Within the early moments of Welcome to Wrexham, Hollywood actor Rob McElhenney surveys his humble childhood house in South Philadelphia, his voice-over explaining his determination to pair with one other Hollywood actor, Ryan Reynolds, to purchase a modest Welsh soccer membership — regardless of each having little to no expertise with soccer or Wales.
McElhenney establishes his lifelong relationship with sports activities and tries to attract a connection between Philly and Wrexham, framing the cities as getting a equally tough shake. “Despite the fact that I’ve by no means been there, the city jogs my memory of Philadelphia,” he says of Wrexham (his first go to is finally captured on-camera). “I really feel like I do know these folks. Like I’ve grown up with these folks. I’m a kind of folks.” Earnest and saccharine, McElhenney attracts from his modest roots and the ability of sport to align his plight together with your sympathies. His argument isn’t significantly convincing should you cease and give it some thought, however within the second, you sorta, kinda purchase it.
When it’s not centered on Reynolds and McElhenney, who’re deployed as if the present have been afraid it could lose the viewers’s consideration with out their recurring presence, Welcome to Wrexham possesses the aesthetic sheen of a standard sports activities docuseries. The manufacturing observes numerous goings-on on the membership within the naturalistic vein of All or Nothing or Sunderland ’Til I Die, chronicling its ostensible topics — the Wrexham soccer membership, its new house owners, its personnel, and the encircling city — as they battle for promotion into the upper and extra profitable English soccer leagues. Earnest interviews with die-hard followers are routinely deployed for emotional stakes. The treacly music offers minor Ted Lasso. There’s some quantity of class-gazing taking place with Wrexham’s situation as a postindustrial metropolis foregrounded as a degree of documentary curiosity, recalling related dynamics in Cheer and Final Likelihood U. Calling Welcome to Wrexham a pastiche wouldn’t precisely be correct, but it surely’s not not pastiche both.
I’m not resistant to Wrexham’s pleasures. It leans onerous and successfully on the attract of reliable sports-genre beats and, at its most fascinating, tickles the a part of the sports-fan mind that fantasizes about being a normal supervisor: That is the way you rebuild a company, handle expectations, go after that promotion to the higher leagues. And, look, the celeb voyeurism isn’t dangerous both — I actually wouldn’t thoughts seeing extra of McElhenney’s plush kitchen. But it surely’s onerous to look previous the artificial high quality of your entire affair. As with Reynolds himself, you’re probably by no means going to get an actual or true second onscreen with this factor.
Because the documentary growth of current years presents increasingly more nonfiction choices, the docuseries itself has turn into commodified, ensuing within the normal flattening of expertise and aesthetic. Throughout the sports-docuseries subgenre, one other maybe extra pernicious development emerges: nonfiction storytelling as outstanding advertising and marketing vessels for its topics. That is on no account a brand new phenomenon; HBO’s Laborious Knocks, which has been following American soccer groups by preseason-training camps since 2001, has all the time functioned as a strong promoting marketing campaign, if not for the staff being profiled, then for the NFL as a complete. However the speedy rise and public recognition of Drive to Survive as a significant supply of rising Components 1 curiosity in america seems like a watershed second for this understanding of sports activities docuseries as advertising and marketing automobiles. As a lot as the recognition of Cheer elicited a mandatory dialog about cheerleading’s toll on the our bodies of its athletes, it’s important to assume it was additionally nearly actually one of many extra outstanding ads for the game in current reminiscence.
Wrexham represents a perfection within the fashionable artwork of influencer reality-inversion, the bleeding out and spreading of kayfabe throughout the docuseries panorama like butter on bread.
Welcome to Wrexham sits on the terminus of those developments. The presumed pitch for the present’s success is pretty simple to think about: FX will get a couple of months of cost-friendly programming and a platform to keep up its relationship with McElhenney, who’s now toggling between FX (with It’s All the time Sunny in Philadelphia) and Apple TV+ (the rising Mythic Quest universe), whereas Reynolds and McElhenney get a novel method to develop the model of their newly acquired soccer asset. In the meantime, Wrexham AFC followers profit from no matter publicity emerges from the present. The manufacturing itself will get a leg up from your entire association because it solutions a stable query of the way it would possibly get away in an more and more crowded docuseries market: literal star energy. You must admit, Wrexham is a feat of program growth.
However Wrexham isn’t a piece that paperwork in any significant sense. It doesn’t matter what the manufacturing mockingly or sincerely suggests itself to be (it’s by no means clear), it’s finally a God-tier piece of branded content material — or, extra particularly, a genuinely modern spin on an unscripted actuality present within the vein of The Kardashians. In a way, Wrexham represents a perfection within the fashionable artwork of influencer reality-inversion, the bleeding out and spreading of kayfabe throughout the docuseries panorama like butter on bread. Every time the present breaks away from its intriguing membership drama and returns to varied Reynolds-McElhenney excessive jinks, it creates a dissociative impact; watching the duo pal round as they tour the nation or pull in well-known associates to attend video games is like watching a parody of a present inside a present, besides the entire thing appears to be performed for sincerity. That fixed toggling locations a tough cap on any genuine relationship one would possibly really feel with the precise individuals who make up Wrexham AFC, an ever-present reminder that the one cause we care about this membership in any respect is because of the largesse of two Hollywood actors.
Even in an period full of docuseries fluff, Wrexham is maybe the primary to really cross a Rubicon of types. To an extent, all sports activities docs are the product of negotiation with the powers behind the subject material. Concessions may be made for higher entry, but it surely’s historically the precedence of the manufacturing to protect some sense of objectivity. Nevertheless, given the very nature of its building, Wrexham pushes previous the veil of the objectivity pretense into a brand new place completely. To a viewer who loves documentaries for his or her glimpses into actuality, the impact may be vicious, as if Reynolds and McElhenney stiched a shiny go well with out of a battered corpse. However as somebody who embraces this chilly, darkish leisure world for what it’s, I can’t assist however really feel admiration. I gaze into the abyss of Welcome to Wrexham, and I believe I see the longer term.