“Welcome to Wrexham” is perhaps the closest thing a sports documentary has to a chicken-and-egg question. Does the FX series exist because Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took a flyer to buy Wrexham FC, a downtrodden Welsh football team? Or was the “Welcome to Wrexham” opportunity even a main reason for the purchase?
The fact that both answers seem plausible is never too far removed from the show itself. McElhenney and Reynolds discuss their lavish pandemic purchase in early interviews, a move between social media pals whose first face-to-face meeting is caught on those documentary cameras. They are the main attraction in the charming opening episode, which becomes as spontaneous and unguarded as press-savvy comedy stars can get.
However, the two soon have to accept the fact that they are mixing an entrepreneurial endeavor with real human emotions at stake. While “Welcome to Wrexham” never strays too far from the familiar behind-the-scenes documentary rhythms, it documents an elaborate experiment. Wrexham, a side stuck at the bottom of the British football ladder, are the kind of side that could welcome a reorganization. At the same time, Reynolds and McElhenney see the club as a test case for whether an influx of funds and a jolt can do more harm than good to a fanbase. In the pyramid of British football, their ultimate goal is not necessarily to be the best team, but simply to get a chance to play against better teams.
The parts of Welcome to Wrexham that remain in Wales are a fairly effective portrait of a town, done in traditional community portrait mode. Cameras follow Wrexham players into their personal lives, capturing semi-candid moments with family members or home improvement projects. These are fitted between everyday glimpses of their surroundings, a once booming factory town that has seen a gradual decline in production both on the field and in local factory labor. However, “Welcome to Wrexham” maintains a general mood of optimism as any review of recent troubles gives way to the prospect that this wild enterprise could be the rising tide that lifts all the boats in the region.
“Welcome to Wrexham”
And that look at Wrexham extends beyond the squad. Tiny glimpses into the garden crew’s chores sit well with contributions from local pub owners, team volunteers and lifelong die-hard fans. (In the UK, they’re “supporters,” something the occasional cheeky on-screen “translation” graphic might hint at.) They don’t last long enough to have a particularly firm grip on a person, but many of them do enough impression that they are later registered in crowd-shots episodes.
The series’ opening episode is based on the unpredictability that Reynolds and McElhenney’s move brings to the team and to the city as a whole. Direct interaction with the backers and existing team management, even via Zoom, adds a bit of fish-out-of-water energy to the process. But until the sale is finalized, the couple will have to respond remotely. It’s not that they aren’t involved – there are plenty of sequences showing them advertising in different locations or McElhenney streaming games from the other side of the world. There are just enough logistical obstacles to keep these seesaw halves from Welcome to Wrexham from fully interlocking.
With Rob in Los Angeles in the writers’ room of “Always Sunny” and Ryan at various undisclosed locations via FaceTime, one character that shows up is Humphrey Ker. As a writer on “Mythic Quest” and a key cast member on NBC’s best new show, Ker becomes the unofficial envoy/resident British football whisperer for the new owners. He’s the vector for explaining fan interest in specific player acquisitions, conveying specific operational costs, and helping two high-profile football newbies appreciate the more subtle aspects of this project. He also does as much as anyone in this series can to shake up its calculated nature. Every time he takes McElhenney and Reynolds’ plans away from decent sports brand opportunities and closer to reality, everyone involved is better off.
“Welcome to Wrexham”
Welcome to Wrexham comes up against a challenge that every Sports Doctor of the Season has to deal with in one way or another. Aside from some clearly defined make-or-break points on a timeline, it’s hard for some of these games to stand out as anything other than parts of a months-long churn. The game footage itself hovers between the kind of glossy promotional gimmick tailor-made for an Instagram role and the reality of playing in a less glamorous British football department. The addition of some cellphone camera footage from the stands gives an additional fan perspective that similar documents rarely make room for.
As much as parts of the show feel like glowing portraits, “Welcome to Wrexham” gradually settles into acknowledging what everyone else is beginning to realise. The Wrexham Club (enterprising Googlers can attest to this) doesn’t become a world-class sensation overnight. Her transformation comes with a certain amount of growing pains, which the show is doing its best to get used to. Overall, Welcome to Wrexham starts out as a transatlantic hype video and continues as something more resilient to instant gratification.
In doing so, it’s on the verge of some bigger glimpses into the nature of ownership and fandom, and how the relationship between the two is transforming the sport at a fundamental level. The majority of the feedback from the Wrexhamers is demonstrably positive, but not everyone is convinced from the start. Similarly, the show benefits from early goodwill but must contend with the expectations that come afterward. The basis for the success of “Welcome to Wrexham” is there. Like the team recording it, it just has to figure out its identity first.
“Welcome to Wrexham” premieres on Wednesday, August 24th at 10pm ET on FX. New episodes air weekly and are available to stream on Hulu the next day.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/08/welcome-to-wrexham-review-ryan-reynolds-rob-mcelhenney-soccer-documentary-1234755102/ Welcome to Wrexham Review: Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney’s football doc