Entertainment

'GLOW' casts 'Orange'-ish light on female wrestling

Posted June 21

"GLOW" is a breezy but slight look back at the mid-1980s and the made-for-TV oddity that was "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling." Alison Brie's central performance practically lifts the whole thing on her shoulders, but as cable comedies go, it's at best a middleweight.

The main problem in this Netflix series from "Orange is the New Black" producer Jenji Kohan and collaborators stems from how familiar everything about it feels, with Brie's Ruth Wilder as a struggling actress who stumbles into the syndicated wrestling show, having ruled out porn as an option.

"Porn? Like in the valley?" she asks.

Ruth's aspirations to be a serious actress soon give way to hanging out with an assortment of eccentric characters -- part "Orange," part the Island of Misfit Toys -- as well as her best pal Debbie (Betty Gilpin), who had been working steadily on a daytime soap.

Presiding over the group, meanwhile, is a cranky director (Marc Maron) who lets it be known that he's slumming; and a sleazy producer (Chris Lowell), as if there's any other kind in this sort of setting.

"GLOW" certainly zeroes in on the period, providing another look at the seamy side of showbiz, tilted here more toward industrial warehouses and rundown apartments than red carpets.

Still, other than Brie (a standout in NBC's "Community"), and her banter with Maron's character about bringing her creative input to bear on this trivial endeavor, the show tends to feel like pretty unsubstantial fluff. While mildly fun in places, the series proves more dutiful than daring as it goes about the setbacks associated with getting this enterprise up on its feet.

Nor does it say much that's particularly fresh about sexual politics or show-business striving. The most interesting thread, rather, looks at how wrestling of that era, male or female, exploited horrid stereotypes, but the producers give virtually equal weight to the mechanics of body-slamming or pouncing off the ropes without breaking one's neck.

Netflix made the entire 10-episode run available, and the season ends having established enough storylines around its characters to provide options going forward. Its acronym notwithstanding, though, at a time characterized by the high level of ambition among premium comedies, "GLOW" has admirable qualities but emits a relatively dim light.

"GLOW" premieres June 23 on Netflix.

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