengthening these women’s identities, but it is a reminder that everything is nothing more than a performance. Sam’s ruthless comedic persona, portrayed excellently by Maron, is revealed to be more vulnerable when the women accidentally see a video of himself he created for a dating website, and also later when, upon caring for one of the women, it turns out that she is his daughter who he has never met. Ruth is convinced that Sheila the ‘She Wolf’ is just a persona, but after an awkward interaction when she sees the latter’s real hair for the first time, we find that she genuinely identifies as a wolf. What this show-within-a-show aids is a blurring of the lines between performance and ‘authentic reality’, to the point that we realise that identity is essentially a performance. Like Judith Butler’s claim that drag reveals gender’s ‘imitative structure’, the creating of roles based on existing identities of women reveals the bizarre nature of the world of wrestling and acting, as well as the absurdity and vulnerability of our own everyday performances.
The show is not exceedingly well-written, but the sheer enthusiasm and brilliance of its actors, its aesthetic, and its premise shine through to make it a charming and enjoyable watch. Hopefully we get to see more of these women – character development and context were at times missing in this series due to it having its wings clipped, and a run of only eleven 30 minute episodes. Nonetheless, we have some really loveable characters on hand still, who sport a hilarious dynamic that I’m excited to see more of.
Image: Erica Parise/Netflix