Netflix’s “Glow,” available on the streaming service Friday, is a half-hour dramedy set in the 1980s. It’s inspired by Glamorous Ladies of Wresting (G.L.O.W.), a women’s wrestling program that premiered in 1986, and ended in 1990. As in the Netflix original series it inspired, most of the real Glamorous Ladies of Wrestling were actresses hoping to make it in show business.
Creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and executive producer Jenji Kohan (“Orange Is the New Black”) deliver a hilarious, dramatic, and delightful addition to female-led stories that’s also one of the best Netflix originals.
“Glow” follows Ruth (Alison Brie), a struggling actress who loves acting (maybe too much) in 1980s Los Angeles. She only has $83 in her bank account, doesn’t know if she can pay her gas bill, and wants meatier roles. She purposefully reads a man’s part at an audition to prove a point in the opening scene of the first episode. This scene rings true for the 1980s, and still does for women working in show business today: Just ask Jessica Chastain.
But “Glow” is fully prepared to change that, by giving a diverse group of female actresses exciting and memorable roles that matter. Brie is definitely the main character, second mostly to Debbie (Betty Gilpin) but they take the backseat more often than you’d expect, like Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) on “Orange Is the New Black.”
And like 2016’s “Stranger Things,” “Glow” is a love letter to the 1980s, albeit a very different part of the 1980s, from the costumes to the music to the haircuts to the personalities to the training montages. While “Glow” clearly loves the decade, it also uses the period to seriously address issues around sex and race, making a past that isn’t so long ago feel much further away.
While “Glow” is dramatic and tackles important subject matter, its humor is sharp, particularly in its witty dialogue and quirky cast of characters. While some of the drama works, it’s not as new or exciting as the comedic elements, so some things like Ruth and Debbie’s feud don’t play out as dramatically as intended. In the realm of comedies that sometimes feel like dramas, it’s way more on the comedy end, especially compared to “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent.”
Every episode has way more than a handful of laughs, particularly from Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, the smug director with an endless list of clever insults on the tip of his tongue. This is a role the comedian was probably more destined to play than he was destined to make a podcast. Maron is so good that it’s hard to tell that he’s acting. Sylvia could just be Maron’s personality, but either way he’s excellent here.
Besides the comedy, what “Glow” does best is make every character thoughtfully written. No matter how loathsome, each character has some kind of charm that will make you wish there were an episode exclusively about them. We don’t get character-centric episodes as on “Orange Is the New Black,” but there are quick reveals that show us a great deal about the characters, even if they’re only touched on briefly.
All of the characters in “Glow” are not who you think they are when you first meet them. Just as you start to really sympathize with Ruth, a big surprise about her personal life might turn you sour. The show-within-a-show’s producer, Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), comes across as a yuppie douche. And he is a yuppie douche who owns a robot full of drugs, but he also has some of the show’s most touching moments that show us he’s also a human being who cares about the women in the show he’s funding.
Among the wrestlers, standout performances include Britney Young as Carmen Wade, who’s from a wrestling family, and Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang, who takes on the seemingly impossible task of training this group of misfits to become professional wrestlers in a matter of weeks.
With an fantastic cast of diverse women, snappy dialogue, and important things to say, Netflix’s “Glow” proves that hilarious comedy can make a serious statement.
Watch the trailer for “Glow” below: