Written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch
The Netflix series GLOW is exemplary of what makes for good TV: it’s fueled by strong, complex characters. Featuring an assortment of misfit toy types, with a wrestling ring instead of an island, we quickly fall in love with the entire ensemble. That the majority of these complex characters are women elevates the show from something charmingly entertaining to much needed in this time of change.
With the second season now streaming on Netflix, here is a breakdown of the first ten pages of the episode that started it all.
ESTABLISHING TONE AND/OR GENRE
The very first scene, we meet our protagonist Ruth Wilder, fittingly, pretending to be someone else — something she’ll spend much of the season doing. It’s a simple scene but it gives us a taste of the show’s tone and genre right away. The first moment occurs early, after Ruth brown-noses a bit to the casting director to which the casting director replies deadpan that Ruth was reading the wrong part. It’s a brief but classic type of humor and prepares us for the rest of the comedy that will follow. The scene also ends on a punchy note with Ruth awkwardly struggling to exit the room. This scene tells us everything we need to know about the type of humor the show is going for: deadpan, sarcastic.
INTRODUCING THE MAIN CHARACTERS
The above scene, which immediately follows the audition scene, gives us a deeper introduction to Ruth while also building up the type of comedy the script is going for. We realize Ruth is the type of person who will literally camp out in the bathroom in order to try to get an edge on the competition — which is hilarious, partly because Ruth actually thinks that this is something that could actually work/help her. We’re learning that this is the type of person Ruth is: relentless to a fault. For instance, later in the scene, the script doubles down on Ruth’s borderline manic personality to wrap it up:
This scene’s ending is necessary — it reveals so much of Ruth by doing so little. She’s not just stubborn or a pest. She’s determined as hell. She doesn’t deny reading the wrong part on purpose; she’s in this game for the biggest challenge, the juiciest role, no matter the gender. To hell with gender rules. Ruth’s going to say what’s on her mind and go for what she wants. Sure she might be a little overbearing, but it’s a side effect of her strong will.
We then meet Ruth’s best friend, DEBBIE:
The introduction of Debbie allows for a number of things to happen. It reinforces the era — the very 80’s aerobics class — and also tells us that Debbie recently gave birth, which is important story-wise. It also simply tells us that Ruth isn’t alone in this city, that she has a best friend. It also solidifies the script’s tone, as this is a somewhat slapstick-y scene, something we’ll definitely see more of as the episode goes on.
On page 9, we meet SAM, the director of GLOW and it’s a classic introduction:
Despite its brevity, it’s actually the perfect encapsulation of Sam as a character — brusque, crass, and then eventually, professional, as “he pulls it together.”
THE WORLD OF THE STORY
The above locations and descriptions sum up the world of the story pretty simply. The first example, the waiting room, reveals the world that Ruth has thrown herself into — the cutthroat world of Hollywood auditions, where your competition looks exactly like you, only somehow more attractive. It’s stressful, oftentimes humiliating, but, for a big dreamer like Ruth, it’s worth it. It’s also a far cry from the other example: the rundown boxing gym that will become the setting we spend the most time in. The home of GLOW. It clearly ain’t pretty and it’s definitely not what Ruth is looking for. It’s a great place to throw Ruth — pretty much forcing her to start at rock bottom in a way. It doesn’t seem to get any worse than this rundown boxing gym. For the woman who dreams of being the next Katherine Hepburn, here she is, forced to “act” among dried sweat and stale blood.
If one word could sum up the theme of this pilot script (and the show itself) it would be redemption. Perhaps that’s jumping ahead a teeny bit, as the pilot only wades into the waters of redemption, but these opening pages still plant the seeds. As mentioned above, starting Ruth this dream-crushingly low in her journey is a great move because it offers her that chance to grow, to redeem herself — to prove that the decision to become an actress was the right one. Of course, as the pilot progresses, we see that her quest for redemption becomes bigger and more serious: she is sleeping with Debbie’s husband and gets caught. Earning Debbie’s forgiveness and trust back is the ultimate quest for redemption.
But redemption seems to fit because Sam is also looking for it, too. He’s looking to redeem his name, his career. Like Ruth, GLOW might not be what he ever envisioned himself doing, but this could be his second chance.
With the quest for redemption comes perseverance, another theme of the show and one that’s more clearly evident in these opening pages. We see it in the way Ruth waits in the bathroom stall for the casting assistant in order to prove her worth. We see it in Ruth’s decision to drag herself to this sketchy part of LA and sit with these sketchy-looking misfits in this moldy boxing ring, just so she can follow her dream. And again, Sam echoes Ruth: his perseverance helps him swallow the bitterness of taking on the seemingly ridiculous with this show. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it his way.
THE DRAMATIC SITUATION
The dramatic situation of the episode, and ultimately, the show, can be traced from page 4 to page 7, and finally, to page 10.
One page 4:
We have Ruth’s want. This not only establishes Ruth as a character but sets up her ultimate quest, the dramatic situation for the season.
On page 7:
We have something entering Ruth’s life that’s going to, essentially, flip it upside down. An opportunity. Promise. Of course she’s going to take advantage of it, setting the episode into high gear…
And on page 10, we reach the thick of this “opportunity”:
GLOW is introduced. As is this new conflict for Ruth: she’s desperate for work, sure… but is she this desperate? This seems seedy… and embarrassing. What would Katherine Hepburn do? Would she walk away, nose in the air? Or would she take this on, giving it everything she had, making it her own? That’s the question for Ruth — and that’s the question that sparks the pilot.
Travis Maiuro previously taught the craft of writing while pursuing his MFA in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. He also writes about movies here.
Photo credit: Netflix