Netflix's Glow: Adventures of the Underdogs
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Netflix’s GLOW, which currently has 3 seasons and made its debut in 2017, begins the plotline by showing a casting call for “unconventional women” for a women’s wrestling television show. The show is set in the 1980s and is based on the real show “GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling”, which premiered in 1986 and ran until 1989. The show is nothing short of pop culture, neon lights, bright colors, and excessive costumes. It is also gritty, highlighted by its imperfections. GLOW is stark and unapologetic in its depiction of women’s issues and its feminist perspective. The show begins with Sam, the rough-around-the-edges producer, and the fractured friendship between protagonists Debbie and Ruth. The executive producer of GLOW is Jengi Kohan, who is best known for her production of “Orange is the New Black.” Like Orange Is the New Black, GLOW hosts an expansive female cast, short scenes that capture the essence of a character, and a grungy tone.
GLOW is essentially a portrait of a story about underdogs. In the Looper story “How Netflix’s Glow Really Changed Alison Brie’s Life” by Sabienna Bowman, she writes, “In the mid-1980s, women’s wrestling got no respect. When women got wrestling events at all, they were treated like an oddity or a sideshow.” She continues, “GLOW made its television debut and was a surprise hit. Kids loved the silly tone and cartoonish characters. Teens and college students loved the camp sensibility, and certainly plenty of viewers were in it for the attractive women in skimpy outfits. GLOW was unlike anything else that existed at the time, and that alone brought attention.” GLOW’s protagonists create abrasive and even offensive wrestling personas, which are starkly self-aware and caricatures of their identities and issues of their day. Ruth plays a Soviet strongwoman named Noya the Destroya and Debbie take on an all-American character named Liberty Belle. The show takes what would, without a second glance, be a gaudy circus sideshow, and gives the people humanity and grit. GLOW turns the camera to that sideshow, and then looks deeper and finds poignant stories. GLOW gives dignity to a story that would otherwise be just that- a sideshow.
In Season 3, the cast lives in a hotel in Las Vegas while filming- where they experience life through time being transient. In the earlier seasons, they live out of a motel during the filming process. The hotel is the perfect setting for an amphibious environment- they have to keep moving with their lives when the cast is collective “fish out of water”. It is here- in the space when they are away from their normal lives, but also must create a production- that their lives begin to change. They form strong friendships but also Season 3 begins with the cast living as if they are on vacation, but we quickly see that their work and goals are still present in their lives. Sheila wonders if she will become a successful actor, Debbie tackles body standards, and Debbie and Ruth rebuild their friendship. Season 3 is the waiting room that allows plotline rollercoasters to happen onscreen. We see deeper sides to the characters, and they tackle new obstacles.
However, not all of the reviews of GLOW have been positive. In Vanity Fair’s story “Marc Maron is Great in GLOW, and Maybe That’s a Problem,” writer Sonia Saraiya argues that the character Sam is a blatant misogynist who barely respects the women who he works with. She writes, “The show has no trouble casting Ruth as the creative punching bag for Sam’s on-set tantrums, the subject of endless put-downs about her looks and personality.” While Sam is an internalized, heavily flawed character, he has many moments of being compassionate and doing what is right. Saraiya goes further to say, “Brie used the word ‘empowering’ to describe the show and its ethos; recently, she called the show, ‘a feminist oasis’”. While Sam’s many fallible moments should not be excused, the flaws are part of what makes the show work. The goal of GLOW is not to portray perfectly egalitarian characters, but to take a look at how flawed characters interact with themes of gender in their own worlds.