Netflix Now: GLOW Season 1 (2017) - Reviewed

Alright, ladies, prepare to feel empowered. GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), despite its appearances, is one of the most heartfelt, honest, and hilarious series to come out of Netflix, or any other provider in the last few years. Series creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, Orange is the New Black and Nurse Jackie alums, have put together a winning ensemble cast, added razor sharp writing, and somehow, despite all odds, managed to simultaneously capture the essence of professional wrestling, Los Angeles, the 1980s, and what it means to be a modern woman. It really does get everything right.

The cast is led by Community’s Alison Brie, as Ruth Wilder, who acts her ass off from moment one. Seriously. The first scene is particularly memorable, and her performance only continues to impress throughout the season. It’s nuanced and robust, with emotional cues that may go unnoticed until a second viewing. As a struggling actress in Hollywood that will stop at nothing to achieve her dreams, she’s instantly relatable, but the envy and destruction of self-worth that is so prevalent in Hollywood drives her to become the villain in a believable and ultimately justifiable way. 

Her dramatic foil, Debbie Eagan, played by Nurse Jackie’s Betty Gilpin, is perhaps equally round and relatable. A once-successful soap opera actress relegated to the role of housewife that has allowed her marriage to suffer as a result, Gilpin gives an emotionally charged performance that burns and wanes from episode to episode. Her rivalry and disdain for Brie’s character is the emotional driving force for the series, and it beautifully echoes the story-within-a-story that develops to support the wrestling show’s own narrative.

Comedian Marc Maron also deserves a shout-out as GLOW’s (the show within the show, not the actual Netflix series) director, Sam Sylvia. Maron’s dry and irreverent sense of humor from his stand-up fits perfectly with the character, a Hollywood artiste looking to fund his next “real project” by directing a woman’s wrestling show, a job that is clearly beneath his talents. Sylvia’s journey is equally interesting and further invests the viewer in the undeniable desire to see this ragtag bunch of misfits succeed. That’s what makes GLOW so watchable – believable, flawed characters desperately trying to make something amazing in a world that doesn’t take them seriously – they aren’t just women, they are women professional wrestlers – as the kids say, the struggle is real.

Perhaps the biggest threat to GLOW’s continued quality is the same as Netflix’s other dramedy with an amazing ensemble cast of ladies, Orange is the New Black – both shows have too many great characters. As a result, OitNB has spent later seasons delving into backstories of previously minor characters that the audience has, perhaps unexpectedly, loved. These characters lack the depth of the main cast, and as a result, often have flashback episodes that feel caricatured and simplistic. One can hope that GLOW avoids that path, and continues its current narrative arc, exploring the depths in its secondary characters without it feeling contrived and aimless. Tell us the story of GLOW and its gorgeous ladies – don’t get lost in backstory that can be told through good writing and acting. It can definitely be done – after your first watch of GLOW give the first two episodes a second look and realize how much we already know about Ruth and Debbie’s backstory, motivations, and personalities. That is good storytelling. Here’s hoping the crew continues this trend.

Every character on the show deserves exploration both in this review and in the series but there simply isn’t time. Suffice to say that viewers will certainly have their favorites, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for these Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

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-Patrick B. McDonald