My latest (and fastest) binge was GLOW, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and executive produced by Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan. It’s a show about women’s wrestling, a true story based on a group of women in a male-dominated sport in the 1980’s. My dad used to be a wrestling nut, and I was exposed to the sport as a young girl. I vaguely remember women in the ring, I am quite sure he had this very group on. So for me, this show was not only a piece of nostalgia from my own childhood, but also very much a modern dose of women’s empowerment. It’s a show about women, by women, and definitely for women.
I was hooked after seeing the first scene in episode one of the series where Ruth, played by Alison Brie, an actress, delivers a monologue in an audition and raves about the role, commenting on how few roles like this there are for women. “You’re reading the man’s part,” the casting agent replies. That night, after getting cornered by Ruth in the bathroom begging her for a role, the same agent calls Ruth and invites her to audition to an out of the ordinary show in an obscure part of Los Angeles. She tells her they are casting unconventional women.
Then we see Ruth in a gym auditioning for a new reality show about female wrestlers. She’s a classically trained actress, who’s actually into Shakespeare, and she really doesn’t want the job, but she’s broke. She’s been asking her parents for money, and she craves independence. So before we know it, she’s taking the whole experience seriously while donning capes and talking with a thick accent playing a wrestler from Russia, truly bonding with her fellow female comrades who are also developing facades while in the ring. As you know, wrestling is fake, so they basically fake their way through slaughtering each other on camera – while in between takes, making sure their teammates aren’t really getting hurt.
It’s the ensemble that makes this show unique. The cast of eccentric characters is over the top, campy fun. Ruth’s arch rival, Debbie, (we find out early on that Ruth sleeps with Debbie’s husband) is given the lead role playing Liberty Bell. There’s Sheila the She-Wolf, Cherry the trainer, Britannica, a scientist from the UK, Carmen, the neglected 25-year-old scion of a professional wrestling family, Tamee the Welfare Queen, and Beirut, a Lebanese terrorist. Marc Maron plays their fearless leader, a B-movie director, hired by a big shot producer, played by Chris Lowell. I know him from his famous podcast, which I’m a faithful listener of, and he’s brilliant in this role.
Set in 1985 in Los Angeles, GLOW is based on Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the real-life league and low-budget TV franchise that sought to cash in on that decade’s wrestlemania, which my dad was a big fan of. You can watch this documentary on Netflix. It gives the background of the series and puts the details in perspective. Not that the show needs any help, but it sure is fun seeing the real women these unique characters were based on. Phil Donahue, my favorite talk show host from the time, was a huge fan of the ladies and had them numerous times. The Netflix show replicates so much of the original era supremely well – the costumes, the hairstyles, even the show’s music (I’ll take 80’s music any day).
More than anything, this show is about female empowerment and friendship. In a world dominated by men, the women had to carve out their own place in it. They rapped to gently mock the world they had reluctantly joined. They created identities that were magnified (and put in “outer space,” according to women in the documentary) meant to get attention to what they were doing in the ring. They showed women as strong and independent during a time when women were still claiming their place in a part of the male-dominated work force. They were fierce, honest women just trying to make a living and carve out a place for them in a world they weren’t previously allowed. It’s such fun to watch these women take care of one another, both in the ring and out of the ring. This show is the ultimate definition of everything that makes me proud to be a feminist.
Disclosure: I’m a member of Netflix’s StreamTeam, but all opinions are my own.