3 out of 5
Executed Produced by: Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds
I guess there’s a review that starts out describing Welcome to Wrexham by covering the uniqueness of two generally-perceived-as-funnymen – Ryan Reynolds and Rob Mcelhenny – hosting a generally unfunny underdog sports documentary, but I do think FX (and Ryan and Rob, as producers) did a good job of getting the word out there ahead of time so that this was never played up like a twist; the show’s press and the actual presentation make it very clear that the duo’s purchase of the underperforming Welsch football club was a serious venture, informed by dreams of owning a sports team and finding one where they thought they could effect some good. And… that’s what they try to do, through an injection of money that funds a new coach, and top players, and stadium fixups, each using their celebrity to get more attention onto the team (and the situation) and get things going in a positive direction, to raise Wrexham up from lower leagues to pro ones. Appreciably, while there are definitely moments that play up hometeam fandom, and memories of playin’ catch with dad, and that Ryan and Rob learned so, so much from the welcoming Wrexhamians… the show also reminds that there’s money invested, and that, ultimately, the goal is to make a profit. But this is juggled with the two also realizing soon into proceedings that there are real people’s lives mixed up in that venture, so while there are some cold decisions to be made – who stays, who goes – for the sake of the show, they get some insight on what it means to be a bickering fan versus what it means to be paying the bills, and trying to be on both sides of that.
…”For the sake of the show,” because that’s one thing these types of docs can never really get around: framing a narrative. This is entertainment. Welcome to Wrexham is a documentary, but Ryan and Rob do get cute here and there with mixing in ad promotions, and making fun of their differing Hollywood statuses (the humor leans much more toward Ryan’s easy-access “I say swear words with a funny grin” jokes than Rob’s Always Sunny provocativeness), and it’s a weird meta cross-breed of promoting their club and dressing up the 18-episode series as something with half-hour stories and cliffhangers and moments to laugh at or tear up at, when of course, life is never really that packaged. So the show is a light touch. We get 30 minutes on hooliganism; 30 minutes covering a player who’s not rehired on for a new season; 30 minutes discussing the previous coach; etc. It all has to be bite-sized, and it will never be the full picture, along with all of the general beats of any given underdog tale.
Which isn’t to say the reality of things would have swayed whether or not this was made into a show, rather that we’re not coming to this with a completely unbiased eye; however things turn / -ed out (whether you were following this in real time, or waiting for each episode to lay it out), we’re still getting a very packaged, very friendly version of things, that turns locker room emotional abuse into a joke, and only goes deep enough into any situation to get us to react accordingly: shake our heads at the gangs; nod knowingly at how hard these people work; get riled up thinking about our own sports fandom…
It is definitely cool that Wrexham got this kind of treatment, and Ryan and Rob are the right types for something like this, as there’s at least the sense of an intention to be as open as a show that’s also trying to make money can be. So while Welcome to Wrexham ultimately doesn’t exceed all the tunnel-vision, paid-for norms of similar sports docs, it’s a step in a good direction, and it’ll be interesting to see if it inspires similar – and maybe, hopefully more incisive – docs / projects after the fact.