Tag Archives: binge or no

BINGE OR NO: Netflix’s GLOW

(Soon to be cross-posted on Agony Booth.com)

When I was a kid, my mother was a huge fan of soap operas. In the days before DVR, and before Netflix made binge-watching a “thing,” she would record an entire week’s worth of her favorite soap, Days of Our Lives, while she worked, so that she could spend her Saturdays catching up with all her fictional best friends and lovers and their increasingly wacky lives.

As a result, my father would often chide my mother, a career woman with a Masters degree, for her deep-abiding love for this evil-twin having, devil possessing, amnesia abusing, secret love child coveting, art form. Whenever he did so, my mother would wryly reply that my father’s ability to watch countless hours of WWF wrestling was pretty much precisely the same thing as her Days of Our Lives addiction. Wrestling, she claimed, was, after all, a soap opera geared toward men. This argument undoubtedly horrified my father, who would inevitably respond by turning up the volume on his wrestling match full blast, as if to say that no series that LOUD AND OBNOXIOUS could possibly be equivalent to a “ladies’ television show.” But deep down, I think he knew that my mother had a point.

This exact same epiphany is experienced by GLOW’s co-female lead Debbie Eagen, a former soap star, who must now try her hand at a role where your ability to “pretty cry” is not nearly as important as the depth which you could realistically portray the pain of having someone twice your size sit on your face.

Based on an actual television series of the same name that took to the airwaves for four seasons, during the years of 1986 through 1990 (many of the wrestling personas portrayed here are based on characters from the original series), Netflix’s GLOW is a ten half-hour episode long comedy set piece about the maybe (?) origins of women’s wrestling.

The REAL cast of GLOW

Leading this large and diverse cast of mostly female actresses is Allison Brie, as Ruth Wilder, a grown-up theater geek, and out-of-work actress, who is desperate to find an on-screen role where her character does more than bring a powerful male lead coffee, or tell him that his wife is on line 2.

That is, perhaps, one of the most interesting things about GLOW the series, the way in which it argues that women’s wrestling, as an art form, was actually pretty progressive, particularly for its time period, in the way in which it championed strong females, both as the heroes and the villains of its stories. Not such a big accomplishment, you say? Think about what a HUGE deal everyone made over the Wonder Woman movie actually featuring a female superhero, and how long that film took to make it to the big screen. And this is 2017, over thirty years after women’s wrestling premiered on TV!

In GLOW, Ruth is able to take on the role of her dreams, that of a female lead villain, who is strong, tough, takes no prisoners, and would sooner pour scalding hot coffee on a man’s head, than serve it to him black with two sugars. I mean, sure, women’s wrestling had its down sides too. Most of the “characters” on the show were thinly drawn, and often aggressively offensive, racial, and socio-cultural stereotypes: The Terrorist, The Welfare Queen, The Evil Communist, and an Asian Character named Fortune Cookie. Not to mention how the female wrestlers were often hooted at, degraded, and objectified by men, as they rolled around with one another in scantily clad outfits. Yet, arguably all those same downsides applied to men’s wrestling as well. So, there’s an odd sense of equal opportunity here, when it comes to poor taste.

Speaking of objectification, those men out there looking to revel in hot bodacious babes engaging in Sapphic aggressive dances with one another might be a bit disappointed with Netflix’s GLOW. With one or two exceptions, this is not a particularly glammed up bunch of ladies. 80’s fashions (which are showcased in all their neon-tinted, big-hair having, glory here) do NOBODY any favors, appearance wise, at least by modern-day beauty standards. Even Allison Brie, who in real life is quite beautiful, has her looks noticeably, and purposefully, toned down here. Her character Ruth wears little to no makeup throughout most of the series, and often prefers shapeless, oversized, outfits to more form-fitting attire.

In terms of characters, Brie’s Ruth, Betty Gilpin’s Debbie, and Marc Maron’s schlocky, but occasionally paternal, showrunner Sam take center stage here during most of the episodes. The rest of the cast serves largely as comedic support, their roles limited mainly to the stereotypical characters they play on the wrestling mat. As a fan of Jenji Kohan’s other Netflix Series Orange is the New Black, I found myself wanting to see more of many of these characters, and to learn what brought them to this unique job opportunity, possibly through the use of OINTB inspired flashbacks. There are no such flashbacks in GLOW.

Just as OINTB’s Season 1 story was largely about Piper and her complicated love-hate relationship with Alex, so too was GLOW’s Season 1 story predominately about Ruth and her friendship turned antagonistic relationship with Debbie. (I’d tell you why it turns antagonistic, but I’m afraid that would be a bit of a spoiler.) Perhaps, if the show gets picked up for a second season, GLOW, like OINTB, will branch out and feature more of the backstories of its intriguing and diverse ensemble cast.

As for the series itself, though it takes a little while to find its footing and humorous tone, GLOW is sudsy good fun, with just the right amount of 80’s camp, and a pro-feminist message thrown in for good measure. At a mere five-hour run time, GLOW is easy and painless to breeze through. The live-taping of the wrestling show featured in the final episode serves for an exciting and entertaining, colorful capstone to the series. And you will undoubtedly find yourself missing GLOW a bit when its over.

So, in the end, my mom was right.  Wrestling, and shows inspired by wrestling, are a bit like soap operas. Both are guilty pleasures, for sure. But if you look closely, you might just find a little bit of substance underneath those suds.

FINAL VERDICT: BINGE IT!

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Binge or No: Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet

(Will be cross-posted at Agony Booth.com)

Zombies are the new vampires, that’s for sure. So, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to make them more physically attractive, grant them spacious homes in Suburbia, and give them white-collar jobs. The Santa Clarita Diet is about as pro-zombie as a television series can get . . . minus the gag-inducing scenes filled with vomit, and the occasional image of a limb grossly detaching itself from the human body . . .

The ten-episode thrill-omedy, which premiered on Netflix February 3rd, stars Drew Barrymore as Sheila Hammond, a West Coast suburban realtor, whose recent infection with a zombie virus has given her a renewed zest for life, and a passion for eating men’s balls off . . . literally. (This isn’t your mother’s “Mmmm, Braiiiiiinnnnnnns” type zombie. Sheila is way less wasteful, when it comes to munching on parts of the male anatomy. Oddly enough, no females were harmed in the making of the first season of the series. Is that sexist?)

Early promotional spots for the series actually skirted the whole “Sheila is a zombie” issue entirely, and instead cleverly featured the cast touting the benefits of a “new diet” that offers its participants “tons of energy,” and “makes them look great.” Sheila, herself, is a testament to this, as Drew begins the series looking rather frumpy (and with something disturbingly weird going on with her eyebrows), then subtly becomes more glamorous with each passing episode . . . until the last two, but that’s another story.

In fact, if it weren’t for (1) Sheila’s new zombie-like dependence on her id making her increasingly impulsive, hungry, and reckless; and (2) the whole “murdering people is wrong, and disposing of bodies is hard work” thing, zombie-ism, at least as it’s portrayed in the series, would seem like a pretty workable lifestyle.

As for Sheila’s supporting cast, we have Timothy Olyphant playing waaaaaay against type as Joel Hammond, Sheila’s mild-mannered nebbish of a realtor husband, who’s supportive faux cheeriness, as the body count piles up, borders on frenzied and manic. Basically, this is the kind of role you’d see Matthew Broderick playing, if this series came out about ten-years earlier.

Rounding out the main cast are: Liv Hewson as Abby, Sheila’s and Joel’s rebellious daughter (who is way cooler about the fact that her mother occasionally murders the neighbors, and feasts on human flesh in her spare time, than I would be); Sklyer Gisondo, as Abby’s nerdy and way too-loyal friend / paranormal enthusiast, Eric, and Dan Palmer and Richard T. Jones, as Sheila’s and Joel’s feuding cop neighbors, Rick and Dan.

The Santa Clarita Diet also features Nathan Fillion in a cameo that’s either truly thankless, or patently hilarious, depending on how you view it.

As for the series itself, I think it takes a few episodes to find its footing. The show seems to struggle early on, at least in my opinion, to strike the appropriate balance between comedy and horror. For example, in one scene, you might see Sheila and Joel bathed in blood and guts, as they try to bury the gnarly organs of body that the former just devoured in the woods, without being discovered by the cops.

And then, in the scene immediately following that, Sheila will be depicted, clad in a garbage bag, chasing after, and unsuccessfully attempting to wrestle, a rooster, like she’s a character in a Looney Tunes cartoon?

The series also takes its sweet time in finding the unique voices of its characters, in ways that go beyond them just spouting cheesy zombie and murder puns to one another for 25-minutes. The writing for Sheila, in particular, suffers in the early episodes, as we are told that the realtor mom’s personality has changed drastically, since she was infected, but have to take the rest of the cast’s word for it, as she begins showing signs of infection within the first five minutes of the series.

I was actually planning to discontinue the show after the first two episodes, but soldiered on, and found myself completely hooked around episode four. Around that time, the writing for the series becomes tighter, the jokes funnier, and the main characters become more consistent and relatable in their personalities.

In particular, I found the acting of the teen characters on the show, Abby and Eric, very strong. Their story line adds a sort of sweetness, and a touch of realism to the series, that I think would be lacking otherwise.

Another important point to note, before you venture into The Santa Clarita Diet is that it’s pretty friggin gross. As in, don’t watch it while you are eating . . . EVER! Maybe you folks who just love watching The Walking Dead, and really dig body horror, will be totally cool with this. But I found my eyes averting the screen pretty much any time one of the characters projectile vomits (soooooooo much vomit on this show), or a painted toenail pops off and rolls under the coffee table, or Drew’s Sheila is seen slowly and messily gorging on an arm, while looking much like a baby eating her first spaghetti and meatballs dish. These kinds of scenes amount to roughly a quarter of each episode’s run time, so be warned.

As for trademark zombie lore and the series’ central mystery, i.e. how Sheila came to be infected with the zombie virus in the first place, there isn’t really much there, at least in the first season, which focuses more on the inconveniences and unintentional hilarity of suburban zombie living than any sort of complex rules and/ or zombie origin stories. The mythos that is presented is rather vague and superficial, though I suspect that aspect of the show will be built upon, should The Santa Clarita Diet be picked up for a second season. Still, this might annoy some of you paranormal enthusiasts out there, who tend to like a bit more world-building with your blood, guts and gore.

In short, if you are someone who: (1) likes a good laugh, and a unique take on an old reliable horror movie stable, (2) doesn’t mind lots of gross shots of vomit and disemboweled corpses, (3) doesn’t care too much about origin stories, and (4) is patient enough to get through a rough first few episodes, The Santa Clarita Diet might be the lifestyle change you are seeking. And by “lifestyle change” I mean “five hours seated on your couch watching a show on Netflix, while not eating.” (Did I mention before that you shouldn’t be eating while watching this show?)

Verdict: BINGE IT . . . with discretion.

 

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