Published Jun 21, 2017Director Brett Whitcomb's 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a must-see film that exposes the trials and tribulations of an obscure, all-female wrestling league turned sketch comedy show. In just 76 minutes, the film demonstrates the camaraderie and struggle of the league while expertly introducing us to its wide cast of characters.
Fans of the film were not mistaken to expect great things from Netflix's expanded, fictionalized television series about the same league. Rather than go even deeper with the world, however, the show takes very few risks as it offers a more surface look at the gorgeous ladies of wrestling.
For the uninitiated, the league was established to capitalize on the '80s wrestling craze, a cynical cash grab that paired the WWF's racially insensitive stereotyping with gratuitous T&A. As Netflix's GLOW unfolds, these dark corners of the less refined '80s society are depicted, but never really deconstructed. Occasionally a character will pipe up about just how misogynistic or racist a character is being, but the society's backwards way of thinking is still utilized for cheap laughs. As Sam Sylvia, the coke-addled douchebag director of the wrestling show, Marc Maron is perhaps too likeable; the result is a show that looks at men behaving badly with about as much critical commentary as Anchorman.
That's not to say GLOW needed to be a critique of regressive social practices from the 1980s, but it should have done something with its 10-episode runtime. It could've dug into the minutiae of wrestling or discussed the drama behind-the-scenes of a successful TV show. Or it could have simply let us get to know its characters a little better. Instead, GLOW is one long origin story with more valleys than peaks.
Alison Brie stars as Ruth, a fairly two-dimensional protagonist whose motives are never really explored. We know that she's smiley and affable, a respectful young woman who works hard and desperately wants to make it in Hollywood. But we never find out why she chose to sleep with her best friend Debbie's (Betty Gilpin) husband (Rich Sommer, playing the wrong guy as he always does). Eventually, it becomes clear why this subplot was added to the story — the animosity between the two women tidily provides some tension in the ring — but its justification is flimsy.
Ruth and Debbie are backed by an arsenal of characters, nearly all of whom feel like they're still being introduced to us by the end of the show. There's the party animal, the weird loner, the punk and a handful of wrestlers who are mostly typified by their race. Britney Young is a standout as Carmen Wade, the heavyweight wrestler who comes from an actual wrestling family and must overcome her stage fright. Other than that, the background actors nearly become interchangeable over time.
The story of GLOW is compelling enough that this doesn't quite render it bad, per se, and Netflix has certainly done what Netflix does best by creating another watchable dramedy. That said, each episode seems to present ideas and tangents without fully committing to them, making it feel like a shell of a much more compelling show. Because of that, GLOW often feels bloated and boring, and one can't help but think it would have been far better as a 90-minute movie.