Netflix’s new series G.L.O.W. has premiered with great success. Critics and fans alike have praised with the 80’s wrestling comedy. It’s a show that blends comedy and glamour wonderfully. However, the show has a weak point in its leading lady. The show’s protagonist is Ruth, a “real” actress who turns to wrestling out of desperation. Ruth is a funny character, played by the talented Alison Brie. The problem is that Ruth doesn’t work as the series protagonist.
Ruth is an overly obnoxious character. While G.L.O.W. plays up her unsufferability The humor of Ruth’s persistence only works in small doses. A lot of her big moments rely on cringe-worthy moments and drama with fellow wrestler Debbie. As far as being a central character, her prominence doesn’t feel earned until the tail-end of the first season. It takes too long for Ruth to have a clear reason for taking attention away from the other wrestlers. Beyond playing the primary “heel” of the wrestling league, Ruth’s protagonist status doesn’t feel wholly earned.
That’s not to say the show as a whole doesn’t work. G.L.O.W. is definitely a fun show with humor and style. But the insistence that Ruth should be the center of attention is aggravating. Alison Brie is a great actress, but the fact that she’s the biggest name doesn’t justify her protagonist status. Ruth is similar to Brie’s character Annie in NBC’s college sitcom Community. Her type-A personality, and genuine enthusiasm, makes for a great character. However, it doesn’t make for a great leading lady. Annie only works as an ensemble member, alongside her fellow cast mates.
G.L.O.W. has an incredibly colorful cast of characters. Carmen stepping into her family’s legacy is a classic tale. Cherry’s mentor status, and her friendship with Sam, also makes for a great storyline. Marc Maron’s grizzled writer makes for a great counter to the energetic ladies. G.L.O.W. has built up a phenomenal ensemble of lady wrestlers, and the fact Ruth takes prominence makes very little sense. The neurotic actress turned wrestler feels like part of that ensemble. Making her the leading lady doesn’t fully work.
But the most interesting character in G.L.O.W, and deserving to star, is Debbie. It might feel simple to have the “face” be the hero, but don’t over-think it. Debbie’s journey has a far more compelling arc than Ruth. Debbie is a single mother who lost her husband, and has a thirst for the spotlight. Ruth is an actress who… wants to be an actress? Both characters have persistence, but Debbie has more at stake. Ruth’s nervous energy only works when it’s bouncing off Debbie.
It’s the same issue that plagues Orange is the New Black. G.L.O.W. comes from the same creative team behind Netflix’s women’s prison dramedy. That show’s protagonist is Piper Chapman, the obnoxious Brooklynite sentenced for helping her drug-dealing ex-girlfriend. She’s an annoying character, constantly hogging screen time from the far more interesting inmates. Piper is a funny character, but the show’s insistence on making her the lead dulls her humor. In a sea of more interesting characters, Piper feels like the wrong choice for a lead. It’s that same problem which make Ruth feel like a side character promoted for no good reason.
The series wouldn’t even be too different with an alternative protagonist. G.L.O.W. wouldn’t be made any better by cutting out Ruth. She makes a great heel, but she’s not compelling enough for a protagonist. The only thing that makes her a central character to the story is a SPOILER from Episode 8. Suffice to say, it’s a rather common story trope that feels unnecessary. A lot of her protagonist status stems from how she interacts with the others. By giving the side characters more, you could lessen Ruth’s role. And by lessening Ruth’s prominence, you actually make Ruth a stronger, more bearable character.
G.L.O.W. is far from the only show that puts the focus on an unconventional hero. Television’s current fascination is with morally gray anti-heroes. There are plenty of instances of non-heroic protagonists leading great shows. However, there’s an important balance of making them exciting, not annoying. Ruth isn’t villainous – she makes one mistake, then plays the perfectionist. Pitching Ruth as an “anti-hero” doesn’t work beyond explaining the premise of G.L.O.W. The series’ insistence that Ruth be the center of attention weakens the otherwise great ensemble dynamic.
Ideally, toning down Ruth would turn G.L.O.W. into a true ensemble show. There are so many interesting plot lines that shouldn’t be downplayed for Ruth’s. The show could let more side characters shine, like Carmen, Justine, or Sheila. Both characters get maybe half an episode, but they deserve more. Furthermore, there are several wrestlers that we never REALLY get to know. It would be nice to get more insight into side characters like Arthie and Jenny. The show has too many interesting characters to focus on its more annoying vanilla characters.
So much of G.L.O.W. works beautifully. The comedy and drama of the show is very well balanced. The plot moves along very well, and mostly keeps every character interesting. But Ruth doesn’t feel like a smart choice for a protagonist until the very end of the show. It would’ve been better to give a different character the top billing. Whether it be Debbie, Sam, or Cherry, there are far more interesting characters than Ruth. By changing the lead, G.L.O.W. could’ve done a better balance of interesting storylines.