Written by Melissa Jouben
My initial impressions of GLOW based mostly on the plot synopsis was very positive. The idea of a television show centered on the backstage world of professional wrestling has been shockingly overlooked, given the fact it seems to be more popular than ever, and as a woman who grew up enjoying wrestling this show sits at a near-perfect crossroads of my interests. It’s a comedy about professional wrestling, starring a diverse and mostly female cast? I was on board with this from the moment it was greenlit!
For the entirety of the first episode, we hear other characters telling Ruth (Alison Brie) constantly how “real” she is, but we never get the opportunity to personally see it and, personally, I don’t initially buy it. I don’t think Ruth sees it, either. A casting director tells her she’s the kind of “real” actress movie directors think they’re looking for (until they see her and realize they don’t), and the man she sleeps with tells her this several times during sex. But whereas these characters seem to think of her as centered or maybe in-tune with herself, all we see is a grown woman borrowing money from her parents for what she claims will be the last time, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch for every meal, making her instructor fall asleep during line reading class, and sleeping with her best friend’s husband. She is clearly passionate about acting, but the biggest thing holding her back from achieving meaningful success is herself.
The name Ruth is kind of fitting for her; she’s ruthless, but not in a positive sense. She’s driven entirely by desperation and neediness, a desire to be liked and to be validated, and she’ll stop at almost nothing for it. Her best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin), a former actress who happily left the profession to get married and start a family, urges Ruth to rethink her priorities and maybe even follow her own life path. Ruth is just barely able to decline her suggestion with politeness.Instead she goes home and has sex with Debbie’s husband.
Right as she appears to be at the end of her rope, Ruth gets a phone call from the casting director she earlier accosted in a bathroom (to ask for feedback on how to be more likeable and therefore land more acting jobs, naturally) telling her about an open casting call for “unconventional women.” Ruth shows up without any trepidation and learns that the casting is for a new show called GLOW – Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The actresses are the wrestlers. The wrestlers are actresses. Ruth is desperate and continues on, despite the fact that one of the masterminds behind GLOW, Sam (Marc Maron) sees right through Ruth and is unimpressed. Or maybe he doesn’t see through her, but he’s still unimpressed. It’s unclear, but what IS clear is that Ruth is approaching the whole thing with her trademark sense of desperation, and it isn’t winning her any favors in Sam’s eyes.
Ruth’s efforts to be liked and stay liked throughout the episode are so embarrassing to watch that they’re almost painful. When Sam cuts Ruth during rehearsals as punishment for trying to add flourish to her performance and improvise a ridiculous backstory that her character is in trouble for stealing a loaf of bread, you’re almost glad that the characters in the show hated the whole thing as much as you did. And when she goes home to study professional wrestling and comes back the next day in full costume, reciting a monologue from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in the style of Hulk Hogan, you can appreciate what she’s going for while also wanting her to stop, immediately. Fortunately her drive to be liked wins her a part on the show, but not because she impresses anyone with her performance or her stage presence.
Instead, her show is cut short by her best friend Debbie, who has learned that Ruth slept with her husband Mark (Rich Sommer, one of Alison Brie’s Mad Men co-stars). Debbie is furious and storms the gym to confront Ruth, who is downright resistant to the idea of any real confrontation. As Sam watches Debbie enter the ring and decide the only way she’ll feel better is to kick Ruth’s ass, he begins to daydream about the two of them as professional Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – in full costume, surrounded by screaming fans. It seems like the chemistry between these two women is exactly what he’s been looking for, and as Ruth looks at Sam while Debbie pins her to the ring, she can tell she’s finally going to get that validation she was after, just not the way she wanted it.
Debbie’s entrance is a little bit of a dues ex machina moment, although I’ve always taken the stance that dues ex machina is a fine device, as long as the payoff is satisfying. And I think that watching Debbie kick Ruth’s ass was satisfying for two reasons; one, of course, is that we really wanted to see it. The other is that it helps give you just that much more insight into Ruth’s personality. It would have made way more sense for Ruth to take advantage of this situation and demonstrate her physical prowess to impress Sam by actively fighting back.
The bottom line is that Ruth was too concerned with saving face in public wherever and however she can and appearing to be a good person not only to Debbie but to all the onlookers. Ruth isn’t just desperate to be liked – she’s terrified of being disliked. Ruth has a lot of drive and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed as an actress, and I wonder if that her interest in acting wasn’t borne out of her contempt for being herself, her fear of ACTUALLY being “real.”
By the end of the first episode we haven’t seen much wrestling but we’ve got enough of a backstory to know where this series is going to go. It’s clearly going to have a heavy focus on the two soon-to-be-stars of GLOW, Debbie and Ruth, but I hope that some of the women introduced in this episode will get their own opportunities to take the lead and shine as much as they did with their limited screen time.
One character I’m particularly excited to see more of is Carmen (Britney Young), the daughter of a professional wrestling legend and part of a wrestling dynasty that reminded me a bit of the Anoa’i family.
It’s also not clear whether we’ll end the series with GLOW matchups featuring the wrestlers in all their costumed glory, or if we’ll continue to only be teased through short daydreams and flash forwards. Unfortunately I’m a sucker for everything this show is setting up – the wrestling, the character development, the chemistry between actors, the badass women – so they can tease me all they want, I’m going to watch either way.