I need to say this first: I am not much of a sports spectator. My wife — a fan of watching college football — would bribe me with the promise of paying for drinks and wings to watch Ohio State games. (This was early in our courtship.)
I may watch a Cubs game if it’s on in a bar when I’m out reading. I do like participating in a noncompetitive way in sports because I like to throw myself around, but watching? I appreciate the drama and conflict, but I have so many other things to watch.
I’ll note: when I grew up in Vermont? Vermont did not have any professional sports teams, only minor league teams. (Don’t even mention the New England Patriots to me.) The closest professional baseball team we had were the Expos. The Montreal Expos. Yes, the closest professional baseball team was in a completely different country.
Lastly: I will be using the term ‘football’ here instead of ‘soccer’.
WELCOME TO WREXHAM is an FX/Hulu show that posits the question: What if two entertainment big-wigs wanted to help revitalize a down-on-their-luck city by bolstering their once proud football club (FC, for short) and try to elevate the football club from the National League to the Premiere League? In this case, the big-wigs are the charming duo of Ryan Reynolds (DEADPOOL and DEFINITELY, MAYBE) and Rob McElhenney (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA).
In someone else’s hands, this could be a treacly, by-the-numbers TV documentary of oversea saviors lending their time and cash to pridefully take credit for inspiring a city most in the U.S. have never even heard of.
Thankfully, WELCOME TO WREXHAM is not that sort of TV documentary. The story here isn’t so much the football club, but how the Wrexham FC acts as the fulcrum for Wrexham and how the upswing of a community sports team — it’s worth noting that the Wrexham FC’s board is community-based — can help bolster a city that has seen better times.
The end result feels more like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS than say 30 ON 30. A number of episodes are light on both football gameplay and Rob & Ryan and instead focus on folks in the city, folks in the FC’s orbit. A recent episode spent almost the entirety of its running time on one autistic youth who is an avid Wrexham FC fan, as well as one of the Wrexham FC players who has a young autistic child. Other episodes feature the long-standing bar near to the Wrexham FC stadium -The Turf- and its landlord Wayne Jones, as well as a stable of other townspeople and folks who are true believers in their local team.
Episode after episode, for better or for worse, you see the city transform — both emotionally and financially — as Rob & Ryan infuse Wrexham with their dollars and spirit and hope.
Apparently when Rob pitched this idea to Ryan, of helping to shepherd a sports underdog story, neither of them had much of a relationship, but you wouldn’t know it based on the show. They have an instantaneous camaraderie and act more like old friends who feel genuinely comfortable with each other, joshing and poking fun at the other in a very heartfelt manner. It’s a surprisingly amazing example of a healthy male friendship, one that oddly isn’t portrayed on-screen often, especially not in a serialized sports documentary.
While this TV documentary could have been shot like any other doc — as a bunch of talking heads, interspersed with football footage — no one involved is willing to settle for that. WELCOME TO WREXHAM feels as vibrant as early Errol Morris works. Rob & Ryan often interrupt the voice-over, and one episode recreates a sort of SPORTSCENTER episode, and even the football footage feels energetic due to some magnificent music supervision with inspired needle-drops.
It feels unlike any TV doc I’ve ever seen. It’s deftly inspired and emotional and empathetic and endlessly engrossing, despite how little you may care about sports.
While WELCOME TO WREXHAM is not exactly playing out in real-time, you still don’t quite know how all of this will play out. You know there will be an endpoint. Obviously, Rob & Ryan can’t keep this up forever, and there will be consequences when that happens. It’s a tense drama, but in the meantime, it’s a supremely hopeful work and one worth watching.
The second season is now playing on FX/Hulu, but I definitely suggest starting from the beginning. You will not regret it.