A Review of Seasons One and Two of GLOW
By Marina Brafa
The moment I realized I had fallen in love with GLOW happened at the end of season one: the wrestling match between Liberty Belle and Zoya The Destroya. Usually all the moves are precisely choreographed and rehearsed, but this time Liberty Belle went off script and broke Zoya’s ankle. That terrible popping sound of her bone jolted me - not only could I feel her pain personally, I realized that I had not only followed the whole fight or even the episode, but rather the complete season enthusiastically. It turns out that from the very beginning, slowly but surely, the “Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling” (or GLOW for short) had put me under their spell. Here’s why.
Imagine Los Angeles in the 1980s. Women wear perms and shoulder pads; businessmen use clumsy mobile phones to negotiate their next deal on Wall Street. AIDS is a minor disease, unknown to most of the world and a wind of change is breezing through the Soviet Bloc. That’s the one side of reality. The other sits in a run-down Los Angeles gym waiting for an audition for an unspecified TV show on an insignificant local network. But hey, it’s a job and how else are you going to pay your rent?
A cast of about 15 women end up making the cut for the show - which to their surprise turns out to be a wrestling program - that is supposed to be different from all the others, mainly because the wrestlers are women. What sounds like women boldly evening out the playing field in a male-dominated sport is fake, however – much like the wrestling itself. The TV show’s concept is the brainchild of two men, producer Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell) and director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). The target audience is officially families but we know it’s really more for men.
At this point I was irritated: What’s going on Netflix? The women are good-looking (*surprise*), the director is obviously a selfish, misogynist idiot, the producer a wannabe big shot living off his mother’s fortune. And yes, there is a certain appeal to making a TV show about a TV show (meta level, you get it…) that, again, presents a completely scripted sports and entertainment show (namely wrestling; meta-meta level, it’s getting complicated…). But is this enough? GLOW appeared to be lacking plot and interesting characters. I was close to switching it off when things started to develop (and Zoya’s ankle popped). For example, as the ladies start developing their characters, and by that I mean the roles they would play in the wrestling ring.
Even though the wrestling personas are totally cliché caricatures, the roles the female cast members had created for their work would soon start taking over in real life. And as the lines between truth and fiction blurred, GLOW became more like a reality TV show. Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) becomes “The Welfare Queen,” a “bad” character because she is taking advantage of the welfare system (which still seems to be a deeply rooted fear in U.S. society). In “real” life, Tammé is indeed not rich but she is an honest and hard-working mother who’s proud of her son attending Stanford. The wrestling ring therefore is a small reflection of society, which is why the exaggerated characters set up for the show reflect the audience’s/society’s ugly face and the clichés with which they are familiar. Under the surface, however, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have individual, far more complex lives.
These personal stories are revealed one after another, which include heated political and societal issues. While GLOW is in the 80s, the problems addressed do not - adding to the show a layer of critical comment on racism and sexism in 21st century-U.S. and societies worldwide. The diversity of U.S. society has not always been reflected in TV and cinema, fortunately the (nearly) all-female GLOW cast does a good job of cover all their bases. Let’s take a closer look at the characters. We have…
I could go on with this list (because GLOW also tells us something about friendships, about body images and female confidence, and so on...) and I am sure after watching GLOW some of you might agree or disagree with some of the points above. In that case: Let us know via IG or FB, or comment below!
Finally, the only two main male characters, Sam and Bash, are not as flat as they might seem. Sam treats women in a sexist way, no doubt. Often enough he reduces them to their appearance and sexual attraction and he is very opposed to Debbie becoming part of the production team. However, he supports women whom he considers talented and edgy. Well yes, this could be defined as a patriarchal way of female empowerment and I won’t argue against this objection. He does not take Debbie seriously as a producer and he is annoyed by Ruth’s suggestions to his script. Initially. When he finally realizes in Season Two that their ideas are innovative, we see Sam more open to collaborate with women (other than sexually...) and to fully include them in the production process of GLOW. Hence, Debbie and Ruth enter the male-dominated economic circle and can change the system from within because – let’s be honest – in the end, the question of female empowerment is also a question of money!
Bash, on the other hand, seems to feel attracted to men, especially his butler, but does not want to acknowledge or cope with his feelings. Basically, he is nice to everyone and tries to fulfill his dream of getting GLOW on TV. Women are part of his concept and as such he is trading them as goods. At the beginning he seems more concerned with crazy outfits and over-the-top wrestling stories rather than the women’s health. But Bash too gets more mature and realizes his responsibilities (he’s paying the cast’s salaries, after all).
According to Netflix’s official GLOW website the show is “a comedy by the team behind ‘Orange is the New Black.’” Yes, it is – but its comedy is funny to a point that it actually hurts watching. You have to get into the mood of GLOW but once you are in this universe of 80s synth-pop, glittery costumes and over-the-top makeup you can fully engage with and enjoy the two selling points of the Netflix series: GLOW’s witty revelation of a conservative world where women are struggling with emancipation and traditional roles of motherhood, and with stepping up while being pushed back by patriarchal structures and sexism; and its ingenious way to lay bare the ridiculousness of stereotypes and people who fall for them too easily (and not only back in the 80s).
Find trailer, episode lists and season recaps on the official GLOW website. So far, there are two seasons and GLOW got renewed for a third one in August 2018!
The creators behind GLOW are Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. You can listen to them in the insightful podcast WTF with Marc Maron #827 - who plays Sam Sylvia, you remember? - where the three chit-chat about writing and creating GLOW.