GLOW “Today’s special: an open-faced hand sandwich!”

Loosely based on the real-life TV show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which aired from 1986 to 1990, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s fictionalized Netflix series GLOW exhumes the dusty spandex, mile-high hairdos, and Bon Jovi anthems for campy and contemplative fun.

Set in mid-1980s Los Angeles, GLOW tells the story of 12 struggling actors who are chosen to star in an all-female wrestling show. But first, they must learn how to wrestle! Marc Maron plays the series’ cynical writer/director Sam Sylvia, who reluctantly participates in the project between snorts of coke. His leading Gorgeous Ladies are the volcanic protagonist Debbie, AKA “Liberty Bell” (Betty Gilpin), and Ruth, AKA “Zoya the Destroyer” (Alison Brie), who once wronged Debbie outside of the ring and is now trying to accept her position as the league’s heel.

Though GLOW often centers on this rivalry, it’s driven by the other wrestlers’ internal conflicts. In one key scene the show’s young producer, Bash (Chris Lowell)—who’s got the oily charm of Rob Lowe’s character in Wayne’s World—insists that “wrestling is about type. You’re a sexy party girl, you’re an Arab,” gesticulating at Arthie, AKA “the Terrorist” (Sunita Mani). She immediately corrects him: “You mean stereotype.”

Support The Portland Mercury

These “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” are mostly actors who reached for the moon and landed in space junk. They wanted Hollywood, but got a ramshackle warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. They wanted “real parts,” but got roles that’re completely reductive. When they complain, Sylvia encourages the women to wrestle with these stereotypes for personal empowerment. But it’s not like they have a choice—they have to surrender something for success. And they’re all too familiar with this double standard: “It’s almost always a man telling you your ass is too fat at the same time he’s trying to grope it,” Ruth says in the second episode.

Be patient with GLOW—the series takes a few episodes to warm up. Once it does, you’ll find a refreshing mix of wit, drama, and body slams, all dressed up in the gaudy glamor of the ’80s.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30