thu 23/11/2017

GLOW, Netflix review - not quite comedy or drama | reviews, news & interviews

GLOW, Netflix review - not quite comedy or drama

GLOW, Netflix review - not quite comedy or drama

Wrestling show fakes OITNB's moves

it’s a risk to have quite such a boring lead character: Alison Brie in 'Glow'

How much plotting went into GLOW? It has been gussied up by the people who brought you the jumbo Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black. Both shows are based on a true story and feature women of all ethnicities bitching and slapping in a contained environment. In Glow there’s less orange, and less black, but even more bitching and slapping.

This time the perimeter wall is not a prison but the ropes of the wrestling ring. GLOW is based on the true story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling who were a cable TV hit in the late Eighties. Netflix supplies a complementary documentary all about the real women with big hair and spangled outfits who entertained people who liked that sort of thing. It seems there were thousands, if not millions of them.

As in OITNB, our way into the world is a woman-who-shouldn’t-be-there. For Piper, read Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a non-jobbing actress who can’t get arrested in casting sessions. We first meet her doing a feisty face-to-camera – “We are the good guys! This is about justice! I will not be bullied into submission!” She sounds ballsy, but that turns out to the man’s part she’s mistakenly done in an audition. In reality she’s a perky loser with no money or much of a private life.

Sam Sylvia in GlowIn desperation she goes along to an audition for GLOW, which isn’t quite a porno but certainly isn’t Strindberg. The call turns out to be in for a scuzzy suburban gym where few of the other applicants seem to be into back story and character motivation. The sleazy director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron, pictured above) is on secondment from making dismal B movies with titles like Blood Disco. When he tells them it’s a wrestling job, half the room leaves. And yet acting is sort of required: there may be what Sylvia charmingly refers to as “tit grabs” and “cunt punches”, but none of the fighting is for real, and the pain has to be faked.

Like Piper with her jailbird girlfriend Alex, Ruth has a best friend turned enemy in the shape of Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin, pictured below), a blonde soap actress with whose husband Ruth has unwittingly cheated. (Brie has two topless moments before the first episode is out, which feels wholly gratuitous.) When Debbie turns up at the gym to punish Ruth, hurling her around the ring, Sam Sylvia realises he’s got something to work on. He recruits Debbie as the heroine in a script he dashes off casting his bevy of wrestlers as survivors of a nuclear holocaust fighting for food and men: Ruth is not the only frustrated artist. The producer Bash (Chris Lowell), who is a rich young mother’s boy, doesn’t like it: wrestling, he argues in episode three, is about types, as in stereotypes: Arab terrorist, Chinese martial artist, African queen, white goth weirdo.

Betty Gilpin in GlowAnd so it goes on. There’s a lot of quite nicely chiselled, rat-a-tat dialogue, most of it involving the weaselly, world-weary Sam Sylvia and his interactions with the gaggle of not-sure-they-wannabe wrestlers. There’s not a lot of plot or characterisation. In episode two there’s some egregiously clumsy stuff about one character’s historic miscarriage (or “womb goof”) being worked up into a wrestling routine. A lot of it doesn’t really make sense. Probably the creation of the original GLOW was fairly straightforward, and show creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch didn’t have much to go on, so they plotted in a vacuum.

The real hole at the heart of GLOW is the figure of Ruth. The quest of an unemployed actress looking for a role and a personality unfortunately bleeds into the writing: it’s a risk to have quite such a boring lead character. There’s a prophetic line in the first episode when she fails yet another audition. “People say, ‘I want a girl who’s real,’” says Ruth’s casting agent. “So I bring you in so they can see they don’t actually want the thing they want.”

Not quite funny enough to work as comedy, not dramatic enough to work as drama, GLOW all feels about as emotionally real as the fake moves of the wrestling ring.

@JasperRees

There’s a lot of quite nicely chiselled, rat-a-tat dialogue, but not a lot of plot or characterisation

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters