I listen to a lot of pop culture podcasts, relying on Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Slate Culture Gabfest or the now defunct Vulture TV Podcast to provide me with the best and worst things to watch/read/and listen to. While most of my opinions align with podcasters, sometimes they can be dead off the mark. Never have I felt more strongly about this than I did with the coverage of Netflix’s #GLOW. Rather than being a puff piece of television with “nothing new going on.” I believe that GLOW brings us some fresh characters and perspectives not seen on TV before.
I will preface this by stating that the show is by no means perfect. There are some episodes that feel unnecessary and being created by Jenji Kohan the show has the DNA of #OrangeIsTheNewBlack but is almost trying too hard NOT to be Orange is the New Black. That being said, the show is in a tough spot. We’re at the height of peak TV and a show about ladies wrestling needs to do a lot to make it stand out. Not to mention that they have to make audiences care in 10 episodes (all of which sit at around 35 minutes, which is a weird episode length). There’s a lot to accomplish here.
Still the show is much more than just “fun summer TV,” as so many critics are calling it. It depicts the formation of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which was a real thing that existed in the 80s. (I am not a wrestling fan but LaToya Ferguson at the AV Club has done a great job recapping the series for both well versed wrestling fans and newbies alike) For me the show has some strengths that have either been somewhat glossed over in negative reviews.
A League of Their Own-esq Quality
I have a rotating list of my top 5 movies at any given time, but A League of Their Own is always in the mix. Women’s baseball and the Second World War featuring a cast of beautiful strong and complicated women? Who could ask for anything more. To me GLOW captured a bit of this spirit with it’s cast of women who don’t always fit in with society.
In the movie Rosie O’Donnell has a line where her character talks about being treated like a strange girl or not even a girl just because she could play ball. Glow hones in on this same spirit, a group of women who are drawn together for one reason or another and find support with one another despite the fact that their is a realization that women’s wrestling is treated like a joke.
Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) internal struggle between trying to fix her family life or pursue something she finally enjoys and is good at echoes Dottie Henson’s (Geena Davis) choices, though both end up making different decisions. Also Marc Maron as a washed up coked out director bears a striking resemblance to an angry Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Duggan. Not all characters are that fleshed out and I hope that show gets a second season so we can devote more time to the cast. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin serve as the series Piper/Alex and while their story is necessary I care more about the other characters. Which brings me to...
Characters We Haven’t Seen Before
For me the series shines when the characters that aren’t Ruth and Debbie are explored. Kate Nash is absolute gold in the series and while I initially dismissed her playing a ditzy airhead, she surprised me by showing a great deal of emotional maturity and perceptiveness later in the series.
I hope we get more from the minority characters in the show. It’s such an interesting dynamic that the show has started to play with, reducing these girls to their basest stereotypes, and it’s very reflective of the real GLOW which featured similar tropes. The character that’s the most groundbreaking however has to be that of Sheila the She-Wolf.
What could so easily be turned into a joke is treated with so much tact and empathy that I fell in love with the character and was pleasantly shocked when all the other girls did too. The women of GLOW have realized that there’s no room for bullying and cliques if they are going to succeed. They need to band together, and while there are still stock “mean girls" like Melrose, on the whole the women support each other even if it means acknowledging Sheila’s wolf-ness. I never thought that I would find myself tearing up over a birthday cake with Sheila's age in wolf years on it, but that is exactly what happened.
The Importance of Female Friendship
While the main driving force behind the series is the fracturing of Ruth and Debbie’s friendship, the other ladies find themselves forming quite a tight-knit group. While shows with strong female leads are gaining popularity, depictions of strong female friendship in a group setting are still few and far between. Even though it reads a bit hokey at times, I’m legitimately cheering for all of these characters, which is something rare on TV.
It brings me back to the comparison to a League of Their Own, which also depicted strong female friendship between a bunch of oddballs. While the show has a very different tone than A League of Their Own takes, the GLOW rap may as well be “Batter Up.”
Is the show fun and entertaining? Yes. Is it perfect summer television? Absolutely. But is it all it is? No way. The show’s not perfect but it doesn’t have to be, there are a lot of shows that grew into themselves. With season one, there's room to glow.