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Netflix's 'Glow' is a winner after a slow start

I watched the first two episodes of the new Netflix series "Glow" on the streaming service's media site Thursday – the day before it premiered – and was quite surprised by the glowing reviews it received from other critics.

But then it rained Friday afternoon, the day it became available to Netflix subscribers.

I looked over the weak list of current movies in theaters and decided to give "Glow" another shot if only because I enjoyed the 1980s music that plays as a soundtrack and because its producers have "Orange is the New Black" on their resumes.

The series, inspired by the creation of a women's pro wrestling television show in the 1980s, quickly had me in a chokehold by episode three.

I watched the next eight half-hour episodes over four hours on Friday afternoon, which led me to tweet Saturday: "You could do a lot worse this weekend than watch the new Netflix series 'Glow.' Improves every episode. Fun and has heart."

The somewhat disappointing first two episodes routinely set up the premiere of an aspiring, broke actress, Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), being offered a tryout for the show and deciding to accept it because she is trying to succeed in a man's world and at least it isn't porn.

Viewers met her when she reads the man's part in an audition for a legitimate show because it is a better part than the female part. Smart. Too smart for her own good.

"That's why we gave it to Steve Guttenberg," she is told.

Ruth had one supportive friend, actress Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), before Ruth made a horrible mistake that would ruin any friendship.

Ruth was desperate enough after losing the legitimate part to accept the verbal abuse of a cranky, gruff, drug-using, down-on-his-luck  director, Sam Sylvia, who is described by one character as "more sexist than racist." He is played by stand-up comedian Marc Maron and steals many of the scenes. Eventually, it is revealed that Sam actually has a heart before he reverts to form.

"I don't have to explain myself," says Sam at one point. "That's the beauty of being a director."

Ruth eventually wins over the director, who nicknames her "Strindberg" after the playwright because she considers herself a serious actress working in this joke of a would-be show.

Things improve markedly by the third episode upon the arrival of the young, rich, entitled benefactor of "Glow" played by Chris Lowell ("Veronica Mars," "Private Practice"), who had wasted $600,000 of his mom's money on the show before it even was produced.

As the episodes continued, "Glow" became a female buddy comedy full of eccentric, diverse and stereotyped characters looking for a big break and self-confidence on a show they all knew or expected to be one big joke. Slowly, some of their back stories are revealed, making every female character sympathetic.

It took me awhile to recognize Brie, who was a one-note actress in "Mad Men," as the wife of insufferable advertising executive Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser).

In "Glow," which stands for "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling," Brie gets to shine as a take-charge, enthusiastic, attractive – but not too attractive – desperate actress who supposedly looks like an "unconventional woman."

Ruth is the most determined and creative member of "Glow." She does wrestling research and eventually wins over the gruff director and almost all her teammates.

A beautiful former soap opera actress who spent a year on a show in a coma and then decided life as a mom beat being an actress, Debbie, is supposed to be the one true "gorgeous" lady on the team. She understandably is Ruth's last holdout and even she gets an epiphany after doing some research by attending a male wrestling match.

"This is a soap opera," realizes Debbie.

So is Debbie's life. She has a baby and a husband, played by Rich Sommer. He played dull Harry Crane in "Mad Men" and suddenly has emerged as a Lothario and a heel on Netflix series. He also plays the ex-boyfriend of Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs) on one of my favorite Netflix comedies, "Love." Strange casting. Don Draper, he is not.

Ruth and Debbie get along like the United States and Russia for a while, which works perfectly for the story lines of the fictional series "Glow" since they eventually become the love-hate competitors that wrestling audiences love to root for and against.

With America about to celebrate its independence starting this weekend, you could do a lot worse that to watch "Glow" this weekend and root for Debbie's patriotic character to beat Ruth's obnoxious Russian. Especially if it rains.

If you don't like it, I don't have to explain myself. That's the beauty of being a TV critic.


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