I really enjoyed Netflix’s ’80s wrestling comedy GLOW, which our team of wrestling writers from With Spandex have been doing a fantastic job covering, including a primer on the real GLOW, a long talk with Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, and Brie on the real-life inspiration for her wrestling persona.
(Incidentally, if you’re a With Spandex reader encountering me for the first time, hi. I don’t generally write about wrestling, but in high school, my best friend Mike and I used to improvise comedy sketches where Ax and Smash from Demolition hosted a talk show called Intellectual Wrestling. These days, the focus is more on stuff like Game of Thrones and the latest Netflix release.)
Their work has been so exhaustive that anything more I do feels redundant, but I wanted an excuse to write a bit more about one of the most fun shows I’ve watched in a while, and to create another place for people who have seen the whole season to talk about it. So coming up — with spoilers for the entire season throughout — are 10 moments I particularly enjoyed, just as soon as I fill your swimming pools with borscht…
Ruth and Debbie battle in reality, and in Sam’s mind.
With the central friendship-gone-bad between Ruth and Debbie, GLOW smartly blurs the lines between the fake wrestling storylines and the actual drama going on between the characters. And though it’s going to take the women most of the season to become even passable wrestlers, the creators also understand that they have to give the audience a taste of the real thing early on, which leads to the first episode’s climactic intermingling of the actual clumsy and emotionally brutal fight between the two women, and Sam’s fantasy conception of what GLOW could become with the right training, and the right direction by him. Plus, “Separate Ways” is never not an excellent soundtrack choice, whether for a period piece or not.
Bash has a robot.
Bash becomes useful in all kinds of ways, particularly in how he and Carmen wind up bonding over their fear of disappointing their impressive parents, but I’m not sure anything Bash-related can top the introduction of his drug-dispensing robot at the party he invites all the women to. Yes, many ’80s stories have robots, and many others have cocaine, but how many ’80s stories have cocaine in a robot? I’m as excited about it as Melrose was.
Sheila is grateful Ruth called her a wolf.
There are so many women in the cast, and so much time is spent on Ruth, Debbie, and Sam, that a number of the wrestlers will have to wait til season two to get their moment. (I think, for instance, that Sunita Mani’s Arthie is a college student, but only because we see her with a textbook in one scene where Justine is trying to flirt with the pizza boy, and I only even know Arthie’s name because I looked it up.) But the season did very well by several of the supporting characters who at first seemed destined to just be sight gags, and particularly Gayle Rankin’s Sheila the She Wolf, who has joined GLOW not for the attention or adventure like a lot of her co-stars, but because it’s a place where she doesn’t have to feel like a freak. That desire is nicely crystallized in the fourth episode when she’s relieved to hear a frustrated Ruth refer to her as “You goddamn wolf,” because it means Ruth has accepted Sheila for who and what she thinks she is. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Ruth finds her character.
The early episodes spend so much time teasing Ruth’s search for her wrestling persona that there’s a risk of the final choice being a disappointment. Instead, her Soviet caricature, Zoya the Destroyer, is an utter delight from the moment she debuts her at the Patio Town ribbon-cutting ceremony. Zoya is both totally ’80s and an outsized persona that Alison Brie clearly has a ball playing every time Ruth has to get into character. “In Soviet Union, we have one chair. We take turns to sit in it. You miss your turn, too bad. You sit on floor for rest of year!”
“This is a soap opera!”
Where Ruth throws herself into the job from the start, Debbie half-asses her way through it at first, stealing the Liberty Belle gimmick from one of the other women and barely bothering with rehearsal because she finds the whole thing beneath her. Then Carmen takes her and Melrose out to a local wrestling show, and the Eureka moment where Debbie realizes how much her new job has with her old one is perfect, down to her decision to have sex with Steel Horse as revenge on her cheating husband.
If an ’80s movie didn’t have a robot and/or cocaine, it sure as hell had a training montage scored to a hard rock song. So it was only a matter of time before GLOW gave us one, with Carmen’s brothers helping Ruth and Debbie up their games, accompanied by Stan Bush’s other song from 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. “The Touch” is more famous because of the Dirk Diggler cover, but “Dare” works just fine as the women go from clumsy amateurs to high-flying approximations of the real thing.
The entire first show
Okay, so I’m cheating here. But I couldn’t pick just one moment from the first live GLOW performance in the seventh episode, which has a ton of Zoya at her most obnoxiously Russian, Carmen getting stage fright, Cherry convincing the two hairdressers to dress up in KKK robes (and that idea igniting the crowd for the first time), and Rhonda’s “Super Bowl Shuffle”-style rap song saving the day when Debbie panics and bolts in the middle of the final match. It’s both wildly entertaining and a strong way for the show to advance a bunch of character arcs (Cherry’s frustration at the way Sam is using her, Carmen’s anxiety, etc.) while doing a dry run for what we’ll see in the finale.
Justine becomes Marty McFly.
I’m picking so many wrestling moments that I fear I’m short-changing Marc Maron’s charmingly sleazy work as Sam, who has a lot of great bits throughout, like showing Ruth the theater where he wants to film the pilot, or posing as Ruth’s husband when she goes for an abortion. But one of his best, and one of the season’s best combinations of comedy and pathos, comes when Sam — depressed to learn that Back to the Future beat his time-traveling incest story Mothers and Lovers to the punch — inadvertently acts out an idea from his own movie (and from BTTF) when he tries to kiss Justine, not realizing that she’s the daughter he didn’t know he had. It’s a deliberately awkward moment, but also sets up some good character growth for Sam in the finale.
Goliath cheers for Machu Picchu.
Britney Young has such a warm and endearing screen presence, and Carmen is written as such a genuinely nice person, that you just want something good to happen to her by the finale, and it winds up being the best possible thing: getting the father who didn’t want her in the family business to cheer her on until she’s able to shake off her stage fright and put on a good match against Tamee as the Welfare Queen. The season occasionally teases a Carmen/Bash romance (and a Ruth/Sam one, for that matter), but the writers understand that in the story they’re telling, Carmen’s happy ending doesn’t involve a handsome boyfriend, but her getting her father’s approval as she kicks some ass in the ring.
The final match is a work.
Hey, they suckered me in, too. I mean, I figured Debbie and Ruth would wind up wrestling in the finale (accompanied by another great ’80s soundtrack choice in Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”), given all the build-up across the season, but I assumed it would be more of an impromptu bit where Debbie watches the rest of the pilot and realizes she really enjoys this stuff, even if Mark disapproves. Instead, it turns out she and Ruth have been preparing this the whole time without telling Sam or anyone else, with Debbie even wearing her Liberty Belle costume under her street clothes. It’s a nice surprise, and then cleverly compounded when Sam springs his own late twist on everyone by having Welfare Queen steal the belt at the last second. GLOW is formulaic in a lot of ways — it’s a fundamental part of the show’s charm — but like a good wrestling card, it also knows when to pull the rug out from under the audience.
What did everybody else think? What were your favorite moments? And which characters and rivalries would you like to see more of in a second season?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com