GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
What we’re watching
We finished watching season 2 of GLOW the other night. The final image of the last ep points directly to season 3: the cast clambering on to a bus to drive to their new home in Las Vegas.
GLOW is set in the 1980s but it’s far from nostalgic. On the contrary, it’s a brilliant show for the current moment because it explores and celebrates difference and varieties of human experience in a way that arises naturally from its setting. The stroke of brilliance is that setting.
Shows about putting on a show, like GLOW, are an American showbiz trope, spanning back to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals like Babes in Arms (1939) or Babes on Broadway (1941). When Judy Garland’s character, Patsy, says in Babes in Arms, ‘We gotta have a great show, with a million laughs … and colour … and a lot of lights to make it sparkle … Oh, can’t you just see it!”, she prefigures the main plot device of GLOW, 67 years later.
But the GLOW show is a wrestling show: low rent and high camp. Its cast is a troupe of second-rate performers who congregate on the flipside of the Hollywood dream. The wrestling show recalls other milieux where society’s misfits can come together, such as the burlesque or drag club, the circus or cabaret. In such settings, characters can be eccentric, unconventional, weird — and yet loveable, compelling. They can be a range of shapes and sizes and wear motley clothes, like 80s lycra, high-cut leotards and headbands. The rules of normal life can be upended, all within the logic of the setting. This yields a rich trove of rolling stories for the show’s creators to exploit — the TV show, that is. And the creators of GLOW, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, use their setting to tell stories that touch current pressure points, like gender relations, sexuality, agency and diversity, giving the series a powerful contemporary resonance.
The storylines centre around relationships — girls and boys falling in and out of love but also the relationships between friends and between parents and children. One of the most moving scenes for me was when Debbie talks to her estranged husband, who is holding their infant son. He doesn’t offer to hand the little boy over and Debbie has to leave without holding him. I couldn’t stop thinking of how awful that would be. Tammé is also a mother, and in another scene her adult son winces as he watches her wrestle in her persona of the Welfare Queen. The fact that Tammé is participating in a racial stereotype, even one performed ironically, is complicated for them both: he doesn’t want his mother to be humiliated, she doesn’t want him to embarrassed by her. All this is communicated by their glances at each other while she is in the ring. These small moments contrast with the silliness of the wrestling routines and the costumes to foster sympathy and identification with the show’s characters. The setting is both absurd and recognisably the everyday world.
One of the advantages of going back to the 1980s is the power ballads blasting out to finish each ep. We loved hearing Starship’s banger ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ while the gorgeous ladies boarded the bus en route for series 3. We were impressed by how the closing tracks were synced to the closing scene, and then played out over the final credits. Smart production. No one ever has the budget to do that in Australia.
GLOW is streaming on Netflix.