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 three (“The Wrath of Kuntar”) and four (“The Dusty Spur”).
Wrestling’s about over-the-top characters. Everyday life, that’s about being comfortable with who you are.
In the third episode of “GLOW,” we see the women start to find their identities while the director Sam Sylvia struggles with his vision on the show. Then in the fourth episode, there’s more identity struggles namely for Carmen and our she-wolf Sheila.
GLOW’s producer, Sebastian Howard, AKA Bash, joins the fray, but the way he wants the show to run is more akin to traditional professional wrestling. Good guy vs. Bad guy. Black and white. Stereotypical characters.
The way Bash describes it, he wants GLOW to be different from something like the WWE in the same way that “Ms. Pac-Man is different from Pac-Man.”
When you’re dealing with the director of such films as “Blood Disco,” “Venus in Chains” and “Gina the Machina,” you’re not getting simple change.
Part of it is from recruiting actresses as opposed to actual wrestlers, but the biggest part is Sam is all about storytelling in his own twisted B-movie way. When asking the girls what they want to give the audience, the first two answers are “Blood. T–s.” Sam’s idea: “Storytelling.”
Sam’s idea is more like “Barbarella” or “Hell Comes to Frogtown,” where the ring is filled with post-apocalyptic nonsense. But this is the ‘80s, and after a stereotypical ‘80s house party complete with a drug-filled robot, Sam relents and we get stereotypical characters.
Sam’s image will never work in the world of pro wrestling. He wants to make a decadent dessert with his bizarre ingredients. Wrestling is saccharin, filled with caricatures like Fortune Cookie (the Asian wrestler), Beirut the Bomber (the Middle Eastern villain) and Scab (the punk rocker).
The one left without a wrestling character: Ruth. A common wrestling bullet point on characters is to play yourself with the volume up to an 11. So, after her real-life mistake, Ruth tries playing The Homewrecker. It’s a brutal realization for Ruth that she’s been ridiculed from Debbie, Sam and Bash for actually wrecking a home. Then when she tries to turn it on its face, they don’t see her being able to pull it off. She buys in and they decide against it. Crushing.
Someone who is comfortable in her identity is Sheila, and we see that in the start of episode four. However, the she-wolf isn’t her gimmick. It’s her life. The episode opens up with a short-hair blonde Sheila putting on her frazzled wig, coloring her teeth yellow and splotching on her eye makeup.
Sheila’s a freak to everyone in GLOW and really, everyone in the real world. But she’s who she wants to be. After the group is moved to the run-down Dusty Spur hotel, Sheila finally confides to Ruth that she’s worn her wolf get-up for five years. It’s not a costume. Spiritually, she’s a wolf. For a character that is so brazen, it’s an eye-opener to know that she is not acting and despite the glares, she’s comfortable in her own skin.
On the other end of the spectrum, Carmen is trying to become comfortable in who she is. Namely, she loves wrestling and she comes from a wrestling lineage. However, her famous dad, Goliath Jackson, and pro wrestling brothers berate her for being in the ring.
They tell Carmen that women’s wrestling is a freak show akin to midget wrestling. And sadly, that was the image of women’s wrestling up until the ‘80s, when Wendy Richter helped make women’s wrestling mainstream when she was paired with Cyndi Lauper at Wrestlemania I.
Bash sees the love Carmen has for wrestling, much the same way he does, going as far as planting a kiss on Carmen and saying the two are in a relationship.
Ruth gets the emotional moments throughout the series, but Carmen is the heart of “GLOW.” She’s not doing it because she needs to make it somewhere. Carmen loves it. She goes so far as to tell her dad that “You can be supportive or I can leave. Like Mom.”
Sure, Sheila and Carmen want to be over-the-top wrestling characters. What they want more, though, is to be accepted. Both women took a big step forward in that department.
Episode 3 & 4 observations
- Wrestling nods: Two more cameos came up in episode four, with former WWE stars Brodus Clay and Carly Colon, AKA Carlito, playing Carmen’s brothers, known as the Lumberjacksons. Carlito is looking a lot more buff and a lot different facially without his scraggly beard.
- The new characters have several nods to the real-life GLOW. Namely, Carmen takes on the persona of Machu Picchu, which is like the real-life Mt. Fuji, who was one of the GLOW standouts. Even something as ridiculous as Ethel and Edna, a pair of pro wrestling grandmas, was done in the real GLOW as The Housewives, Arlene and Phyllis.
- Only in the world of professional wrestling would an Olympic athlete get shoehorned into a foreign gimmick. That’s what happens here as Reggie becomes Vicky the Viking. And who gets her Olympic medals? Debbie, who becomes the All-American girl, Liberty Belle.
- Favorite line in these two episodes: As Melrose practices her match with Rhonda, AKA Britannica, the smartest woman in the world, Melrose gets smacked by a text book. Melrose blurts out, “Stop hitting me with knowledge.”
- Bash and Sam remind me that I don’t get art. Bash has paintings on his wall that look like Michael Jackson and Dolph Lundgren. Later on, we see Bash and Ruth staring at a “deep” art piece, which is a neon light that says “NEON.” Then, when describing Sam’s filmography, Justine goes full fangirl, complementing the director for his “Surrealist quality” and how one of his movies depicted the “Limitations of feminism and nuclear power.” … What?