"GLOW" is a fictional comedy about a women's pro wrestling promotion that actually existed in the late '80s. It's the kind of show that could only be made in the post-postmodern world of 2017. We've come full circle: weathered the feathered hair, wayfarers and polyester of the 80s and now we've fully embraced the camp.
"GLOW" is supremely weird in both concept and execution, and much like professional wrestling itself, you're either going to be on board with the over the top, soap-opera-level theatrics, or you're not. And you'll work out pretty early what side of the ropes you stand on. Me, I'm a pro wrestling fan. I own t-shirts. I talk about WWE booking choices. Yes, I know it's scripted. Thank you for your input. You know what else is scripted? Half-hour comedies. That's why I was sold on "GLOW" early on.
The new Netflix original comedy keeps the 1980s setting of the original "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling". It was a real wrestling show, made in Vegas with a full roster of women wrestlers with the best gimmicks the '80s had to offer. Which is to say it was over the top. Instead of remaking the original, the 2017 "GLOW" follows the story of a group of women who all sign on to make something just as wonderfully ridiculous. That's the secret. It's powerfully strange, but it never apologises for it and that's why it works so well.
Like executive producer Jenji Kohan's previous Netflix hit "Orange is the New Black," "GLOW" is built on the backs of its eccentric female ensemble cast. Characters here hit the ground as totally over the top stereotypes, making all the characters instantly recognisable. And, just like the pantomime of a wrestling show, that makes it sing. You know who to root for, you know their motivations, you can see the dance as they trade blows and take their lumps (only sometimes literally). It isn't just weaving in the lingo of pro wrestling, but also the plot beats and narrative style.
Alison Brie deserves special mention for carrying the ensemble cast as the heel. Pro wrestling bad guys are called heels. Good guys are faces. Her portrayal of Ruth Wilder, opposite Betty Gilpin's all-American Debbie Eagan, forms the central conflict both in and out of the ring -- and the two women sell it perfectly. "Sell" is also a wrestling term, coincidentally, meaning to convince the crowd that an opponent's attack was real.
It's also dangerously funny. Marc Maron's washed-up genre director drops perfectly crafted insults and Brie's desperate-for-her-big-break starlet chews scenery. Because the characters are all so well cast, the grab-bag of gross-out gags, cringey comedy and dry one liners meshes perfectly.
The full cast dives headlong into that blend of surreal comedy and oddly touching character moments. Thrown into that mix are a series of cameos from pro wrestlers as trainers, family members and local indie wrestling stars, which devotees will likely mark out over. "Mark out" is another wrestling term. It means you forget that wrestling is staged and believe in the kayfabe. That's yet another wrestling term, used to refer to the fictional continuity of a wrestling show. We could keep going here.
That doesn't make "GLOW" a show for wrestling fans -- as one particular character's awakening to the art of pro wrestling will attest -- but it certainly helped me. I didn't expect to see such a frank portrayal of the work that goes into making pro wrestling work in a half-hour comedy show on Netflix, but here we are. That it treats everything so seriously is one of the show's greatest strengths.
It should, by all accounts be ridiculous. The on-point 80s costuming and soundtrack should induce groans. The hammy performances should have eyes rolling. But just like pro wrestling, "GLOW" works because it grabs onto that ridiculousness with both hands. It's earnest, honest, hilarious and demands you come along for the ride.
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