GLOW review: Alison Brie is glorious, and Netflix’s wrestling comedy a glittery gem
GLOW review: Netflix’s new comedy-drama, starring Alison Brie and Marc Maron, is a glorious mashup of what made Dangal and Chak De! India such hits.tv Updated: Jun 15, 2017 16:27 IST
Cast - Alison Brie, Marc Maron, Betty Gilpin
Rating - 4/5
In a happy surprise, it is clear that many good decisions were made while plotting out GLOW, the ‘80s-set new comedy-drama series scheduled to premiere on Netflix beginning June 23.
While making good decisions may sound, at least on paper, like an obvious requirement of producing a TV show – some would say, even the most obvious – it is almost an anomaly these days. Look no further than the most popular sitcom currently running on our screens, The Big Bang Theory, whose basic premise hinges on the decidedly terrible idea that mental illness is funny.
In GLOW, we meet Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie), a down-on-her-luck, and very much out of work actor, who can’t manage to land a cough syrup commercial let alone the Strindberg play she has delusions of being talented enough star in.
As a last resort, swallowing her pride, she takes an audition for a hush-hush new project being helmed by a Roger Corman/Dario Argento-type cult B-movie director – the sort of filmmaker who defaults to gore (and nudity) when faced with a difficult creative choice and whose films’ subtext is almost exclusively inadvertent.
GLOW – I’m not yelling, that’s just how the title is stylised – was jogging along briskly, funny when it needed to be, with characters that were treated patiently and given time to breathe and develop, and then someone made the brilliant decision to cast Marc Maron. It was followed, almost immediately, by the decision to shift focus from Alison Brie’s character, whom logic had pointed to being our heroine, and make him an equal player.
For those of you who don’t know, Maron is a veteran stand up comedian, legendary in his circle, who won the stand up comedian’s ultimate badge of honour. He got to star in a show with his name on it. Maron, the show, ended last year after a respectable four seasons.
In GLOW, Maron, the man, plays Sam Sylvia, the filmmaker, who, in a hustler’s move to fund his new movie, agrees to create a women’s wrestling show on TV. And he decides to cast it using the cheapest talent he can find, unemployed, out of shape, and buried under the weight of personal baggage as if the Big Show himself were hitching a piggy-back ride on their backs. Remember, this show is set in the ‘80s, so the characters’ personal demons don’t take the form of modern ‘issues’ such as sexual identity or body image, but less nuanced stuff, like cocaine addiction and adultery.
And so, funded by a spoilt rich brat’s money, Sylvia holds an audition to cast his wrestling show, peppering it with the most eclectic group of ladies since Netflix’s own Orange is the New Black, a show with which GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) shares executive producer Jenji Kohan.
Where it succeeds, perhaps even better than OITNB, is at how well it manages to juggle its large cast. While Alison Brie is at the front and centre of most of the drama – she was, after all, the only reason I was interested in checking GLOW out in the first place, being a fan of her previous programme Community – she’s quickly sidelined in favour of a more ensemble approach.
Think of it as Nacho Libre meets OITNB, Dangal meets Chak De! India – a grittier, and glitterier story of a group of girls trying to make it in a man’s world.
And despite the ruthless takedowns and heavy blows some of its characters deliver as they learn the art of wrestling, its subtle approach to feminism is the show’s real strength. Often, there is tendency for shows like this to – pun fully intended – stick it to the man. It is the easier, and more effective way to go about things: Add a couple of emotional speeches, perhaps even contrive a scene in which a man is given comeuppance. That usually gets the audience going. But to completely ignore the glaring patriarchy of this world, and to focus instead its characters and the story it is telling, that is brave.
And that is how GLOW carries forward the torch handed to it by shows like Girls and Broad City. It is a story about women, told by women, thoroughly unconcerned about anything other than women.
The girls don’t depend on Sam Sylvia to solve their problems. He has enough of his own. They don’t call their husbands or boyfriends for help when the going gets tough. They take matters into their own hands – even if it means stripping down to their underwear and dancing for men, and cleaning their cars. They do it not for their pleasure, but for themselves, and for each other. They are the masters of their fate. They are the makers of their own destiny.