In one of the most laugh-out-loud scenes from the first two episodes of Glow, the #Netflix original series which is also a thirteen-part ad for the day-glo joys of hairspray and spandex, a woman's abortion is described by a man as a "womb goof." He's awkward, and he should be — he was the third party in a threesome which may have been responsible for that womb goof.
Just in case peak discomfort hadn't already been achieved, the whole conversation is overheard by a borderline-stranger in a toilet cubicle, and then turned into a grand opera in the middle of a wrestling ring... with a bottle of ketchup.
This is the slightly absurd and consistently delightful world of #Glow, a comedy-drama based loosely on the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, but given a strong feminist bent which sets the story apart from the standard '80s nostalgia which now pervades on TV. Unlike The Goldbergs, for example, Glow is far more than just a window into its time period. It's also, in a way, a window into the gender politics which continue to rear their head in 2017.
Other than Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, the coke-hoovering director who ambitiously attempts to transform a troupe of regular women into high-camp wrestlers, Glow has an almost all-female main cast. Does that make it feminist? Not by default — Orange Is The New Black, I see you — but Glow actually has something to say about women, the opportunities available to them, the challenges they face, and how they interact with each other. It's still rare in 2017 to watch something which luxuriates in exploring those dynamics.
Alison Brie plays Ruth, an actress who can't find any role that's not sexy secretary (and even they keep going to more conventionally attractive women). When she auditions, blind, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Ruth is asked by her director, "Do people think you're pretty? I'm lookin' at ya, one second I think 'Fuck yeah, she's hot!', the next I'm like 'Is she, really?'. You just have one of those faces."
If it's pretty audacious to cast Alison Brie as somebody who is (A) anything less than flawlessly attractive and (B) unable to land the role of a sexy secretary, the blatant (and not overplayed) sexism actually comes back around to work in Ruth's favor when Sam decides that having "one of those faces" means she'd make a great villain in the pantomime theatrics of the wrestling ring. And that's what Glow does so well — it finds ways to empower its female characters, to give a group of women the chance to reinvent themselves. (Show creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch do acknowledge that the real-life GLOW was actually not particularly feminist.)
The joy of Glow, even in early episodes, lies in witnessing the ways it stretches its spandexed tentacles out in various directions, and brings something interesting and smart back from each. Besides tackling sexism and feminism, it brushes with dumb racist stereotypes — black Tamee, played by real-life wrestler Kia Stevens, takes on the alias Welfare Queen, and the Asian in the group becomes Fortune Cookie.
The women know it's reductive, exploitative and removed from reality (Tamee has a son at Stanford), but they also know that being offensive and outrageous is what will make a success of GLOW, so they grit their teeth and keep working. It's not the last word in female empowerment, but it's something. There's also satire, Ruth spontaneously bursting into full Shakespearean monologuing mode every time she wants to show off her acting prowess, to the interest of nobody. What's amazing is that Glow does all of these things so effortlessly, always funny, never preachy.
I haven't finished the first season yet, but it's pretty clear already that Glow is right up there with the best of what Netflix can do, a comedy with heart, brains and big, cocaine moustache-fuelled laughs. Put simply, it's a knockout.
Will you be binge-watching through the first season of Glow this weekend?