TV Review: Netflix’s GLOW Slaps Feminism on the Ass

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All that glitters is not gold in Netflix’s new dramedy GLOW ; it’s bodyslams, headlocks, and a captivating cast that will have you grabbed by the neck. Based on a television show of the same name from the late 80s, GLOW details the fictional lives of 14 women living in Los Angeles known as the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” Upon being pitched the concept for GLOW , a man remarks: “Lady wrestlers. I get it, women can do anything men can do, blah blah blah,” but I can assure you, GLOW doesn’t waste even a second on the “blah blah blah.”

Teaming up with Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan, it’s no surprise that creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch hand-picked a GLOW cast that features an enthralling multicultural female-driven ensemble. Challenging its audience’s expectations in new and unexpected ways, GLOW utilizes a typically male-dominated space to portray female strength. Rather than portraying women whose sole purpose of their bodies is trying to “look good,” Flahive and Mensch allow their women to use their bodies for a different purpose: to be powerful and to be large, which is something women are rarely asked to do and, in fact, are usually asked to do quite the opposite.

Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a desperate and sometimes painfully confident out-of-work actress leads the GLOW team and truly occupies the ring. Delivering a shameless performance, Brie portrays the theater nerd we all knew in high school whose persistence is indomitable, and even oftentimes cringeworthy. There are moments throughout GLOW where you want Ruth to back down for the sake of her own dignity, but Brie’s performance is so convincing that it takes you a few episodes to understand exactly what she’s doing with this character. Ruth is hard-working, and has done nearly everything in the book that would lead one to becoming a successful actress, from remaining motivated and driven failed audition after failed audition, to continuing to pay for acting classes. However, even though Ruth is the only “trained” actress in the bunch of these 14 women, this, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to set her apart from the crowd at all. In fact, it becomes quickly apparent in the pilot that Ruth isn’t even as great of an actress as she believes herself to be. As much as you sometimes can’t bare to see Ruth embarrass herself again, her childish perseverance becomes truly admirable and charming as the show progresses, and you can’t help but get excited as she comes closer and closer to discovering her true self.

Alongside Ruth is her beautiful, blonde best-friend-quickly-turned-nemesis Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a former soap actress who left the acting world behind to become a mother. However, when she unintentionally stumbles upon the starring role in GLOW , not even her severed friendship with Ruth can hold her back. In the midst of a complicated relationship with her husband, Eagan presents us with a compelling character that isn’t ashamed to admit that motherhood is sometimes just “not enough.” Like many women in the cast of GLOW , Eagan is seeking a place where her work and talent are respected, not one where she’s only appreciated for being, as GLOW ’s washed-up, B-movie director Sam Sylvia puts it: “Grace Kelly with boobs.”

Advertised as seeking “unconventional women” to audition, Ruth and Debbie are accompanied by 12 other women in the ring, all misfits in their own regard, seeking a place to belong as well. These women are all quickly assigned different, often extremely stereotypical, wrestling personas. Some examples include: Tamee (Kia Stevens), who has a kid going to Stanford yet occupies the character “Welfare Queen”; Jenny (Ellen Wong), a Cambodian woman nicknamed “Fortune Cookie,” who is forced to speak in an exaggerated Chinese accent; and Arthie (Sunita Mani), given the character “Beirut,” a Lebanese terrorist, promising to “destroy your American way of living.” “It’s not a judgement,” GLOW ’s young, in-over-his-head producer Sebastian (Chris Lowell) reassures the group, “It’s just what I and the entire world see with our eyes.”

Creators Flahive and Mensch certainly don’t shy away from these harsh realities, while even throwing a bit of irony into the mix. Complete with tight spandex, soft porn, and some ignorant, even racist behavior, Flahive and Mensch employ the stereotypical situations they’re critiquing. Uncovering the most uncomfortable moments of female and racial discrimination (even leaving many in their ensemble helpless and submissive to these circumstances), and flaunting these women around in revealing leotards, Flahive and Mensch make their audience painfully aware that the women of GLOW are all women, all the time, and they’re fucking strong.

One of the more remarkable elements of GLOW is that every woman in this cast performs her own stunts, and, with the exception of actress Kia Stevens (who wrestles professionally), has no previous wrestling experience, which makes the experience of viewing GLOW all the more genuine. They show these women struggling to learn their moves and groaning in pain after being slammed on the hard floors of the ring, but throughout these first ten episodes, all of these women are eventually wrestling like pros, and, as a viewer, you can’t help but envy their strength.

GLOW is fierce and action-packed one moment, and laugh-out-loud hilarious the next. Every character in GLOW has an interesting and unexpected background to offer, which makes for some touching moments within the group. Delivering a powerful underdog story with a compelling cast sure to make you laugh and pump your fists for, GLOW is very modest in just how intelligent it truly is. With a group of women so powerfully and passionately dedicated to replacing their glitter with bruises, you can’t help but call GLOW the A League of Their Own o f this generation (even though it takes place in the 80s). All in all, GLOW is relevant, smart, funny, and, in more ways than one, truly a knockout.

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