In 1985 the pilot for the first women’s wrestling show, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.), was filmed. The show featured colourful costumes, glitter, and comic strip type heroes and villains, but according to the wrestlers, it was much more than that.
G.L.O.W. was the first wrestling show that empowered women, putting them in the centre of the ring. Prior to the television hit, women’s matches were rare, and when they were used, it was to sell tickets and get more audience members into seats. But that all changed with G.L.O.W.
It was a small, low budget show, but it managed to get an hour time slot every week, where it poked fun at important topics such as economics and the cold war repression. It was outrageously politically incorrect but kept viewers entertained.
While the shows were an act, the hard work and sacrifice the actresses/athletes put into them certainly weren’t. The women’s wrestling show put the ladies through emotionally and physically demanding work that wouldn’t fly in this day and age. The ladies had a curfew and were fined if they broke it, they were expected to call each other by their show names at all times, the good characters were not allowed to mingle with the bad, and to top it all off, the showrunners used harsh criticism and humiliation of the women’s physiques as a motivational tool. They worked their butts off in a dingy blood stained ring and went home to their ‘Camp G.L.O.W.’ apartments sore and stiff. In fact, the show was so harsh the women’s wrestling coach even grabbed one of the actresses who was acting up and put her in a sleeper hold that rendered her unconsious.
G.L.O.W. had 500 matches in total and was cancelled in 1990 at the height of its popularity. Sure, the first women’s wrestling show was harsh and gritty, but it was also a glamorous success that no one saw coming.
Now, thirty-two years after the G.L.O.W. was first filmed, Netflix is bringing us a comedy-drama series inspired by the ladies wrestling sensation of the 80s. Co-created by showrunners Liz Flahive (Homeland) and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black), Glow brings a kick-ass and empowering story that shows off some stellar costumes and powerful performances. Glow is certainly one to watch, but it does have its downfalls. Veering heavily on the side of comedy, the show failed to deliver meaningful and likeable characters and brushed over what could have been a powerful insight into the reality of what took place behind the screen.
Glow showed off a stellar performance from their leads, Alison Brie (Community) who played the wannabee actress Ruth, Betty Gilpin (True Story) who played Ruth’s former best friend Debbie, and Marc Maron (Almost Famous) who played the washed-up Hollywood director Sam Sylvia. While the acting and elaborate costumes are something to behold, what is truly impressive about the first season of Glow, is that it manages to walk the fine line between showing off the over-the-top wrestling personas and costumes that were a big part of the original television production, whilst managing to avoid tripping into cheesiness. Not only did the show manage to give the wrestling scene dignity, it also succeeded in making its subject interesting, even to those who were never fans of, or understood the intrigue behind pro-wrestling.
While Glow was an enjoyable watch, its characters lacked a depth that would enable audiences to connect with them. The show’s main character Ruth was more irritating than likeable, as was her best friend turned enemy Debbie whose personal issues were the forefront for most of the season. While the show introduced characters that were diverse and started off intriguing, they never got a chance to truly shine. This was especially obvious in the case of Sheila the She Wolf (Gayle Rankin), who felt the need to wear elaborate clothing and had personal space issues, but the show never gave us a reason why.
Another impressive aspect of the show was the fact that it utilised real life events that were said to have taken place behind the scenes of the 80s show, giving audiences a taste of the curfew imposed on the women, and some of the sexist remarks they were dealt with. However, what let the show down was that, in many cases, it opted to take a light-hearted approach and failed to truly represent the emotional and physical hardship that went into the ladies performances. Netflix uses the 80s show as inspiration, so it is under no obligation to recreate what actually happened. In saying that, the series could have had a stronger emotional impact if it loosened up on some of the trivial drama, to make way for some real-life insight into the physical and emotional strain that came hand in hand with being a woman wrestler in the 80s.
All in all, Netflix’s Glow is a must watch. Despite its heavy comedic lean and somewhat unlikable characters, the show manages to give an inspiring and empowering look at the world of women’s wrestling, giving an insight into the evolution of a sport that was dominated by males.