TV Review | GLOW | Season 1, Episode 1 | "Pilot"
Episode Summary: Desperate to jump-start her career, struggling actress Ruth heads to a casting call at an LA gym – and quickly realises it’s not a typical audition.
I have to admit that I went into GLOW blind, but knowing it was based around women’s wrestling in the Eighties, which the animated opening credits and music choice certainly backed up. I was fairly confident that my first impression that this would be a light-hearted retro comedy was right.
Oh boy, was I wrong. There’s plenty of laughs to be had during the first episode, but plenty of emotional moments too, with some expertly-done mid-scene switches from tragic to comic and even back again.
Alison Brie is great as Ruth, who is definitely the focus of this first episode and presumably the series as a whole. She’s funny when she needs to be, sympathetic, and yet also a deeply flawed human being who ruins her relationship with her best friend by screwing her husband.
That’s another thing to point out: despite the fact that plenty of kids might watch wrestling these days, and the comedic content and Eighties setting might make GLOW look okay for all ages, it really isn’t, with casual nudity, a sex scene and some seriously foul language in this episode alone.
(I’ll point out here that the sex and nudity did catch me off-guard, although it’s not gratuitous, being plot-relevant and in a women’s gym changing room respectively.)
Back to the performances and it should also be noted that Ruth is the only character to be given any real depth in this first episode. Her friend she betrays, Debbie, looks like she could be a lot more prominent in the future though, and Marc Maron is constantly hilarious as Sam, the owner of GLOW.
The other women wrestlers are given very little to work with here, although there are a few (like Cherry) who look like they could have bigger parts to play further down the line. It’ll be interesting to see who does get more screen time as there are several interesting possibilities set up here.
As for the look of the show, it’s actually a little more understated than Brie’s performance would suggest. While pro wrestling is all about being larger than life, her character felt a little too exaggerated throughout the episode for what we’re seeing.
I say that because, although the clothing and hairstyles are obviously done to match the time period, being set in the Eighties is never really played up and everything is shot in a matter-of-fact, almost documentary-like manner.
The sound is treated the same way, with the characters hearing period-appropriate music, but the score remains fairly modern rather than also trying to emulate the setting. While the audio-visual aesthetics are fine when taken on their own, it sometimes feels a little restrained in comparison to Ruth’s behaviour as the protagonist and character with by far the largest amount of screen time.
This isn’t to say that the episode doesn’t work, because it keeps things fairly simple – despite introducing so many characters in less than forty minutes – by focusing on Ruth’s desire to be an actress leading to her enrolment in GLOW, and the fact that she is such a screw-up in her personal life costing her her best friend.
Ultimately, "Pilot" is a pretty good debut for a show that is unlike most out there, although that might be the impression solely because there isn’t anything else like GLOW around. A promising start, but with plenty of room to grow and get even better.