GLOW…It’s tempting to dismiss “Glow”‘s critical praise as “Well, it’s a show about female empowerment, did you really think critics were going to shit on it?” But its larger empowerment themes are actually just sweet icing on an excellently acted, well-scripted, crisply directed cake that seems to have an actual narrative that’s actually going somewhere. [I would argue that too many comedies don’t, which is why today’s praised sitcom usually struggles to grow in season two.]
One of the most immediate things you notice about the series is that it looks incredible. As well-scripted as Jenji Kohan’s other Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” is, it’s often visually flat (same for her first series “Weeds”), but “Glow” practically jumps off the screeen with a new millennium look—you might see quality this good in any higher-end indie—contrasted beautifully with meticulous 80’s period detail. [To me, this is a more accurate period recreation of the “excess decade” than “The Americans,” which too often looks like the blandest of washed-out early 00’s.]
The second is the incredible cast. I’ll admit that I hadn’t really heard of Betty Gilpin before her one-two punch this year in “American Gods” (as a cheated on wife) and her very different work here as a similarly cheated-on soap actress struggling her way towards triumph as the star of a wrestling showcase. Even if you know “Mad Men”‘s Alison Brie can act, it still may come as a shock to see her pairing her “Community” character’s perkiness with the sympathetic desperation of a struggling actress who may actually be talented, even if that’s the last thing casting directors are looking for. That primal fear of knowing what you were meant to do but being afraid you won’t get to do it powers nearly every scene, and gives even her most cringe-inducing moments (schtick-ing it up at a Russian wedding or getting her ass kicked in the pilot episode) a relatability that may surprise you.
Of course, that’s to say nothing of the ace supporting cast. Marc Maron is the show’s only truly significant male character, and he never dials down the smart-ass unlikability long enough to allow his has-been director to become pathetic (this is actually a good thing). On some level, you feel this is a man who knows how to direct in his bones—despite most of his schlocky films being like an 80’s Ed Wood—even if his inarticulate anger keeps sabotaging him. And you’ll have your own favorites among the supporting lady wrestlers, but I liked Kate Nash’s “Britannica” (wrestling persona’s “the smartest woman in the world” solely because she has a British accent and access to glasses), Britney Young’s sweetly towering “Machu Picchu,” Sunita Mani’s “terrorist” “Beirut” because she’s Indian and looks the closest to Arabian, and Kia Stevens uproarious “Welfare Queen” the living embodiment of a Reagan nightmare stereotype.
Even as “GLOW” has fun with the stereotypes of the 80’s era, you may wonder if the pot smoking, rap-sheeted rappers of “Atlanta” or the “she devil” white woman luring a black male sucker to his doom in “Get Out” are really that much of an improvement despite their creator’s intentions. “GLOW” is smart enough to not just pay lip-service to breaking stereotypes by existing, but to actually break them. A pretty empowering thing for a series to do. Grade for Season One: A-