GLOW: Netflix’s 80s Wrestling Drama Is A Surprise Knockout

GLOW on Netflix

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Published on

Big hair, neon and a whole lot of spandex: the colourful kitsch of the 80s women’s wrestling scene might seem like a bizarre starting point for Netflix’s latest female-fronted drama, but we can guarantee that GLOW will be this summer’s breakthrough binge-watch (heatwave be damned).

Before all ten episodes arrive online this Friday, here's everything you need to know...

It’s about women’s wrestling. But don’t let that put you off

GLOW on Netflix
GLOW on Netflix ©Netflix

From the synth-heavy soundtrack to the costumes and beyond, GLOW has shades of your favourite guilty-pleasure dance movies of the period. Alison Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress whose last-ditch attempt at success leads her to try out for an all-female wrestling league. Think along the lines of Flashdance's underdog story, transposed into the hyper-camp world of wrestling. And then add more spandex, a diverse and engaging cast and a very 21st century approach to female empowerment.

GLOW puts female talent first, on-screen and off

Just like Orange Is The New Black before it, GLOW is the latest Netflix show to showcase exciting female talents both on-screen and behind the camera. Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the show's co-creators and co-producers have plenty of experiencing crafting women characters that women actually want to watch: they first worked together on Nurse Jackie, while Mensch is a veteran of OITNB. Jenji Kohan, also of the parish of Litchfield, was also brought on board as executive producer. The OITNB influence can be seen, too, in GLOW's diverse ensemble cast.

Alison Brie gets the lead role she deserves

Alison Brie in Glow
Alison Brie in Glow ©Netflix

She's best known for roles in US shows like Mad Men and Community, but GLOW marks 34-year-old Alison Brie's biggest role to date. As Ruth, she's by turns a sympathetic outsider and an utterly infuriating mess of contradictions, a self-styled 'serious' thespian whose wrestling audition involves a bizarre riff on Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof that's reminiscent of a GCSE Drama piece (as with OITNB, the show is a high-low mish-mash of cultural references).

It’s (loosely) based on a real life show

While the characters and storylines are pure fiction, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (a name that surely exemplifies 'acceptable in the 80s') was a real TV show that aired on Saturday mornings from 1986 to 1990, cashing in on the success of the WWF franchise. Showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch were inspired after watching GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a 2012 documentary.

Just like the characters (and, to further add a meta dimension, the cast) of Netflix's GLOW, the real life 'gorgeous ladies' were mainly actresses who'd learned to wrestle for the job, who often took on dubiously stereotyped personas relating to their ethnicity. The cookie-cutter, all-American WASPy types would be the heroines; anyone who didn't fit this mould would be sold to the audience as a villain.

The cast went to wrestling boot camp (and did all their own stunts...)

GLOW on Netflix
GLOW on Netflix ©Netflix

When it came to the show’s numerous fight scenes, authenticity was key: stunt doubles weren’t an option. Chavo Guerrero Jr, a third-gen professional wrestler, was brought on board to train up the cast, helping them to acquire 'basic ring knowledge' as well as assisting with the execution of specific scenes and routines. The former WWE champion has a family connection to the project: his uncle, Mando Guerrero, trained the real-life female wrestlers ahead of GLOW's first season.

Unlike Girlboss, GLOW gets the female empowerment theme right

The less said about the faux-empowerment of Netflix's Girlboss, the comedy-drama loosely based on the real-life rise and fall of Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso, the better. GLOW offers a more nuanced (and, thankfully, less patronising) take on gender politics – something that, despite the feminist-friendly marketing spiel, we didn’t quite expect from a campy show about (admittedly kickass) female wrestlers. The 80s setting inevitably calls for uber-kitsch costumes, retro neon graphics and Van Halen references (and hair styles), but the era’s less-than-PC sexual and racial mores allow the show to engage in some subtle social commentary.

From the off, there are plenty of points when you’ll find yourself questioning, thirty years down the line, how much has actually changed. GLOW’s first scene sees Ruth passionately deliver her lines in an audition, then tell the (female) casting directors how rare it is to find ‘roles like this for women right now.’ With grim inevitability, Ruth is told she’s been reading the man’s lines: she is meant to be testing for the monosyllabic secretary role.

Kate Nash makes her Netflix debut

Kate Nash in Glow
Kate Nash in Glow ©Netflix

Way back in 2007, when you teamed your lumpy vintage tea dress with coloured woolly tights and an unshakeable certainty that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat were the saviours of British guitar music, Kate Nash’s second single 'Foundations' brought us the immortal rhyme: ‘You said I must eat so many lemons ‘cause I am so bitter / I said “I’d rather be with your friends, mate, ‘cause they are much fitter.”’ Fast-forward ten years and the BRIT School alumna is appearing in GLOW as Rhonda, an out-of-work model and the wrestling group’s token Londoner. It’s not her first time at the acting rodeo, either: Nash appeared in Powder Room, a Brit comedy starring Sheridan Smith that’s set in the girls’ bathroom of a nightclub, back in 2013 and first worked with exec producer Jenji Kohan on The Devil You Know, a TV movie taking place in New England during the infamous Salem witch trials.

Here's the trailer...

GLOW launches globally on Netflix on June 23rd

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