A kick is really just a punch with your leg, a back bump is essentially an inverse belly flop, and locking up to start a match is more or less like rehearsing a couples dance. As dictated and demonstrated by Sam, Carmen, and Cherry, the physical building blocks of pro wrestling appear to be a breeze. Chemistry, however, is hard to teach. But at the end of GLOW’s first episode, Sam saw an adversarial spark between Debbie and Ruth that could be exploited for ratings. He is only lacking two components to make his dream a reality: a way to heighten the stakes in their personal drama, and actually having Debbie onboard.
While he is out recruiting his would-be star at her apartment in Pasadena, the women of GLOW spend an afternoon marking territory and testing each other’s boundaries. Melanie Rose (or Melrose, if you will), bound to stand out in the face of perceptions that she’s a spoiled music-video vixen, doesn’t take kindly to Cherry dressing her down, and oh, yes, rendering her unconscious with a sleeper hold. While grabbing lunch and getting stoned with her cohort, Melanie gets the bright idea to steal some ketchup and use it as an in-ring accessory as part of a cruel prank that makes light of Cherry’s miscarriage from two years prior.
Melanie didn’t know Cherry back then, but earlier that day, she did happen to walk in on Sam and Cherry hashing out some ancient history involving a threesome with her husband, Sam’s coke habit, and what Sam — and later, Melanie — refer to as Cherry’s “womb goof.” (Ouch.) There are several risqué asides about abbreviated pregnancies in this second episode, not to mention the ongoing misadventures of Debbie’s victimized nipples, Sam sizing Debbie up as the total package of beauty, boobs and brains, and Ruth’s quest to justify her career choice by seizing on the potential for sisterhood. Series creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have applied a full nelson’s worth of pressure on their cast of varying experience to walk the line of confrontational, feminist comedy. Luckily, getting to know and empathize with the large ensemble offers some relief from early cringing.
This half-hour definitely advances the formula that worked so well for executive producer Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black: It breaks away from the pivotal lead (in this case, Ruth) to add color and dimension to the range of supporting players. The premiere episode’s literal roll call of secondary cast zeroes in on those who’ve made the cut, including Sheila, a.k.a. She-Wolf, who’s no longer mute and even offers Ruth some compassionate advice about avoiding Debbie’s glare (more on that in a moment). Melanie is, as mentioned, given life as a rebellious daddy’s girl with something to prove, while her counterpart Cherry is tough as they come but easy to wound, setting her up as an endearing babyface (industry parlance for protagonist) likely to square off against the entitled Melrose. Sam is, thankfully, less a lecher and actually serious about his craft when he wants to be, which he’s wanted to be ever since his wife betrayed him for a Steadicam operator and he fell apart. Meanwhile, inevitable fan favorite Carmen reveals herself as somewhat impressionable, despite being born into a family of wrestling legends.
Above all else, Sam is on point that Debbie was bred to kick ass and sell drama inside a squared circle. (As was GLOW casting director Jen Euston in choosing Betty Gilpin.) The pilot sufficiently made the case for Debbie’s bumpy road of semi-fame, personal humiliation, and small measure of redemption. By the time Sam arrives at her door — encountering a woman icing one breast with frozen peas and dangling baby Randy off her free arm while lamenting about a wayward spouse and newly installed trash compactor — he knows this is fate. He immediately identifies Debbie as the ultimate GLOW babyface, out to finish what she started against Ruth, the home-wrecking heel. “Crying, caring, desperation,” he tells Ruth, disapprovingly. Any wrestling fan will concur that earnestness is, as Sam sums up, “unbearable.” Especially when you’re not exactly Uta Hagen.
Apart From All That
• Love that Jenny is a walking soap/procedural IMDb.
• Would like to get to know Justine a bit more.
• Hate to say it, the song selection is almost too straightforward.
• Cherry’s husband, Keith, seems nice. Until he inevitably has reason to kick Sam’s ass.
• Have I mentioned Gilpin is great?
• Melanie worked with De Palma and copped Ruth’s shoes. I smell a future onscreen feud in the works.
• I’m sure Adam Ant is very understanding.