If nothing else, Netflix’s G.L.O.W. has contributed to the popular culture one tremendous performance. I speak, of course, of Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, the sleazy sexploitation B-movie director at the center of the new Jenji Kohan-produced series. The speaker of such lines as “[t]hose balls are just balls. A man’s true ball is the mind,” Sylvia is the character Marc Maron was born to play: a grungy, scruffy, irritable bastard with a heart of gold. Maron’s performance is the one constant good through the just-okay first season of G.L.O.W.; every moment he’s on screen is itself an argument in favor of the show’s existence.
G.L.O.W. features Alison Brie as Ruth, a dispirited aspiring actress in Los Angeles circa 1985, who is cast opposite her friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin) in Sam Sylvia’s new television pilot, Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. While the ladies of G.L.O.W. are (mostly) a far cry from being incarcerated, the show that G.L.O.W. is most reminiscent of is the other Netflix/Jenji Kohan collab, Orange is the New Black. The most obvious point of narrative comparison is that both series feature large, diverse female casts and circle important social and political issues (Ruth goes through an abortion storyline midway through the season). However, what it really comes down to is the fact that G.L.O.W. feels so incredibly similar in its style and tone to O.I.T.N.B. While Kohan isn’t the creator of the new series, she has certainly left her mark on the show as a producer.
The primary criticism of O.I.T.N.B.’s first season was that its protagonist, Piper (played by Taylor Schilling), was less interesting than much of the show’s supporting cast. Personally, I’ve always liked Piper and thought that this complaint was a tad overblown. Regardless, Kohan clearly took this line of criticism to heart, as later seasons of O.I.T.N.B. were much lighter on Piper and heavier on the ensemble. G.L.O.W.’s protagonist problem is far worse than O.I.T.N.B.’s ever was.
Ruth is, without a doubt, the most annoying new television character of the year. She’s borderline intolerable, with the main exception being anytime she shares a scene with Sylvia, who acts as a stand-in for the Netflix-viewing audience. Ruth fancies herself a true “actor” (in the Tobias Funke pronunciation of the word). She wants the sexploitation that is G.L.O.W. to have characters, and plot, and a good villain role for herself. So Ruth spends much of the series developing her villainous Russian character, putting on the most irritating fake Russian accent you have ever heard for much of the series. In one episode, she crashes a Russian Jew’s bris, leading her to adopt a new, broadly anti-Semitic Jewish persona.
While Ruth’s presence is the show’s most obvious problem, perhaps its bigger problem is with its supporting players. Played by Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Britt Baron, Marianna Palka, Kate Nash and more, the women of G.L.O.W. are far less interesting and immediately charismatic in comparison to the women of O.I.T.N.B. Young is the only one of the supporting cast that really pops, as her character Carmen juggles her participation in G.L.O.W. and her relationship with her disapproving father. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of time is spent on Carmen.
Toward the end of the season, there’s a fairly striking plot development involving Baron’s character, a Sam Sylvia fangirl. Up until this point, though, Baron had hardly been used at all. Her’s is the storyline I’ll have my eye on going into a theoretical season 2.
This said, there isn’t an obvious quick fix for G.L.O.W.’s Ruth problem the way there was for O.I.T.N.B.’s perceived Piper problem. The latter show had established an incredible, deep bench of characters to fall back on right out of the gate (Taystee, Crazy Eyes, Red, etc.); G.L.O.W. has no such bench of characters to bolster in upcoming seasons. Going forward, the show will really have to step up its game in its portrayal of the G.L.O.W. women or risk losing viewers’ interest.
Still and all, G.L.O.W. has its moments. Its tertiary cast members get occasional moments to shine, the writing tends to be sharp, Marc Maron is a joy, and Chris Lowell is fantastic in a recurring role as a douchey novice TV producer.