In the third episode of GLOW, a new 10-part series debuting on Netflix Friday, a male producer and a male director brainstorm possible characters for their women’s wrestling circuit. As in the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling—which featured characters named Palestina, Jailbait, and Big Bad Mama—the various identities rely heavily on stereotypes. Jenny (Ellen Wong) becomes Fortune Cookie. Tammé (Kia Stevens) is Welfare Queen. Arthie (Sunita Mani) is Beirut. “It’s not a judgment,” GLOW’s coked-up producer, Sebastian (Chris Lowell) explains. “It’s just what I and the entire world see with our eyes.”
GLOW, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and executive produced by Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan, arrives in a heady fog of hairspray and ’80s nostalgia, but it pulls no punches in its treatment of the entertainment industry. In the show’s very first scene, Ruth (Alison Brie), an actress, delivers a monologue in an audition and raves about the role, commenting on how few roles like this there are for women. “You’re reading the man’s part,” the casting agent replies. Which is how Ruth ends up in a gym with 50 or so other “unconventional” women, auditioning for a new kind of “family-friendly” entertainment. On the one hand, she can see how patently absurd it all is. On the other, it’s still the only job going where she can actually dig into a strong female character.