If there is one thing Orange Is the New Black taught us, it is that a female-dominated cast doesn’t necessarily equate to a series saturated in glitz and glamour or caught-up in clichéd feminine preoccupations like boyfriends, fashion and babies. Indeed, if you are searching for a new Sex and The City or Desperate Housewives – you may want to turn away now. But Netflix’s new series GLOW delivers on so many other fronts – it’s comedy, clever characterisation and overall style – that hopefully you won’t be wondering when one of them is going to go shopping or who is going to bag a husband.
Set in 80s Los Angeles, GLOW follows a group of frustrated actresses who – struggling to make it big in Hollywood – are all cast in a female wrestling programme know as GLOW: Glamorous Ladies Of Wrestling (a real phenomenon, so I’m told). Contrary to the name, GLOW is anything but glamorous and serves as a triumphant continuation of the brash, unashamed approach to womanhood that Girls and Orange Is the New Black have so successfully nurtured. So if you are a fan of shows which unapologetically address the grittier issues of being female – you are going to love this.
It’s core strength is that it really is very funny and the kind of writing that has quite obviously come from women who understand the most excruciating aspects of their gender. The script never quite reaches full belly-laughter, but is cleverly composed with gentle continuous humour that keeps you smiling throughout, with very few obvious set-ups and gags.
Not for the easily offended, a lot of the comedy mocks the politically-incorrect morals of its characters and era – but expertly toes the line between jovial and crude. That in itself is a mean feat when one considers that a standard episode features a middle-eastern character nicknamed ‘The Terrorist’ and a black woman referred to as ‘Welfare Queen’ fighting two elderly women dressed up as members of the KKK. Truly.
Alongside the script, the strongest source of comedy comes from the unusual but powerful characterisation. Granted, you will take a while to warm to the main ‘protagonist’ Ruth (Alison Brie) as she is so self-involved and pedantic that it takes a few episodes to realise that that is the point of her character. Indeed, for the first 3-4 instalments I wanted to build a time machine for the purpose of going back to the 80s and punching Ruth in the face – with a brick. Once you have got used to her, however, Ruth becomes a source of endless entertainment and one finds oneself very attached to the way her rubbish haircut pops into people’s business at the worst times.
On the testosterone side of the ring – Marc Maron pulls one of the best appearances of the series as frustrated director Sam Sylvia. He is warm, he is funny and yet he is detestable. There is nothing on this planet that can convince me this man isn’t really a flagging, disgustingly perverted, washed-up director which I am sure he wouldn’t be overjoyed to hear, but stands as a testimony to how credible his performance is.
Meanwhile, there are other engaging performances from an eclectic line up of women that bring a sense of real diversity to GLOW’s characters. This does play slightly to the show’s disadvantage, however, as the sheer volume of characters means that some of the storylines are wrapped up messily or even not at all. Depending on who you identify with, you may find plots that you have emotionally invested in fall a little short of a convincing story arch. And it is such a shame that by having such a plethora of great characters, GLOW seems to run out of space or time to do them all justice.
But where GLOW lacks in perfect storyline, it more than makes up in wit and style. It commits wholeheartedly to its setting and the attention to detail is palpable – whether it be the spandex and sequins and vibrant makeup or the grossly decorated motel rooms and archaic sanitary products. Through this dreamlike 80s haze, GLOW manages to tackle the starker aspects of feminism in the bitter landscape of 80s Hollywood alongside motherhood, abortion, racism, class, sex and so much more. Through the eyes of characters who objectify, repress, undermine and stereotype these women, their victory becomes more than just that of some girls who boost their acting careers and this leads to an extremely satisfying, triumphant and absolutely bonkers final episode that is worth waiting for.
Does it make any life-changing perceptions on women’s culture in this setting? No. But somehow I feel GLOW only intends to touch on politics whilst maintaining emphasis on the sheer joy of the ride – and you will enjoy the ride.