A recurring lesson of the new Platinum Age of Television is that the best shows make you care about things you don’t care about. Such is the case with Netflix’s Glow, an eighties period piece about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I hated the eighties and typically bounce hard off wrestling, but Glow transforms unlikely subject matter into a funny, inspiring journey.
Aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) can’t catch a break, caught in a dispiriting cycle of rejection as she auditions repeatedly for tiny roles of no substance. Even so, she doggedly pursues her dream, a never-say-die spirit that carries over when a casting director takes pity on her, sending her to an unusual open call in the San Fernando Valley. There, scumbag director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) is rather dismissively developing a wrestling show called G.L.O.W., the coked-up brainchild of trust-fund kid Bash (Chris Lowell). A disgruntled never-was whose filmmaking career never took off, Sam is a sexist Hollywood relic repulsed by Ruth’s enthusiasm and ambition. But when her best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin) crashes the audition to confront her for sleeping with her husband, Ruth slowly starts to worm her way onto Sam’s radar, joining a misfit troupe of amateur wrestlers in an unlikely attempt to produce a new hit.
Glow is gleefully, shamelessly eighties, leaning into atrocious fashions and period trends that conjure an atmosphere reminiscent of the raunchy teen comedies of the time. But for all the grubby trappings, it has surprising heart; once you dig past the crass D-list surface of this historical corner of Hollywood, you’ll find relatable, sympathetic characters struggling mightily to make lives for themselves. At the center of it all is Brie, who sinks so whole-heartedly into her role that she even manages to sell the script’s attempts to paint her as plain and unattactive. Ruth is energetic, strident, lonely, annoying, desperate, and quirky all at once, thanks largely to Brie’s full-speed-ahead approach. She should have an Emmy nomination in a choke-hold, but Marc Maron should also receive consideration for his convincingly sleazy support as Sam, a bargain-basement hack with an overinflated ego. Sam is a villainous sexist, but Maron plays him with a deft touch, dry deliveries and sardonic expressions hinting at the frustrated sensitivities and pseudo-injustices that fuel his repulsive, entitled behavior. If anyone feels wholly realistic to the scenario, it’s Maron, who feels plucked out of time for this part. Betty Gilpin, meanwhile, shouldn’t be overlooked as Debbie, a former soap star who left the business to be a mother, only to return to the spotlight in this unlikely new corner of show biz. Gilpin doesn’t match her co-stars’ flashiness, but brings charming, subtle depth to her character, and some of her line deliveries are absolutely priceless.
This core trio is surrounded by entertaining characters played by the likes of Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Kate Nash, Sunita Mani, Brit Baron, and Ellen Wong, among others, and somehow their ensemble talents make the origins of a crappy TV show feel like an epic, inspiring undertaking. It’s a terrific vehicle for female acting talent in the vein of Orange is the New Black, but without that show’s troublesome undercurrent of exploiting and wallowing in its characters’ misfortunes. Glow shoots for a more positive message, and the results are hilarious and uplifiting.