If you read my musings you know of my love for professional wrestling, so you can only imagine how much I was looking forward to “GLOW” dropping on Netflix. It did not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to fans and non-fans alike. I don’t review shows — I leave that to others — but I will say that what impressed me most about the show was it treated pro wrestling with the respect it deserves. Pro wrestling is an art form (go ahead and laugh), an athletic way of storytelling, which pits good against evil, and the shades of gray in between.
Having worked in the TV biz, I generally laugh at the efforts to do insider storytelling of the industry. With the exception of “The Larry Sanders Show,” I cannot remember a show about television that came close to representing what went on behind the scenes. I felt “GLOW” did an exceptional job of looking behind the curtain, especially in respecting the language of the sport. I won’t spoil the ending, but the way the writers incorporated the concepts of “work” and “shoot” into the finale was brilliant.
What I thought I would do today is answer the question that no one has asked me, which is “If I liked ‘GLOW’ what else would I enjoy in the world of professional wrestling sports entertainment? What would help me better appreciate the show?” I thought I would suggest one book, a podcast and three other shows.
If you want an excellent overview of the history of the sport and the characters that have populated it, read “The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling” by David Shoemaker aka “The Masked Man” (no relation). The book takes you through the various eras of pro wrestling, going back to the Golden Age and the Territory days leading up to the monolith which is Vince McMahon’s WWE. It’s a fun read.
As has always been the case the confluence of technology and professional wrestling is a story in and of itself. Wrestling was omnipresent in the early days of TV. As a kid, I religiously watched the matches from Sunnyside, Queens, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston. Pro wrestling was among the highest-rated cable shows culminating in the Monday Night Wars between the WWF (now WWE) and Ted Turner’s WCW. Wrestlemania was among the earliest successes in the pay-per-view space. The WWE Network is one of the first streaming channels as the business drifts towards digital.
Even in the world of podcasting, pro wrestling was an early adopter. There are many wrestling podcasts, but the one I want to recommend to “GLOW” viewers who want to get deeper into the sport is “The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana.” This was one of the earliest podcasts, but what makes it unique is that Colt Cabana is an independent wrestler. Cabana treats wrestling as an art form, and his guests are generally indie wrestlers, many of whom had a cup of coffee in the WWE. Colt also keeps us informed of his global adventures wrestling for countless independent organizations. There’s no shilling here. It’s real talk about the business, and you come away with a deep understanding of what makes wrestlers tick.
Before I get into some of the shows which you may want to check out, I want to suggest that you follow @CodyRhodes on Twitter. Cody is one of two sons of the legendary Dusty Rhodes who followed in his father’s footsteps. Both Cody (ring name Stardust) and his brother Dustin (Goldust) wrestled for the WWE, but Cody asked for his release and has since pursued a journey on the independent circuit. It’s fun to follow his adventures and his success. Also check out Dusty’s “promos” on You Tube, especially his “hard times” masterpiece.
Finally, I want to recommend three wrestling shows which best reflect the spirit of “GLOW.” I have always felt that this notion of Peak TV is really about the need to feed the beast of the various platforms on which we can consume entertainment. Just as there has been an explosion in the number of scripted and unscripted shows, we can also talk about Peak Wrestling, where the WWE is no longer the only game in town. In fact, some of the smaller organizations are putting on better and more creative product, ironically one of which is a WWE-produced show. Here they are:
“Lucha Underground” is on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network. It is the closest thing to “GLOW” in that it combines lucha libre style wrestling (for the most part) with storytelling about this fictional wrestling organization. There are lots of masks and lots of fantasy. You can find prior seasons on Netflix.
“NJPW” (New Japan Professional Wrestling) is on Mark Cuban’s AXS TV and it’s the best wrestling show going. They are partnered with Sinclair’s Ring of Honor, and they just did a sold-out show in Long Beach, Calif. Japanese wrestling is often described as “strong style” in that it is more physical than what is offered in the WWE. The storytelling is excellent and incorporated into the matches much better than anything you find in the WWE. There are several gaijin wrestlers from the U.S. and Canada. Several NJPW stars have come into the WWE of late, including AJ Styles, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. NJPW’s Kenny Omega is one of the biggest stars in the sport and will almost certainly show up in the WWE one of these days.
“NXT” is streamed on the WWE Network. The brainchild of Vince McMahon’s son-in-law Paul Levesque, otherwise known as Triple H, NXT is the training ground for the next generation of WWE stars, many of whom have graduated to the main roster. It also has the feel of an independent show shot in a small studio in Orlando. Probably the greatest contribution of NXT to the sport of professional wrestling is to elevate the women wrestlers to a stature comparable to the men. Charlotte Flair (daughter of the legendary Ric Flair) may turn out to be the greatest women’s wrestler of all time, and women often headline NXT events that coincide with the big WWE pay-per-views. They have come a long way from the days of “GLOW.”
In the past year or so NXT has evolved into bringing in wrestlers from the smaller independent organizations and allowing them to retain their name and persona. It is now a hybrid of homegrown talent and the best independent wrestlers from all over the world.
All three of these shows are an hour, so you don’t need to slog through two or three hours as you do watching “Raw” or “Smackdown.”
Finally, find an independent wrestling show near you and go to it. You will get the feel of “GLOW” at these shows. And on a personal note, if anyone can get me into a PWG event in Reseda, I will be eternally grateful.
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