In regards to original content , Netflix’s model of late has been to throw money at projects and see what sticks. It’s a stark contrast to other premium VOD services, like HBO Go or Amazon Prime, which tend to rely more on building a brand and swinging for the fences with each pitch. This has been cause for justified temperance of expectations towards the deluge of new releases each month from the distribution giant. It used to be that a “Netflix Original” label was an assurance of quality equaled only by an “Official Nintendo Seal” in the mid-90s, but in the midst of a recent wave of mass cancellations mixed with shows that probably might have been canceled had they not had a ‘Marvel’ suit of armor, it was hard to know what to expect from “GLOW.”
The series is a fictionalized retelling of the history of the short-lived cable program “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” or “GLOW.” Where Netflix’s other ’80s-themed hit “Stranger Things,” relied heavily on Spielbergian nostalgia, “GLOW,” is a period piece, an objective look back at the time warts and all. The real “GLOW,” was recognized as being exceedingly racist and exploitative and the Netflix series doesn’t sugar coat. It uses Reagan-era politics, the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, race relations and questions of identity to address issues of exploitation vs empowerment.
It is well documented that Allison Brie (“Community”, “Mad Men”) had to fight, both literally and metaphorically, to get the lead role in the show, a role which she wanted to, “shatter this image that people have of me.” Brie is an actress with dramatic and comedic chops that help her transform completely into the befuddled Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder. Infuriating at times and empathetic at others, Ruth is a believable lead, portrayed by an actress who proves she can carry a show.
Marc Maron far from a new commodity, but “GLOW” is likely to go down as his break-out role. For those who are already fans of Maron, there is a lot of the man in his character Sam Syliva. An at rock-bottom director with a questionable filmography and a bad coke habit, Sylvia takes a last gasp job directing a for-cable women’s wrestling program. He is always sarcastic with a glass-half-empty attitude and a sometimes alarming lack of a filter.
Although the cast isn’t composed of big names, many of the ladies of “GLOW” will look familiar. Ellen Wong, who plays Jenny “Fortune Cookie” Chey, most recognizably fought her way into theaters as Knives Chau in “Scott Pilgrim vs The World.” Singer-songwriter Kate Nash, Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson, is most famous for her 2007 sleeper-hit single “Foundations.” Die hard wrestling fans will recognize Kia “Awesome Kong” Stevens as Tammé “Welfare Queen” Dawson. Stevens is the only Gorgeous Lady in the cast who is actually a professional wrestler. Betty Glipin continues her break-out year following up her role in “American Gods,” with a dominant performance as soap opera star and woman scorned Debbie “Liberty Bell” Eagan, the face of “GLOW,” opposite Brie’s heel.
What really sets “GLOW,” apart, it’s signature move, is that nearly every character is believable. There are no flawless good guys just as there are no evil villains. Every body is a little bit good and a little bit bad. The character’s motivations feel real, which makes the show seem more real. Conflict arises from natural, organic situations and resolutions happen, or sometimes don’t, in an equally satisfying way. The comedy isn’t just thrown in for comedy’s sake and that means when the jokes land, they land hard.
The show is incredibly watchable with a 10 episode x 30 minute format, and a motivated viewer can easily sit through the five hours in an afternoon. Occasionally the show walks the rope between predictability and inevitability with some of the show’s sucker-punches clearly telegraphed. The real body blows are as well hidden as a luchador’s face however, and delivered at just the right moment.
The true heart of the show however, is its humor, a heart which is wears on its sleeve from start to finish. Fans of dark humor should embrace the show and left pinning for more.