TV Series Review
Ruth Wilder doesn’t think much about a glass ceiling where she works. No, it’s the flying metal chairs she worries about.
The former out-of-work actress is now known as Zoya the Destroya, the prime villain in the 1980s all-female pro-wrestling franchise known as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (or GLOW). Her character reads Marx in the morning and Lenin at night. She marches up to the arena in Soviet fatigues and, when she wrestles, she’s bedecked all in red. Of course. Naturally, Zoya often faces Liberty Belle—the star-spangled, true-blue beaut who’ll whup that commie with good old-fashioned American ingenuity any chance she gets.
This qualifies as nuanced characterization in this low-rent wrestling world, by the way. Zoya and Belle might sometimes grapple with Britannica, a super-smart scientist/wrestler who’s trying to bring a male mannequin to life. Or perhaps they’ll take on the massive Welfare Queen, who’s prone to steal props. (Never mind that the woman who plays the on-the-dole damsel is sending her son to Stanford.)
But all’s fair in love and wrestling, right? And hey, these women have to make a living somehow.
Pinning This Show Down
Zoya and Belle may not be fighting a Cold War in the real world, but their relationship has been a bit chilly in the past—understandably so, perhaps, given that Ruth once had an affair with the actual husband of the other woman (real name: Debbie Eagan). That real-world tension between the two landed Ruth her wrestling gig and helped propel them both to center stage. Why, Debbie is one of GLOW’s producers these days. Ruth helps run things too at times, down to writing the occasional script. And while they may be bitter enemies in the ring, they’re now good friends out of it. Most of the time.
Their relationship is a microcosm of this show's strange, sequined world. Sure, the action in the ring is scripted. But it doesn’t hold a figure-four leglock to the drama that takes place outside it. Many of the wrestlers have husbands and kids; and their new, spandex-laden careers making picking up the kiddos from school pretty difficult. And let’s be honest, this wrestling business is hard—not just hard on the noggin (as it’s being pounded into the surprisingly springy floor), but hard on the psyche, too. And the enterprise doesn’t have deep pockets: It relies on the directorial expertise of former exploitation movie maestro, Sam Syvlia; the marketing genius of creator Bash Howard; and the ingenuity and dedication of its wrestlers.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that GLOW’s wrestlers have bonded so tightly with one another. With them away from their own families for much of the time, they’ve found one another in each other.
But family and friendship go only so far.
If Netflix’s Stranger Things is built to remind us of more innocent aspects of 1980s pop culture—Steven Spielberg, Back to the Future, video game arcades—GLOW (based on a real women’s wrestling association) points to a different side of '80s Americana: big hair, bigger drug habits and a not-insignificant dose of jingoism.
Back in the 1980s, we thought nothing of watching cultural stereotypes do fake battle in a ring. Rocky was fighting Russian überman Ivan Drago. Hulk Hogan was pile-driving Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. Straw dogs fell by the dozens, and nothing felt particularly wrong about it at the time. We live in a different time now, and all those stereotypes feel a little embarrassing—an emotion the show is gunning for.
But if the show holds up some past attitudes for ridicule, it embraces some current attitudes very much in vogue. Two of the female wrestlers, for instance, are in a lesbian relationship, and we’re seeing evidence that GLOW producer Bash is gay, too. (Never mind that he married one of his female wrestlers at the end of the second season.)
Heterosexual relationships are more common—even if many last less than an evening. Sex and nudity don’t enter the ring in every episode, but they’re always ringside—just waiting for the opportunity to come in. Star Alison Brie (who plays Ruth) suggests that Season 3 (which was released in its entirety Aug. 9, 2019) might be the sexiest yet.
“The whole cast, all of the characters, are really embracing what it means to be in Las Vegas (where this season is set) and the idea of what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” she told United Press International.
Characters drink and smoke. Sometimes they dabble in drugs. One wrestler, under the influence of cocaine, broke another’s ankle during Season 2. Language can be only slightly less raunchy than you’d hear in a 1980s-era Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor stand-up routine.
All of this diminishes a show that manages to be spritely, funny and surprisingly sweet. Truth is, GLOW does glow at times. But the show’s flying chairs of content make this a difficult ring to climb into.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
+Aug. 9, 2019: "Up, Up, Up"
Readability Age Range
Alison Brie as Ruth Wilder; Betty Gilpin as Debbie Eagan; Britt Baron as Justine Biagi; Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang; Kate Nash as Rhonda Richardson; Britney Young as Carmen Wade; Gayle Rankin as Sheila the She-Wolf; Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia; Kia Stevens as Tammé Dawson; Jackie Tohn as Melanie Rosen; Kimmy Gatewood as Stacey Beswick; Sunita Mani as Arthie Premkumar; Rebekka Johnson as Dawn Rivecca; Ellen Wong as Jenny Che; Chris Lowell as Bash Howard