April 2023

Welcome to Wrexham

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

This is something that caught us by surprise on Hulu after we finished watching Reservation Dogs: a documentary about Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney buying a Welsh football team and taking viewers through the first year of that odyssey. (There will be, it seems, a second season.)

During its 18 episodes (!), each about 30 minutes in length, we learn many things about how football intersects with fathers and sons, a town's (curated) working-class history, the politics of the United Kingdom, the power relations among owners, players and fans, and the masochistic psychology of fandom.

While someone called it a real-life version of Ted Lasso, I think that undercuts the existential importance of, first, the team to the town's welfare as a town and, second, the indefinable but essential spirit that a community needs to be a community and not just a loose affiliation of selfish needs and the political alliances to achieve them (a lá Margaret Thatcher).

And there's also something a bit deeper about being working class, however that's defined, and the way this financialized capitalist system constantly extracts what it can from people while only grudgingly giving back resources to keep the workers alive and available for more extraction.

Whether it's Wrexham or the Philadelphia of McElhenney, the lower tiers of the society see their connections to sports not only as a matter of pride but also of resistance. Yes, the teams are corporate enterprises, but they also function as containers where people, unable to voice displeasure or dissatisfaction or fear or dismay in most of the institutions that govern their lives, can let those sentiments loose and find, no matter how ersatz, some measure of relief, pride and purpose (and, let us not forget, hooliganism).

The other thing I noticed, though it wasn't emphasized, was the differences in vibe between the rich Americans and their workers, that is, the team players. When the two of them visited the locker room after a loss and tried to buck up the players' spirits, I could see how inauthentic the action looked, even if it was well intended on their part – it was the bosses coming along to the workers to tell them everything will be all right and then leaving to go their insulated redoubts while the others trundle off to their homes and bills and worries about whether they'll have contracts in the coming months.

In a strange way, it recapitulated the earlier centuries of steel work and coal mining that formed the character of the town, a time of exploitation and class antagonism. I wasn't sure how to read the faces of the players: it's one thing to have angel investors come along and save the club, another to have them physically in your presence expecting you to react to their consolations. I wondered if they were a bit embarrassed and perhaps annoyed, as if being dragooned into some sort of play for the cameras.

Some online reviews, especially in Vulture, point this out: that the documentary seems to be about the travails (tragic, comedic, melancholic) about two rich white men who quixotically take on something about which they know nothing just because they can do it. Nicholas Quah and Kathryn VanArendonk in their "Welcome to Wrexham Is Kind of Bizarre, Right?," quote VanArendonk from an earlier piece she wrote where she said, "As a show, it's like watching celebrity gods descending to earth and deciding to fuck around with the mortals because it's better than being bored."

Quah adds that "There is almost certainly a good story to be told here about a small football club that's going through the experience of bizarre new ownership without centering the owners, but for all sorts of reasons, we were never going to get that."

Perhaps things will change in a second set of episodes, though nothing much can happen until Wrexham's season ends, which will be in mid-year, which means, given the production time it takes to edit and assess, nothing until fall 2023. Not sure what a second television season really means. The draw of the first season was that it wasn't a first season but a documentary about a football team's season. A second season seems to now categorize the town and team as actors in a production process rather than residents of a city living out their real-life challenges: Wrexham has become a product owned by RR and RM, whose business needs could warp the thing they are trying to keep authentic (but "authentic" in a highly curated fashion, that curation again driven by needs and interests that may only be tangentially connected to the real lives of the Wrexhamites).

I guess the gods must have their diversions. We'll see.

(Quick update as of March 16, 2023: Ryan Reynolds just sold Mint Mobile, of which he is part owner, to T-Mobile in a $1.35 billion deal. I am sure the citizens of Wrexham have taken notice.)


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2023 Michael Bettencourt
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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