There’s a scene in GLOW where a TV director pitches his new women’s wrestling show to a network executive: ‘They’re going to be wrestling with their own female stereotypes. Metaphorically. That’s really going to resonate with female audiences. And guys are going to watch because girls wrestling is hot.’

He’s talking about the show-within-the-show, but might just as easily be describing GLOW itself. A fictionalised account of the creation of US TV series The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Netflix’s new 80s-set comedy drama is a glorious, mascara-streaked riot of spandex, hairspray and gags that land harder than a spinning heel kick.

Alison Brie (Community / Mad Men) stars as Ruth, a struggling actress who can’t even get a job saying ‘Your wife’s on line 2’ to Steve Guttenberg. Dorky and awkward, she is transformed when she steps into the ring as Soviet supervillain Zoya the Destroyer, arch nemesis of all-American sweetheart Liberty Belle, played by former daytime soap starlet Debbie (Betty Gilpin), who used to be Ruth’s best friend until she slept with her husband. Inside the ropes, their simmering feud turns into a literal grudge match, with actual hair-pulling.

While the show confirms Brie as one of the finest comic actors of the age, it’s very much an ensemble piece, with the dozen GLs representing a gratifyingly diverse range of ages, body shapes and ethnic backgrounds. They bust some impressive moves in the ring, too, literally throwing themselves into their roles – chokeslams, moonsaults and all. The unforgiving outfits are, if anything, even braver.

In the circumstances, it feels wrong to single out the one male lead, but comedian Marc Maron is a bit of scene-stealer as Sam, the washed-up movie director with a potty mouth and Magnum ’tache full of coke. Blame the female writers, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, for creating such a brilliant car crash of a character.

GLOW starts out feeling like it wants to be cynical and hard-edged, but over its 10 episodes gradually morphs into a more sentimental Hollywood fantasy, leading to a finale that’s basically Rocky in leotards. By that point, though, you’ll be cheering too loud to care.

TV extra:


Melvyn Bragg on TV

Forget those talking head clip shows where Z-list comedians reminisce about Del Boy falling through that bar: this scholarly discussion of the history of television featured contributions from the likes of Ken Loach and Sir David Attenborough, the latter claiming the medium had ‘burst frontiers – socially, scientifically and geographically’. Lord Bragg himself, meanwhile, argued the so-called ‘idiot box’ has actually made us more open, more informed and more democratic. Plus it still featured Del Boy falling through that bar, so a win-win.


Doctor Who

This run of Doctor Who has proved a fine victory lap for Peter Capaldi and writer Steven Moffat, while newcomer Pearl Mackie was a revelation as companion Bill. But Moffat still had one surprise up his sleeve as, in the dying seconds of Saturday’s series finale, Capaldi’s mortally wounded Time Lord was confronted by none other than his original self (David Bradley, doing the honours for the late William Hartnell). So now us Who fans know what we’re getting for Christmas. Only 172 sleeps to go.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 6, 2017

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