The Netflix series’ co-creators, along with stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, look ahead for THR.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the entire first season of Netflix’s GLOW.]
The first season of GLOW was designed to feel like an origin story.
Netflix’s female wrestling series took its time introducing and forming its characters — both in and out of the ring — during its first nine episodes. The story built to a big finale in the tenth and final half-hour: creating the pilot episode for what would go on to become the first-ever female wrestling TV series.
“It was definitely intentional,” co-creator Liz Flahive tells The Hollywood Reporter of the pace of the story. “We came in with that season shape early on, and it helped.” Her partner, co-creator Carly Mensch, said the pair did not write GLOW with a specific number of seasons in mind, even though the syndicated series from which they drew their inspiration aired for four seasons (from 1986-1990).
“Part of what we talked about as storytellers is that once the women know how to wrestle, you can’t go back in time,” continues Flahive. “Unless we were going to make a time-traveling show where we focused on how they learned how to wrestle,” she adds jokingly. Which is why the pair, after stumbling upon a documentary about the original women of GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, built all of the characters in their GLOW world from scratch.
Mensch has written on Orange Is the New Black, and that show’s creator, Jenji Kohan, is also an executive producer on GLOW. But instead of leaning on flashbacks for its storytelling like the prison dramedy, GLOW found actresses who didn’t know how to wrestle and followed them from the start as they learned the TV sport both on- and off-camera.
“You will have to learn how to wrestle — are you up for that?” was a question on the audition notices when Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and the 12 other female stars who make up the GLOW ensemble tried out for their roles. The group trained for four and a half weeks before filming began with wrestler-trainer Chavo Guerrero, Jr., and continued training while filming so they could perform their own stunts.
“The women learning how to wrestle was a big part of the show,” says Flahive. “There is so much comedy in the women learning something new. Taking our time and being able to craft stories that we felt inclined to tell, like the women getting to know each other and that they didn’t know wrestling at all, felt really rich to us.”
Flahive and Mensch explain that since GLOW is essentially a show about the female body, it felt honest and authentic to take the method approach.
“We knew from the beginning GLOW was a show about bodies and women using their bodies in different ways than they had used them before, and also using bodies in ways that we as an audience haven’t seen before,” says Mensch. “It felt pretty important that to honestly tell that story, we should show you the women’s real bodies going through this experience.”
The final moment of the season saw the women sitting down all together to watch the premiere of their show as it airs on TV for the first time — the result of months of blood, sweat and tears, along with a few existential crises.
If Netflix renews the series for a second season, it would pick up with GLOW being released to the world — the show within a show exposed to a TV audience. Assuming that pilot is picked up to series, the women would continue to grow as wrestlers, meaning the actresses will continue to train and improve their skills. Brie and Gilpin both told THR they are eager to live up to that task.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back into training — all the women are,” says Brie. “We all miss the wrestling. I’ve kept up my heavy lifting with my trainer and am just staying in top shape to be prepared. But it’s a little scary, too, how there is no end in sight about how good the moves have to be. They just have to get better and better!”
Gilpin says wrestling changed her life completely and that she’s currently found the true feminist form of exercise she’s always wanted.
“I have to tell you, they are all pretty good now,” says Flahive of all of the women being up for the challenge, should they score additional seasons. “We had to hold as much back as we actually showed.” Mensch explains that the cast had to “unlearn” wrestling in order to film the first half of the season: “By the time we got to the finale, they were chomping at the bit to show off all the things they had already learned.”
Aside from the fate of the wrestling series, the biggest burning question for season two centers on the friendship at the center of the show. Though Brie and Gilpin’s characters bonded through the shared experience of wrestling, Gilpin’s Debbie Egan is still not ready to forgive Ruth Wilder (Brie) for having an affair with her husband.
“It’s so telling that the main betrayal and the most pain that Debbie felt was the loss of her friendship and not the loss of her marriage,” Gilpin tells THR. “That was the hardest thing for her, and that’s pretty telling about how powerful female friendship can be.”
Gilpin says Debbie, who is unaware that Ruth got pregnant from the affair and decided to have an abortion, is not ready to move forward by the finale, which sees Ruth asking Debbie to go for a drink and being shot down.
“I don’t know if they can ever be really normal friends again,” says Gilpin. “For Debbie, after the match, that little moment that we see with them together, I think she sort of realized this [wrestling] part is over and no, I can’t be near her because she really hurt me.”
And it’s that twist on the traditional will-they-won’t-they trope that fuels the show.
“At some point we sort of realized that we’re the will-they-won’t-they — that Ruth and Debbie are wondering about their relationship,” says Gilpin. “That’s more interesting and layered than any romantic relationship would be. It’s about their friendship and female relationships, and wrestling provides an interesting foil for that. You can be rolling your eyes at each other but still holding hands because with wrestling, you have physical contact. You are connected in such a pure, raw form, and yet you can have this sort of surface-level disagreement. The music never swells in your daily life. It’s never as clear as wrestling is. It’s usually just gray and uncomfortable.”
Brie agrees. “You see how rich this show is, just full of different characters, and you can mine those characters for years,” says the actress. “The real GLOW was a slight revolving door in terms of some women being on the show for years and years, and other new characters coming in. There’s a lot of possibilities for longevity.”
She adds, “I think that our characters have a long journey ahead of them to even get close to a place that they were at before, and that’s kind of exciting to me, too, that we don’t make anything too easy.”