Anyone remember the days when all Netflix had in terms of original shows with House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black? Ah, simpler times… Now it seems like they’ve got a TV show aimed at just about every niche possible; Marvel superhero fanatics, lovers of long-cancelled cult comedies and people who just want to see Sam Eliot play a grumpy sitcom dad. So why not a comedy-drama about a women’s wrestling show set in the 1980s?
I don’t keep up with many Netflix shows these days, but GLOW caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it received quite a few glowing (ha) reviews. Secondly, the premise seemed unique and weird in the best way possible. Thirdly, I fricken love Alison Brie. Between Community and Mad Men, she’s easily one of my favourite actresses around at the moment – and it seemed about time that she got a starring role in a show.
Brie plays Ruth, a struggling actress who gets a break when she receives a part on a new women’s wrestling show, GLOW. Along with the other women starring in GLOW, and its director Sam Sylvia, Ruth tries to the TV show off the ground despite multiple setbacks… Obviously there’s a lot more to the show than this, but I’m brushing over a few details just avoid spoiling things.
With Jenji Kohan as the executive producer, it’s hard not to want to compare this show to Orange Is the New Black. And yeah – there are some pretty clear similarities between the two. Both have large mostly female casts and, early on at least, Ruth’s stuck-up attitude definitely made me think of Piper from Orange a little bit… But I wouldn’t call GLOW a clone of that show. While it takes a bit of time to find its footing – the second half of the season is a lot better than the first – when it does the show gets really good. While it was the unique set-up that got my attention, it’s the characters that kept me watching.
Like with a lot of other shows, GLOW’s early episodes feel a bit slow-going because it needs time to flesh out its characters. At the beginning, Ruth, while sympathetic, is also unbearable at times and likewise, Sam comes across as misogynistic and unlikeable. Pretty much all the characters start off like this – goofy stereotypes. But as the show digs deeper into who they are, almost all of them become incredibly compelling and complex. Gayle Rankin’s Sheila is a good example of this; the character feels a bit gimmicky for the first few episodes, with her taking her ‘she-wolf’ wrestling persona way too seriously, never taking her costume off. But after the show puts the focus on her for a couple of episodes and we learn a bit more about her, she becomes a pretty tragic figure.
The show’s two strongest characters though are Ruth and Debbie (a former actress friend of Ruth’s who has since settled down with a family). I’m trying to be cautious not to spoil anything about their relationship, but it’s easily the show’s emotional centre. Part of the reason it works so well is because of how fantastic Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin play their characters – really selling the ups and downs of their relationship. It’s complex, heart-breaking and just plain great TV.
Another reason why the second half of the season is so great is that it features a ton of payoff. As the show gets closer to the end, each episode feels like more of gut-punch, all of them featuring some sort of big development. A few TV seasons I’ve watched recently seemed to lose steam as they got towards their end, basically running out of story. GLOW fortunately doesn’t fall into this trap and if anything has too much story. In fact, I would say this is the show’s only real significant problem – I wish there was more of it. The 30 minute episodes really don’t feel long enough, especially when some of them have three or four storylines going on in them. If they were 60 minutes (or at least 45) it would have given some of the storylines a little bit more breathing space and room to develop.
But despite this, GLOW’s first season is fantastic. It definitely exceeded my expectations and might be one of my favourite TV shows of the year so far. Even if the premise doesn’t like your sort of thing, I recommend giving it a go.