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TV Review: GLOW (Season 1)


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"Fuck polite and comatose," The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling bring the house down in Netflix's latest original series, GLOW.

Based on the kitsch characters and gimmicks of a colourful all-female wrestling promotion in the 1980s, GLOW tells the delightful, uplifting story of a group of women who band together in the ring, as they each seek fame, success and acceptance. 

Created and Executive Produced by Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch and Orange is the New Black's Jenji Kohan, this series is every inch the female-orientated comedy we hoped for upon seeing its first trailer. Drawing on female sporting film favourites like Whip It and A League of Their Own, GLOW develops on this niche sub-genre with flair and an unabashed sense of humour that is incredibly refreshing for viewers. 

The series opens on an uncomfortable audition that highlights the plight of main protagonist Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), as a struggling actress trying to make it in the city of dreams. Down on her luck, Ruth seizes an off-handed opportunity to audition for an ambiguous project looking for "unconventional women - whatever the hell that means."

As it turns out, this audition, headed by cantankerous cult movie director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), is the beginning of GLOW - a new mid-morning wrestling series that is the brainchild of an enthusiastic but naive young producer (Chris Lowell). From there on out, we watch as the project, and the female performers involved, work through highs and lows to get to that all-important on-air finale. 

Part of the series' outlandish charm is in its peculiar sense of humour - there's a lot to laugh at throughout the show's ten-episode run. In the first chapter alone, Brie's Ruth - who at first comes across as the desperately serious actor-type - asks what her "motivation" is before putting her partner in a headlock. Similarly, Ruth also 'prepares for the role' by taking notes from Hulk Hogan and jumping around her living room with a makeshift costume. It is all very bizarre, but the series really takes that peculiarity in its stride - thriving on the camp kitschiness of its subject matter and injecting some breezy humour among otherwise awkward scenes.

The series is also a testament to its largely female cast and crew - there is a lot of fun to be had as the writers parody the laughably dated male craftmanship of shows like the original GLOW, complete with stereotypes, perplexing innuendoes and ill-informed narratives of what women crave and fight for. Throughout the ten episodes, the series shows real strength in its storytelling, as it dares to enter territory that is rarely seen on television. I don't think I've ever seen a reference or heard a joke about period sex on television before, but here, they roll with it unabashedly. Certainly for female viewers, it's nice to see comedy like this that embraces womanhood so easily.

Though it is undoubtedly very funny, with a diverse array of likeable characters, the series also takes on more poignant, serious themes including adultery and abortion. Set in the 1980s, we get a rare glimpse at how this endlessly controversial procedure took place in previous decades - and what's more is that it feels real and non-judgemental. As much as this series is about watching women work together to look as though they're pounding each other in the ring, there are moments of real emotional value that really add to its watchability. 

The cast is also very commendable, with Alison Brie shining especially bright as Ruth - a multi-layered character that develops to heartwarming effect throughout the ten episodes. The role has given us the chance to see Brie in a new light. Far removed from her cutesy depiction of Annie in Community, this role is much more graphic and heady and Brie takes to it with aplomb, creating a likeable and funny protagonist for us to get behind, despite her flaws. Betty Gilpin also gives an impressive turn as Ruth's friend/rival, Debbie, who struggles to balance her desire to perform with the constaints of family life and conflicts.

The ensemble of other performers are also very likeable - British singer-songwriter Kate Nash makes a commendable television debut as Rhonda, while Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Gayle Rankin and Jackie Tohn also stand-out for their vibrant characterisations. Marc Maron's performance as Sam is similarly impressive, as his character evolves from cantankerous, misogynistic boss-man, to a more likeable, vulnerable figure who strikes significant chemistry with Ruth. A word of recognition also has to be given to the series' neon opening credit sequence and energetic soundtrack - both of which perfectly capture that impeccable eighties' feel. 

Though the wait for that big finish - complete with all the best wrestling moves and character redemption stories - can feel agonising at times, it is still a show that is very much worth binging.

Ending with a satisfactory conclusion, that still paves the way for future series, GLOW is a fun and vibrant watch, with an engaging set of characters that you can't help but root for. 

GLOW is available to stream now on Netflix.

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