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Glow, A Female Wrestling Comedy Grapples With Identity

Monday 10th, July 2017 / 17:54
By Graeme Wiggins

Netflix’s latest entry into its comedy series stable, Glow, focuses on the world of 80s female wrestling; a fictionalized take on the real TV show Glow that brought the sport to sets across the world.

The show follows Ruth (Alison Brie), an unemployed actress who struggles as an outsider, unable to find the strong female roles she expected to find. We first meet her in an audition, antagonizing the casting agent by deliberately reading the male part. She’s running low in funds, and is on the outs with her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) whose husband and recent baby-father Mark (Rich Sommer) she had slept with. She goes to casting call for a new female wrestling television show run by Sam Sylvia (Mark Maron), a veteran trashy movie director. The show revolves around her quest to find her place in things, both for her character in the show and for her life.

In much the same way as the protagonist, the show also seems to be trying find it’s character. Its tone shifts from episode to episode; sometimes from scene to scene. It’s a comedy that deals with emotional heft and drama, but can’t quite connect the two. Moments of character development or clarity come in at odd places, or end up in strange punchlines. It has distinctly jarring “Netflix moments” as well, with lots of cocaine and really strange use of unnecessary nudity. It’s hard to tell if it’s trying to make a comment on the male gaze and promote empowerment, or is just putting it in there because they can. It’s not really a dark show, but Glow has an edgy affectation at times that can be a little off-putting.

The comedy-centric moments are great. Maron in particular really shines as a vaguely nihilistic director who sees his previous work in horror and exploitation film as true art, and wants to push the show into faux deep territory. He’s at times dismissive, brutally honest, or deeply sarcastic. It’s very much in character and it works. Ruth’s moments really bring out the contrast. When they use her character for humour it can be very funny, but Brie shows herself quite capable of dramatic chops—unfortunately, the result is a character whose tone is uneven.
The cast is filled out with a diverse group of women, who the show within the show intends to use as mere stereotypes (“The Welfare Queen!”; “Beirut!”; “Britannica!”) and at first it seems like Glow avoids subverting those stereotypes, but as the show builds the side-characters do pull outside of their pigeonholes. There’s a lot of room for them to grow. Britney Young as Carmen “Machu Pichu” Wade is a delight on screen, as is Sunita Mani as Arthie “Beirut the Mad Bomber” Premkumar.

Ultimately the show is funny, and smart. The cast is excellent, and the writing is solid. The 80s setting is well represented without overdoing it. If Glow could just work on sorting out exactly what they are trying to achieve, the show could be great. Still, it’s definitely worth pulling up a chair—just don’t hit anyone with it.

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