“GLOW just misses the mark on Race. It tries to be too clever, commenting on stereotypes by employing them satirically yet never quite putting their money where their mouth is—by actually developing their POC characters.”
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creators: Liz Flahive 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Carly Mensch 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Liz Flahive 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Carly Mensch 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Kristoffer Diaz 👨🏽🇺🇸 (10 eps), Emma Rathbone 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Rachel Shukert 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), and various (2 ♀, 1 ♂, all white)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
GLOW drops in like thunder, thrilling audiences with its campy pilot and exiting with a great season finale. At its best, the show is a feminist romp with zippy writing set to 80s synth beats. Unfortunately, the middle episodes lag, delving a spot too far into personal dramas instead of focusing on its more interesting side, the ridiculous world of women’s wrestling with its underdog storylines and well-choreographed fights.
As a second minor detriment, the large cast fails to devote enough TLC to its background characters. There are so many diverse women and somehow we manage to follow the most familiar ones—the naive Ruth (Alison Brie), the blonde bombshell Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and the show’s curmudgeon and director, Sam (Marc Maron). Don’t get me wrong, I loved their performances. But I was so much more intrigued by the characters of color, whose stories felt sorely underdeveloped, even for a short 10-episode season.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
GLOW’s strong suit is its celebration of women, their flaws, and their friendships. Men have a fair share of the spotlight too: Sam is one of the three main characters while Bash (Chris Lowell) is the rich and goofy producer.
A sampling of three episodes (S01E03 - S01E05) reveals an encouraging balance of speaking time—women spoke for 61.3% of the time while men, whose lines were primarily delivered by Sam and Bash, comprised 38.7% of the dialogue.
I should preface this section by saying that I understand the point GLOW is trying to make by having its characters don demeaning stereotypes for personas. Monique of Just Add Color does a great breakdown of how GLOW subverts racist tropes, and I don’t disagree with any of it.
That being said, I have concerns about the timing of such tactics. Ten years ago, sure—I was grooving on satire, reveling in The Colbert Report which pokes fun at conservatives, Parks and Recreation which affectionately satirizes local governments, or Veep which lambasts the federal government for being grossly incompetent.
However, at a time when the American president can call Mexicans rapists and mock disabled people on national television without a hint of irony, I can’t help but feel that satire is losing its grip on today’s more literal-minded audience.
It doesn’t help when a recent spat of shows hide behind the guise of “satire” in defense of flat-out racism. Off the top of my head, Amazon’s Red Oaks employs lines such as “I love the Orientals!” (it’s a joke, get it?) and HBO’s Silicon Valley uses a Chinese immigrant as the butt of several jokes, including the cringeworthy scene of Erlich yelling in fake gobbledygook in efforts to silence the immigrant, Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), from speaking.
In GLOW, is it truly necessary to yell racial slurs at a brown girl, Arthie (Sunita Mani) who is otherwise a background character? Is this subversive commentary, or simply reinforcing stereotypes through muscle memory in a way that flouts the creators’ original good intentions?
More than clever winks to prove that showrunners are in the know, what I’d rather see from today’s crop of diverse media is the simpler offerings of dialogue and screen time to actors of color.
If we were being serious about confronting the racism our country doles out on a daily basis, why not devote more character development to Arthie? I don’t know much about her besides the fact that she doesn’t like being called a terrorist by an aggressive audience, and that she’s a good wingwoman to her (white) roommate. As for the wrestler who plays “Welfare Queen,” why not spare more than a few lines of dialogue on the fascinating contrast of her “ghetto” wrestling persona and the fact that her son attends Stanford University?
In short, the majority of plots and subplots in Season 1 are given to white characters. The only substantial story arc for a POC is Carmen (aka “Macchu Picchu”), who deals with high pressure to live up to the wrestling fame of her last name. Incidentally, she is one of my favorite characters (alongside rich kid Bash, who I find incredibly endearing).
No overt representation of LGBTQ characters across 10 episodes.
I’m adding points for context; queer individuals in the 1980s would have had to be more discreet about their sexuality. In addition, 10 episodes is not a ton of material and the cast is still small enough that the lack of LGBTQ characters is believable, taking into consideration the fact that only 3.8% of adults self-reported as LGBTQ in 2015. If this trend keeps up in future seasons, however, expect this score to drop precipitously.
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.81/5
A solid show with an infectious personality and memorable scenes that borrow the best from underdog storylines while demonstrating three-dimensional relationships between women. Unfortunately, I can’t help be feel that GLOW just misses the mark on Race. It tries to be too clever, commenting on racial stereotypes by employing them in a manner congruent with its 1980s setting, yet never quite putting its money where its mouth is. Characters of color are demoted to support roles, while white characters take center stage.
If GLOW earns a second season—which I hope it does—it has its work cut out for it in chasing down backstories for its large cast of female wrestlers.