I love a show with an ensemble of great female characters where we get to see more than shallow stereotypes. Ironically, however, that's exactly what the cast of GLOW must embrace in order to be successful in the ring. As the director character Sam Sylvia (who would be a stereotype himself, if not for his honest self awareness) suggests, they must wrestle these stereotypes just as they wrestle each other.
The main conflict in the show focuses on our two female leads, Ruth and her only real friend Debbie. That she only has one friend is telling about Ruth’s lack of character (for reasons I’ll get into later). As a struggling actress fed up with playing sadly one-dimensional female roles while her male counterparts get all the good ones, Ruth manages to fanangle herself an audition with down and nearly out director Sam, whose gloriously pallid complexion and sardonic sneer makes each belaboured suck of cigaret smoke seem like his last. Ruth jumps into her new wrestling role with abandon, much to the chagrin of Sylvia, who can’t decide if he thinks she’s hot or not (which is more a comment on Ruth’s own lack of personal identity, which becomes of course the central them in GLOW).
Having no writer and a director who seems at first to be using the show as a casting couch for his next schlocky B-movie, Ruth is left in the awkwardly hilarious position of discovering her own wrestling character, a task she embraces with gusto. The results of this journey of discovery run aground, as her approach involves little more than cheesy impressions of other great female actresses. But when Debbie finds out that Ruth has slept with her husband, the pair throw down in the ring. This is where the magic of GLOW really begins to come through. After watching them fight for real, Sam is inspired to cast Ruth as the villain, and Debbie as the new star of the show. His decision becomes the catalyst that ultimately forces Ruth to confront some of her own character flaws, as she stumbles towards greater self-awareness.
The supporting female cast of characters offers as much oddball fun as you could want, while supporting Ruth in her journey as each in turn grapples with their own wrestling personas. They are forced to square off against gender and racial stereotypes too offensive to fit into today's daytime television slots. The nostalgic '80s offer a safe place for these characterizations to exist, while cleverly and humorously pointing out that they are still very much a part of everyday life. It is this point that GLOW makes beautifully, that beneath the surface glitter and flamboyant costuming, the women of GLOW are all real people struggling to fit into the societal roles doled out for them: some are elevating but vain, while others are unfair and demoralizing. But it’s the heart of the show and its characters that really wins out in the end. We really get to feel the excitement and the fear of stepping into the ring for the first time, what pushing against the ropes of both the ring and identity can feel like, and how important that kind of bravery can be. But more than that, how a woman’s body can be elevated from a mere objectification of form and into something of a force to be reckoned with, and ultimately how empowering that transformation can be.