Three seasons in and I don’t know how I feel about Ruth Baxter
By Liz Singh
GLOW – The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – is a based-on-a-true-concept type sitcom (? drama ? sit-ma ?) about a women’s wrestling in the eighties. It’s a feminist by default excuse to recreate the most extreme looks of 80s women’s fashion and some of the most cliched of 80s women’s problems with some kitschy wrestling scenes and liberal politics thrown in for good measure. Like the “A-Team” meets “A League of Their Own” meets “Tiffany” but with heart.
At the center of it all is Ruth (Alison Brie )- a wannabe serious Artisttm who considers herself above all of this despite being unable to find any other work. I think Ruth is supposed to be relatable to every girl. Early on, she showcases her pluck and determination but as the series grinds on, Ruth’s personality is starting to grind a bit too. She provides Alison Brie with a spectacular opportunity to show off her acting chops – bubbly, warm and charming elsewhere, here she is the human equivalent of gum on your shoe. She grates, she annoys, she drains. She’s too determined, too sincere, too committed. I can’t tell but I think the show is trying to make me hate her.
Like yes, she’s the star of the show but I’m sure I don’t want to be her. I might already be – like it or not. She seems to embody the worst qualities of failing artists everywhere. Surely I’m not supposed to like her – the quivering lip, the impassioned speeches, the whining. She looks bad – her clothes are ugly. She always seems to be complaining, looking at the wrong side of something. Ruth of today would carry hand sanitizer in her purse, not hot sauce. She makes unfunny jokes about the deaths of national heroes because she would. Ruth would. Her main quality is that she’s just wrong somehow. It’s like if you made a spinoff of “Mad Men” that focused entirely on Pete.
“At the center of it all is Ruth – a wanna be serious Artisttm who considers herself above all of this despite being unable to find any other work. I think Ruth is supposed to be the relatable every girl…Her main quality is that she’s just wrong somehow. It’s like if you made a spinoff of “Mad Men” that focused entirely on Pete.”
I definitely don’t want to be her friend. She’s envious, disloyal and petty. She envied her best friend her relationship so she slept with her husband. She envies her roommate her talent so she nearly tanks her big moment. In both cases, carelessly too – as if it hasn’t even occurred to her that this isn’t how friends behave. Speaking of careless, she’s a terrible romantic partner leaving a trail of broken hearts behind her on her path to making Art. It’s as if she’s punishing other people for the fact that she isn’t particularly talented or interesting. She is, as Justine (Britt Baron) describes her, completely forgettable. And then when you do remember her, you’re annoyed.
It’s hard to remember Ruth – she’s designed to be forgettable. In a world of intensely saturated neon, she’s a pastel. Pretty much every person on the show has a more compelling storyline than its main character and there are a ton of people on this show. I had to look up most of their names to be able to refer to them in this article. I think of them as the wolf one, the lesbians, the potheads, British Beard, Black Stunt Lady and the one my friend calls LockJaw (we eventually remembered her name is JunkChain) because I can’t be bothered to remember all their names.
There are so many of them that their problems and the solutions to said problems seem to come at a mile a minute. I regularly lost track of characters entirely. When one of them announced they were leaving all I could feel was a relief – one less to remember. After all, her main strength was that she was a good wrestler and there’s no time for that on Glow. None of that is Ruth’s fault per se but it does make me wonder why she gets to be the star.
The season overall was a roller coaster. There was wrestling, there was a spectacle, there was Christmas, there were motorcycle stunts and Geena Davis and Las Vegas. There was bulimia, there was AIDS and (an unrelated) threesome, there was a fire, there was the Holocaust. Sometimes so many of those things were happening at the same time that I barely knew how to feel about it and yet the most interesting things Ruth came up with to do this season were cheated on her boyfriend and still be a failure. (By the way, I may forget about Ruth but Ruth keeps forgetting she has a boyfriend and I think that’s worse.)
“It has moments that shine, that keep you hooked. The sheer talent of the cast and crew for one – in terms of the level of spectacle, few shows hold a candle. There are laughs and at one point an almost tear.”
So – is Ruth just a hot mess or is it a trick of the light? Do people really want to watch a show where the heroine is a dweeb? Does any element of my childhood remain unmined for a quick reference or a cheap gag?
But just like Ruth, Glow is determined to keep trying to win me over. How can I stay mad at someone who wants me to hang out with them so much? Every time I think I might look away – that my attention might stray over to Amazon for a rewatch of “Fleabag” or that I might lull myself to sleep with one last round of “The Office” before it quits for greener pastures – it pulls me back in. Like Geena Davis isn’t enough? Here’s Geena Davis wearing feathers! Bored of watching these ladies do creative and athletic wrestling moves every episode? Here they are dressed as elves! Here they are again dressed as each other! Not political enough for you? We can solve racism! We will give you a hate crime! We will burn this stage to the ground before we’re going to let you switch tabs.
It has moments that shine, that keep you hooked. The sheer talent of the cast and crew for one – in terms of the level of spectacle, few shows hold a candle. There are laughs and at one point an almost tear. Mostly, there’s an energy and optimism that keep you hooked. Glow and Ruth have that go-getter spirit, the indefatigable nature that Davis brought as a young baseball star, Glow embodies as a show – they just keep auditioning because you never know: your next big break, the moment it all comes together could be right around the corner. Waiting for that moment will keep me watching for at least another ten episodes. After that, we’ll see – I may start to crave coherence – but then again, maybe not. I’m confused but I’m enjoying it and maybe that’s enough for me.