Welcome to Wrexham Review: Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney’s Football Document

An inside look at the pair’s purchase of a longtime Welsh football club back and forth between insight and branding opportunity.

“Welcome to Wrexham” is perhaps the closest sports documentary to a chicken-and-egg question. Does the FX series exist because Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took a leaflet to buy Wrexham FC, an underdog Welsh football team? Or was the possibility of “Welcome to Wrexham” a main reason for the purchase in the first place?

The fact that both answers seem plausible is never so far from the show itself. McElhenney and Reynolds talk in early interviews about their elaborate pandemic buy, a gamble between social media friends whose first in-person meeting is captured by those documentary cameras. They are the star attraction of the charming opening episode, which comes closest to being improvised and reckless as the press-savvy comedy stars are.

Before long, however, the pair must come to terms with the fact that they’re mixing entrepreneurial endeavor with real human emotion at play. While “Welcome to Wrexham” never strays too far from familiar backstage documentary beats, it documents an experience elaborate. Wrexham, a team stuck in the lowest rung of the British football ladder, are the kind of side that could welcome a reshuffle. At the same time, Reynolds and McElhenney see the club as a test of whether an influx of funding and a jolt in a fan base can do more harm than good. In the British football pyramid, their end goal is not necessarily to be the best team, but simply to have the chance to play against the best.

The parts of “Welcome to Wrexham” that remain in Wales are a fairly effective portrait of a town, done in the traditional community portrait mode. The cameras follow the Wrexham players in their private lives, capturing them in semi-candid moments with family members or home improvement projects. These are embedded between daily glimpses of their surroundings, a once booming manufacturing town that has seen a gradual decline in production, both on the ground and in the work of local factories. “Welcome to Wrexham” retains a general spirit of optimism, however, as every look at the issues of the recent past leaves room for the prospect that this wild adventure could be the rising tide that lifts all boats in the region.

“Welcome to Wrexham”

Russ Martin/FX

And this look at Wrexham extends beyond the list. Tiny glimpses of the field crew’s duties dovetail nicely with comments from local pub owners, crew volunteers and die-hard fans. (In the UK, they’re “supporters”, something the cheeky on-screen “translation” graphics might underline.) They don’t last long enough to get a particularly complete grip on a person, but plenty of them. between them they make enough of an impression that they later become part of episodes of mob blows.

The series opener deals with the unpredictability that Reynolds and McElhenney’s gamble brings to the team and the city as a whole. Their direct interaction with supporters and the management of the existing team, even via Zoom, gives some energy out of the water to the process. But by the time the sale is finalized, the pair is relegated to reacting from afar. It’s not that they aren’t involved – there’s plenty of footage showing them advertising in different venues or broadcasting McElhenney matches from the other side of the world. There are just enough logistical hurdles to keep these seesaw halves of “Welcome to Wrexham” from fully meshing.

With Rob in Los Angeles in the “Always Sunny” writers room and Ryan at various undisclosed locations via FaceTime, one emerging figure is Humphrey Ker. Writer of ‘Mythic Quest’ and central player in NBC’s best new show, Ker becomes the unofficial envoy/resident British football whisperer for the new owners. He’s the vehicle to explain fan interest in certain player acquisitions, pass on certain operating costs and help a pair of top football neophytes appreciate the more subtle aspects of this project. He also goes out of his way in this series to shake up his calculated nature. Every time it moves McElhenney and Reynolds’ plans away from a neat sports branding opportunity and closer to reality, everyone involved is the better for it.

WELCOME TO WREXHAM - Pictured: (lr) Rob McElhenney, Ryan Reynolds.  CR: Patrick McElhenney/FX.

“Welcome to Wrexham”

Patrick McElhenney/FX

‘Welcome to Wrexham’ comes up against a challenge that every season-long sports doc has to face, one way or another. Outside of some clearly defined and decisive points on a timeline, it’s hard for some of these matches to stand out as anything other than parts of a multi-month rollover. The footage from the game itself oscillates between the kind of shiny promotional kick tailor-made for an Instagram reel and the reality of playing in a less glamorous British football division. The addition of some cellphone camera footage from the stands gives additional insight for fans that similar material rarely makes up for.

As much as parts of the show look like glossy portraits, “Welcome to Wrexham” gradually settles in acknowledging what everyone is slowly realizing. The Wrexham club (enterprising Googlers can confirm this) did not become a global sensation overnight. Their transformation comes with a number of growing pains, which the series does its best to adapt to. Overall, “Welcome to Wrexham” begins as a transatlantic buzz video and continues as something more resistant to instant gratification.

In this way, he is about to better understand the nature of ownership and fandom and how the relationship between these two is changing the sport on a fundamental level. The majority of feedback from the inhabitants of Wrexham is positive, but not everyone is immediately won over. Similarly, the series benefits from the goodwill of the beginning but must deal with the expectations that come later. The basis is there for “Welcome to Wrexham” to succeed. Like the team he chronicles, all he has to do first is discover his identity.

Category B

“Welcome to Wrexham” premieres Wednesday, August 24 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. New episodes air weekly and will be available to stream the next day on Hulu.

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