Does anybody remember Alex Riley? He was my favorite jobber back in 2013. I even created a 7-part series back then describing his in-ring humiliations and eventual firing. I called it “Strife of Riley” if you want to search for it in the little search bar over in the right margin.
Well I recently subscribed to Netflix and discovered that our A-Ry (also known as Kevin Kiley) has launched an acting career and appeared on an episode of the Netflix series, GLOW. Those of you who’ve had Netflix are probably well aware that he appeared in Season 1, Episode 5 of the series, which first aired in June 2017. I’m just catching up here, so bear with me.
GLOW is a dramedy about ladies learning to wrestle in a sleazy all-female promotion based on the 1980’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling show (which I tried so hard back then to watch and get into — I really did — but it was just too hokey, plus I’d rather watch men wrestle, obviously.)
So on Episode 5 of GLOW, the lady wrestlers decided to go watch some male wrestlers in action, to see how it’s done and learn some moves. This is when we see our Alex Riley roar in on a motorcycle, and we learn from the lady wrestlers’ conversation that he is known as “Steel Horse” — a baby-face hero. He’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt to depict his working-man persona, but I sure wish he’d lose at least the shirt.
His opponent, the evil Mr. Monopoly (played by sexy Joey Ryan) strides to the ring in a gorgeous green robe with his hairy chest and oversized bulge exposed:
As Joey’s female valet strips off his robe, we learn that he and Steel have a long-running feud:
“It all started when Mr. Monopoly closed down the factory in Steel Horse’s town, and he and all of his friends lost their jobs.”
The ladies are learning during this field trip that pro wrestling story-lines are critical to the fans’ enjoyment. There is more to it than just rolling around in one’s underwear — the fans want to see months of prolonged abuse, nasty mind-fucking, and psychological warfare inflicted by the bully Heel on the vulnerable Face — terms that the ladies are just learning to define.
A love triangle is introduced when Steel Horse drops to his knees, begging Monopoly’s valet to come back to him (and looking adorable in his white tee). But she is brain-washed against him and does not return his affection.
As with most love triangles, the real heat is between the men involved, with the female serving as a trophy or an object of exchange between the rival males. Owning her implies ownership of the other man — it’s totally gay.
Here, Joey is presented as bare-chested and hairy, a sexual beast, whereas Alex is innocent and impotent, clad in white with his body and his sex appeal (unfortunately) covered up while the female spurns him. Will Steel Horse be able to get it up?
The show uses this all-too-brief match to make some points about how pro wrestling works. The story-lines are therefore simplified, the Heel and Face reduced to caricatures to try to explain pro wrestling as a soap opera so Netflix viewers who are perhaps not pro wrestling fans will get the point.
This is how pro wrestling is usually presented on TV shows: like a third grader wrote the story behind the feud. I get it, they just don’t have time to get into the nuance and psychology and homo-erotic sub-text that make pro wrestling awesome, but it disappoints me that TV shows often reduce my beloved sport to a punchline. It feels as if they’re lampooning pro wrestling, or at least reducing or over-simplifying it.
I obviously would love to see more action between Riley and Ryan, two of my favorite wrestling crushes. Netflix should make a spin-off that dramatizes their entire long-running feud, all of their homo-erotic love triangles, their painful and dramatic matches in the ring.
After Steel destroys Monopoly with a body-slam, we finally get to see what we’ve been craving…
Steel rips open his shirt, expressing his animal magnetism and raw sexuality as the audience erupts. Netflix does a great job depicting the crowd’s over-the-top climactic reaction when Steel climbs the ropes, raising his arms in erect victory. We get some B-Role audience footage of females swooning, moaning, and screaming their heads off as this specimen of manhood flexes over them.
And the match is over. The entire scene from Steel’s motorcycle entry to this victory pose lasted only 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Still, I was pleased to see males — two wrestlers I really like — appearing on GLOW. It makes me want to watch more episodes to see if they ever bring these guys back in.
Did Netflix cover it with make-up, or did he have it removed I wonder? Was it deemed too religious, or just not aesthetically pleasing to Netflix viewers?
After the show, the lady wrestlers go backstage to meet this hunk and tell him how excited his wrestling made them feel. He greets them (shirtless) with a winning smile and invites them into his locker room.
With the lights dimmed, Steel then gives the ladies a sexy, shirtless lecture (in his deep, gravely voice) about the Heel-Babyface dynamic:
“I sell it, but he’s the one with the real strength, the real craft. That’s how it is with the Bad Guys — they’re craftsmen. The Heel makes the Face. Rick has been making me look good for years!”
“We’re not friends — you don’t have to be friends to wrestle. It’s like an unspoken language. I look at him like this, he looks at me like that, and we know what’s gonna go down, because that’s a partnership, you know. We don’t like each other, but we make each other better.
The shit in the ring — that’s just entertainment. But there’s gotta be something there that’s real. That’s what makes it work. That’s what makes it hit you… right… here.” [He places a hand on her breast.]
Alex is presented as an ideal male — muscular, heroic, and hard-working. The female lead sends her friends home in order to sleep with him and they begin to kiss. The next morning, she tells her friend that she feels sore because of his “steel”.
GLOW is really a show about female empowerment, depicting women’s ability to perform and succeed just as well as men. Most of the men on the show are stumble-bums and misogynists, so it’s interesting to see Alex presented as this flawless Ideal Male that the empowered females cannot resist (heroic and hunky in the ring, a polite sexual dynamo backstage.)
So congratulations Alex — I hope the acting career takes off and we see much more of you (just with less clothing next time…).