If the idea of watching a show about wrestling is enough to make you want to put yourself in a chokehold, don't let that put you off Glow, Netflix's new original series.
Inspired by The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the all-women league that thrived from 1986 until 1990, Glow follows the rag-tag bunch of women who led the charge in changing up the faces of televised wrestling. Move over Hulk Hogan and The Rock, it's time for UK twee charmer Kate Nash and Annie from Community to bodyslam what you think you know about the world of wrestling straight into the ground.
Glow begins in the same way most LA sob stories do: a struggling actress gives an eye-watering audition, only to be told for the millionth time that it's not her time in the sun yet. Think La La Land, if Emma Stone had defiantly read for a man's part before being told she might be better off doing porn. Ruth Wilder is the actress in question, played by Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men), who stumbles open an audition in a derelict gym. There, she meets washed up B-movie director Sam Sylvia (comedian Marc Maron), begrudgingly tasked with making wrestling a women's game.
Produced by Orange is the New Black's Jenji Kohan, there are more than a few parallells to be made between Piper Chapman's life behind bars and Ruth Wilder's time in the ring. Both shows wholly embrace a wide range of women characters, each as flawed and phony and desperate as the last. They take on their overwrought wrestling personae with bravado, and Glow isn't afraid to take down challenging stereotypes around race, size, gender or promiscuity. It's also a good reminder that pretty much everyone looks good in sequin activewear.
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Beyond the giant competing personalities, there's also lashings of interpersonal drama between Ruth and her best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin). After Ruth sleeps with Debbie's husband on a drunken night out, the erosion and rebuilding of their friendship grounds the story in reality, as well as adding a layer of dramatic irony when they are forced to pummel each other in the ring. All the while, Marc Maron as Sam maintains an excellent job of being deeply unlikable, barking through his moustache at the motley crew of fabulous women.
Glow also illuminates some of the darker corners of the female experience in a way that is still a rare occurrence in popular culture. Changing room scenes show us women and their bodies in all their different forms, not undressing for a man, or the camera, but to put on yet another absurd sparkly unitard. The locker room chat on Glow is about how pads are like diapers, or the perils of breastfeeding, instead of grabbing anyone by the you-know-what. An abortion storyline is handled with a deft frankness, the 1985 context perhaps even more resonant as reproductive rights are threatened across the US in 2017.
With a rich cast of characters, a sensational array of sparkly leotards and a really great 80s soundtrack, there's a lot working for Glow. The nostalgia factor is high, but there's a lot more to this one than clunky giant cell phones and neon sweatbands.
Stick with it beyond the first few episodes and watch the show strengthen and improve just like the women working tirelessly within it. The moves get slicker, the characters become clearer and it becomes a better show - in and out of the ring.