Why you should watch Netflix’s GLOW

Larger-than-life performances make the wrestling drama a camp, theatrical delight. 

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“Are you hiring actors to play wrestlers, or are we the wrestlers?” asks struggling actress Ruth (Alison Brie). “Yes,” her director replies. Welcome to Netflix’s GLOW (that’s the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), a show within a show following a group of fictional actresses performing in a real Eighties women’s wrestling programme.

GLOW comes from the creators of Orange is the New Black, and likewise features a group of “unconventional” women and an entitled protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. Like OITNB, GLOW explores how its characters bear the burden of pigeon-holed identities – think The Breakfast Club in Spandex. “You’re a jock, you’re an Arab, you’re a big black girl,” producer Bash insists. “It’s just what I and the entire world see with our eyes. In wrestling, that is the foundation upon which we need to build.”

Such meta-commentary appears in several Netflix original series, from Master of None (with its episode “Indians on TV”) to Dear White People. OITNB – widely known to have used its white protagonists as a Trojan horse to sell the show to mainstream audiences – features a plotline, this season, about whether the rioting inmates should use a white prisoner as the face of their protest.

GLOW doesn’t always succeed; some of its jokes rest on, rather than subvert, wrestling’s brash labels. What gets you in its hold are the larger-than-life performances from the ensemble cast –  Marc Maron as the cantankerous director with “a moustache full of coke”; singer Kate Nash turning her Cockney accent up to 11 as loveable British goof Rhonda; Jackie Tohn dripping with flirtatious energy as hypersexual party girl Melrose – making the show a camp, theatrical delight. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 06 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn mania