Netflix’s newest original series, GLOW, tackles wrestling-as-soap-opera (so, wrestling) with equal parts humor and heart.
As an ensemble show, it makes sense that GLOW’s strength lies in its acting. Alison Brie can feel pretty one-note at times – which I chalk up more to direction than her acting ability – but Marc Maron’s performance as the sleazy director who could so easily veer into cliché is captivating, Betty Gilpin deftly walks the line between “completely shattered by heartbreak” and “overcome with white-hot rage” for ten straight episodes without feeling overdone, and Gayle Rankin’s portrayal of “Sheila the She-Wolf” is a note-perfect standout.
Actual wrestlers themselves turn in excellent performances regularly throughout the show. Awesome Kong herself plays one of the principal wrestlers, Brodus Clay/Tyrus is shockingly good in a recurring role, and even Alex Riley makes a big impact in one episode (opposite a hilarious Joey Ryan and featuring cameos from Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian.)
You would think that GLOW is at its best in its big, theatrical moments, but it’s actually exactly the opposite. In fact, the season’s weakest scene – the very end of episode 7 – didn’t work for me specifically because it felt too “big” in a way that it hadn’t quite earned yet. A story beat in the season finale that could be hokey and overdone actually does pull off the sense of triumph that a great wrestling story does, and for the same reason that wrestling works: it was all about the build.
Instead, GLOW succeeds in its small moments. Sometimes storyline bombshells, sometimes just tender, revealing confrontations between characters – when the story isn’t afraid to be quiet and dig into the characters at its heart, it exposes the beauty and depth that underpins the entire show.
Really, the only moments when GLOW isn’t a total delight to watch are when it feels oppressively like a Jenji Kohan show. And I don’t mean that in the sense that of course the executive producer controls the show’s “feel” – I mean that in the sense that sometimes Ruth feels like a carbon copy of Piper Chapman in a way that feels more lazy than stylistic.
At its core, GLOW understands that wrestling is an art form about transformation and catharsis, and that’s what the show gives us. Sam Sylvia’s plotting occasionally nudges the viewer about the nature of storytelling to great effect, and one of the greatest moments in the entire series is Debbie’s dawning realization that “IT’S A SOAP OPERA!”
On GLOW, wrestling isn’t a dirty word. It’s a storytelling supplement, and it’s an art, and it’s portrayed in all of its awkward, triumphant glory.
Of course, now we have to wait another year for more.
Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy of Netflix