In creating a show about women’s wrestling, GLOW creators Liz Flahive (Homeland, Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black, Weeds) were armed with inspiration from the 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which documented the sport in the ’80s, and the ability to craft hilarious dramedy with can’t-stop-watching characters. With Alison Brie in the lead role, a lot of spandex, numerous headbands and more than a little hilarity, Flahive and Mensch’s Netflix series became a smash hit.
Heading into Season 2, Flahive and Mensch discuss writing well-rounded women, how they made everyone comfortable in a leotard, and how the cast became next-level wrestling experts.
Did you ever anticipate that this show would be so immediately successful?
Carly Mensch: We’re not aware of the impact yet. We’re in the bubble of making it and working and we don’t get any numbers. So we kind of have no sense, other than it’s exciting that people want to talk to us about the show.
GLOW EP Jenji Kohan told me once she’d started writing because her boyfriend told her she couldn’t do it. As women in the industry, have you experienced push-back like that in your careers?
Liz Flahive: I think we both have a contrarian streak that pushes us forward. I think we’ve both been told ‘no’ a lot. I think Jenji was kind of in a position and I think there was kind of a generational gap. Because Jenji got that challenge and worked her ass off, she created a world where it’s easier for us. And we’re not facing as much, maybe sexism, as she faced, even though it’s fully out there in the industry. There are just kind of pockets where, for example, working for Jenji, you don’t experience it. But I think we’ve both been told, “No, you’re not good enough, this isn’t good enough,” many times. I think that’s been the motivator for a long time. Starting from theater to now.
In choosing wrestling, you chose an industry that by its very nature deals in stereotypes. It’s about caricature, and what you did was completely flip that on its head by writing characters who were not stereotypical in any way.
Flahive: I think we were uncomfortable, and then looked at our discomfort and realized because it’s so different from what we do, we kind of had to figure it out, and figure out whether we could play with this form. And it also felt like—and it’s happening right now—this idea of dividing the world into black and white, good vs. bad, this type vs. that type, it’s a problem. And we did not want to contribute to that problem, but very much wanted to convert it, and explore it—and think about, what does that mean?
And what does it mean when you have two kind of modes in your show? One where you’re in a fully grounded, nuanced, natural mode, and one where you’re following them into these characters that they play. But at all times you’ll follow the person instead of the stereotype. You’ll never be just looking at the stereotypes. I think all of that came into why we were attracted to the project.
Mensch: I think we figured out how we were going to use wrestling, and how we were going to use that to help tell these stories of these women. It just felt like the right container for the tone we wanted to strike and the stories we wanted to tell. And it’s just so wild that that’s wrestling.
One of the things that makes the show so compelling, particularly now, is that the ’80s was an interesting time for women, politically and socially. Do you feel it draws some good parallels with where we’re at today?
Mensch: Yeah, terrifyingly so. A lot of the time. When we originally conceived it, we weren’t anticipating that. We were thinking more that all of the women’s movements happened in the ’70s, so what was the ’80s? How did women deal with the new freedoms? How were they as stuck as ever before? More and more times we’d see a speech by someone like Phyllis Schlafly, or some ’80s conservatives and we’d see similar language today. And that was eerie.
The women in GLOW, even when they’re in these silly costumes, seem so empowered and in charge of everything, while the men are fairly ridiculous. How did you create that sense?
Mensch: We intended for none of the men to be taken seriously, and I think we were equally interested in how at times the women just have all the power, and at other times, they’re just actresses on a show that is being directed and bossed around by men all the time. I think we wanted both of those in the show. But we do have some absurd moments, I think, where the women kind of realize it. I think we’re equally interested in the empowerment and the kind of powerlessness they sometimes have.
You’ve got all these women wearing spandex and leotards, but you’ve also chosen a great, diverse mixture of body types, and none of those women seem to feel inhibited or uncomfortable. In fact, they all look great. What went into that?
Flahive: That was also very, very intentional from the beginning. I think we always talked about it between the two of us, and then obviously with other people. We always said that it was a body show, and we were going to use bodies to tell stories, and wanted a range of body types on the show. And that we knew the kind of costuming we were going to ask the actresses to be in almost all the time. That turned into a conversation about what the set needed to feel like, and how even though we had a bunch of actresses in leotards every single day, we wanted them to feel as comfortable as if they were wearing jeans and a T-shirt. All of that stuff felt very baked into the idea as we created that first season.
It’s a big part of our storytelling. And it is amazing. They are so comfortable. That’s the nature of the vibe on the set, and really how they all are together. They’re just this incredible team and they’re a force when they’re all together. So from our side, it’s been something we really intended and something that we really watched develop over the course of the seasons.
The women in the cast have said how much they’ve come to love wrestling. What are we going to see from them this new season? Are they almost competition-level wrestlers at this point?
Flahive: They’re so good. We are so blown away by them. We were rehearsing the finale, and we’re on set all the time, and they did so much more wrestling this season. Being in video village and watching the takes and watching them wrestle, it is one of those things where it’s next level this season for sure. They do so much more wrestling. And it continues to be thrilling, and it continues to not get old. And I think the fact that they love it and we keep pushing it and it’s still a really important part of the narrative of the show, all the things together, it’s just really thrilling in the end to watch.
And where do we see them go in Season 2?
Mensch: In Season 2 you follow the women actually making the TV show. And I think that includes some new pressures and new competitiveness between people, and then also some new challenges for everyone. Then I think you watch some external pressures from the network and some other places bear down on them and kind of will the women to succeed and find a new way out. As Liz said, there’s so much more wrestling. I think you get to dive deeper into characters that we only scratched the surface of in Season 1. Tammé, I think you got to know a lot better, and other characters down the line. I think we took some new risks.
Flahive: I think with Season 1, we really took our time, deliberately. I think we knew we couldn’t go backwards once we taught them how to wrestle, and I knew we needed the structure of Season 1 to be the audition to the shooting of the pilot [of the show the characters shoot within the series]. And I think we were really excited for Season 2 because we had spent so much time introducing these characters and getting to know them a little bit, and setting up the rules of wrestling, and making sure the characters and the audience understood how we were using wrestling to tell our story. And then it just felt like in Season 2, the universe just got so much bigger in a way that was really exciting.