A Note From Joe Brown: As the resident pro wrestling nerd at Off The Record, this week I’ll be taking a look at the newly-released Netflix series “GLOW.” Loosely based on the late ‘80s pro wrestling promotion GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), I’ll run down two episodes at a time for the 10-episode first season.
For more on the real-life GLOW, check out the documentary on Netflix before checking out the series.
Today, we’ll look at episode one (“Pilot”) and two (“Slouch. Submit.”)
Recite “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” in a wrestling ring and you’ll get the weirdest interpretation of Tennessee Williams in your life.
Ruth Wilder haplessly goes for this strategy during her first foray into wrestling practice in the pilot episode of “GLOW.”
Trying to put high-brow stage acting into what is perceived as one of the lowest forms of entertainment is an idea that doesn’t quite work for Ruth. But in reality, “GLOW” manages to find this delicate balance. It makes an oft-mocked entertainment form and makes it dramatic, makes it fun, makes it cringe-worthy without insulting professional wrestling, which is usually a low-hanging fruit that no one is able to resist.
And with a main character like Ruth Wilder, played by Alison Brie, it’s by taking something so silly so serious because there is no way she can half-ass it. In the pilot of “GLOW,” we find out that Ruth has $83 in her bank account, her last few meals has been nothing but Cinnamon Toast Crunch and she just got offered porn because she’s a struggling actor and of course.
And her desperation goes deeper than that. Thanks to alcohol the first time and self-loathing the second time, Ruth sleeps with her best friend’s husband as the friend, former soap star Debbie Eagan, is at home caring for her newborn child.
Look, you can study Audrey Hepburn and Meryl Streep all you want, but a girl’s gotta eat. Enter the world of professional wrestling with a B-movie director and a man-child with an open checkbook. Even today, the idea of an all-women professional wrestling circuit going on cable TV is a near impossibility. WWE is just now making women’s wrestling a priority.
Right away, Marc Maron’s character of director Sam Sylvia is trying the same thing Ruth is: Incorporating his vision into something that inherently clashes with it. This guy has a filmography like Ed Wood or Donald G. Jackson and is so low on tact that in episode two, Sam refers to a miscarriage as a “Womb goof.” To a woman who he offered an audition to because they used to party back in the late ’70s. And the child might have been his.
Like one character says in the second episode: “Who doesn’t trust a man with a mustache full of coke?”
The first two episodes of “GLOW” is about the feeling-out process. We’re dealing with an ensemble cast that includes a serious stunt woman trying to find real work (Cherry), a large black woman who gets cast as the Welfare Queen (Tamme), a spoiled woman straight off of Sunset Boulevard (Melrose) and a strange woman who honest to God wants to be a wolf before the idea of furries joined the pop culture lexicon (Sheila).
It’ll be a painful work in progress, but Sam thinks he has his main-event rivalry. Even after dismissing her, Ruth keeps coming to wrestling practice to try and win Sam over, going so far as to watch clips of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. You know, studying the greats. Then at the end of the first episode, Debbie storms into the gym and attacks Ruth after her husband Mark confesses to cheating. Ruth tries to unsuccessfully play it off as a ruse in the second episode.
Drugs may have played a role, but Sam sees a panicked Ruth as a cowardly heel and Debbie, who isn’t even a part of GLOW, as the conquering hero in a spacey daydream (“A vision before a seizure,” as Sam puts it) set to Journey’s “Separate Ways.” Ruth made a terrible real-life decision, but doesn’t want to be a bad guy in reality and in wrestling. But, Sam knows she can get people to boo her. And the best way he can put it, at the end of the second episode, “The Devil gets the best lines.”
Look, it’s not Tennessee Williams, but “GLOW” has its own form of storytelling. And through the mishaps of her personal life, Ruth, Sam and the rest of the crew have all the drama they need.
Episode 1 & 2 observations
- Wrestling nods: The gym is named Chavo’s, which is a reference to Chavo Guerrero of the famous Guerrero family. In the real-life GLOW, Mando Guerrero was the original trainer of the women. The women’s first trainer in the show is played by Lucha Underground star Johnny Mundo, and Tamme is portrayed by Kia Stevens, who was known in pro wrestling as Awesome Kong and Kharma.
- The neon lights intro in the pilot episode is pure ’80s nostalgia. Crappy graphics will always have a place in my heart.
- Sheila uses a head shot of a wolf in her resume. All I could think of is Charlie Kelly in “Always Sunny” using a photo of Bruce Jenner as his resume.
- Sam’s manipulation of Ruth is next level. He knows she is all about serious acting, and Ruth is apprehensive about Sam and Bash (the producer) approaching Debbie to join GLOW. How do you get Ruth to do what you want? Remind her that Gene Kelly had the flu during the title song performance in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Suck it up, Ruth.
- No Alison Brie role can make me forget Annie Edison from “Community.” So when Ruth gets emotional and starts fluttering her eyes, all I can hear is Joel telling everyone in the study group to avoid Annie’s “Disney face.”