It takes a lot to set a television show apart from the rest these days. To make a killing in it’s debut, a show must have a binge-worthy plot line and engaging characters to draw in viewers. It must leave their mouths watering until the next 12 episodes of a season appear in their Netflix queue. In 2017, it has also become pertinent for a show to provide social commentary in order to remain relevant. GLOW, short for the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” and loosely based on the 1986 professional wrestling show with the same title, is Netflix’s latest powerhouse dramedy set in the Regan-era 1980’s. GLOW depicts the journey of 12 women attempting to create captivating wrestling alter egos and a lasting TV show. This show hits on topics such as racial stereotypes, female relationships, and women in the workplace. Despite rave reviews on rating sites like Rotten Tomatoes, it’s been speculated that maybe this show is not as feminist as it is portrayed to be. There have been claims that it relies too heavily on the comedy provided by the grouchy Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), and pulls away from the stars Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin).
So is GLOW a friend of feminism or a foe?
Regardless of a shift in story line to focus more on Sam Sylvia and his issues, the show still remains a tour de force of feminine power. Sam’s role is significant as the bleak, coked-out ring leader who harnesses the untapped talent of the women he has cast for the show. Sam is also portrayed as the kind of man who fetishizes the women’s alter egos as severely as he demonizes their actual characters. However, the story that endures is the gradual repairing of a damaged friendship between Brie’s and Gilpin’s characters. Ruth Wilder is a small, scrappy, and almost annoyingly unrelenting actress trying to make a name for herself, contrasted by Debbie Eagan’s perceived perfection, and beguiling star power. The two manage to work together in spite of a devastating rift in their friendship caused by infidelity. These women are able to conspire for the sake of their art, as opposed to being pitted against one another in the ever cliche blonde vs. brunette sort of way. Show creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive focus on the importance of female relationships rather than going for the stereotypical girl-on-girl rivalry, which could have been an easy route to go as the setting is in a wrestling ring.
At times the show can seem a little gimmicky and has a tendency to lean into it’s 80’s time-period, it is a comedy after all. However, this does not take away from the growth of the cast and their wrestling alter egos. The main characters all walk into the audition with one commonality, to find where they belong. They are able to do so in the ring where they discover their strengths, weaknesses, sexuality, and grapple with how others perceive them and more importantly their perceptions of themselves. Executive producer, Jenji Kohan, knows how to wield the power of strong women when she writes a show, and GLOW is no exception. Gilpin’s character Debbie Eagen grasps the power and independence that wrestling provides for her when she says “It’s like I’m back, in my body. It doesn’t belong to [my son] or [my husband]. I’m like using it for me, and I feel like a goddamn superhero”. That quote, in this writer’s opinion, is cognizant of the power that is fulfilling a passion, even one you may not have realized was your passion to begin with.
Glow is streaming on Netflix now.