your next binge watch: glow
Get ready to rumble with the hottest comedy of the summer.
Saturday morning TV is not what it was. Back in 80s America, you could tune into GLOW aka the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, an actual show about -- you guessed it -- a league of female wrestlers who spent weekend mornings clad in Lycra and performing pile drivers on each other. Sound amazing in a totally weird, fucked up way? TV writers Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, scouting around for a new project, thought so too and came up with the idea for GLOW, a 10-part dramedy imagining the real life drama behind all those chop drops.
Streaming on Netflix from Friday, GLOW is a show-within-a-show which imagines the audition, rehearsal and performance process as well as the back stories of a raggle taggle gang of wannabes and oddballs in mid 80s L.A., led by jobbing actress Ruth Wilder, (played by Community's Alison Brie). Like most of the women of GLOW, Ruth is desperate for a break in an industry where men are prized and women play second fiddle. She thinks she's the next Meryl Streep; casting directors think she'd be great at bringing tea to the lead guy. Actually she doesn't make the cut for that gig either.
With only cockroaches for company in her crappy bedsit, Ruth auditions for GLOW. The all female wrestling gig is as exploitative as it reads: the women don tight fitting outfits, play "heroes" (all American booby blondes) or "heels" (bad behaviour bitches like home-wrecker or welfare queen) and are asked to embrace those stereotypes fully. But for all that grossness, GLOW also offers these women a lifeline.
It's something the creators see as core to the show. "It's both really empowering to watch these women do things and there is an element of exploitation," says Mensch, formerly a producer on Weeds and Orange is the New Black. "That's a tension we didn't want to let go of as we were telling stories throughout the season. It's part of the story as the girls get to understand GLOW and wrestling and that they are going to get their hands a little dirty."
GLOW embraces its era whole-heartedly, each 30 or so minute episode is a dreamscape of 80s nostalgia from downtown pastel motels to Malibu party houses. The crew spent downtime watching contemporary classics from Working Girl to Bad News Bears to get with the big haired, Lycra clad terrain. It also has a lock on the culture of the time -- mining the stereotyping in wrestling to illustrate the wider socio political moment -- the Asian girl plays a middle eastern terrorist and someone will get the dubious honour of playing a Cold War era Russian sexy spy. Every woman gets treated in exactly the same sexist way by the show's director, B movie visionary Sam Silva, whose signature style is repeated explanation of the 'cunt punch' wrestling move).
GLOW pulls no punches itself, using the heightened world of the wrestling ring to hit hard on the taboo front. "The villains in wrestling are founded in a real stereotypical place, especially in the 80s," Flahive explains, also a veteran of strongly female centric shows like Nurse Jackie. "If you look at someone like The Iron Sheik [an Iranian heel whose anti American sentiment helped rival Hulk Hogan to fame, non WWF fans] it's taking the fears of the culture and putting them in the ring."
The women of GLOW confront the stereotypes head on, while also working out personal drama in and out of the ring. Like executive producer Jenji Kohan's other big show, Orange is the New Black, GLOW brings as diverse a group of women as possible to the party. The cast includes real life former wrestler Mia Stevens, filmmaker Marianna Palka (responsible for Good Dick) and a certain British singer-turned-actress Kate Nash. It's weird but it works.
"It's a show about women's bodies in particular and we wanted the cast to look incredibly varied in terms of bodies and what we were seeing on screen," Mensch says. "We wanted women you haven't seen before and to have a very new experience with this ensemble coming together. We wanted that to feel very genuine." On that score, as on all others, GLOW is a knock out.
GLOW streams on Netflix from Friday
Text Colin Crummy