In Nov 2020, It’s always sunny in Philadelphia creator and star Rob McElhenney set up a company with Ryan Reynolds and bought a small professional football club in the UK (we’ll give those of you who had never heard of it time to google it and confirm that this is real. And yes , we’ll also call it football for the duration of this review.)
Despite the obvious (and boring) comparisons to Ted Lasso from many angles, once the docuseries Welcome to Wrexham wrapping up its second installment, it’s clear that this isn’t the real-life equivalent of the hyper-optimistic Apple TV+ hit. Not because it’s stern, but because there’s a head-to-toe sense of competence and danger among the people behind this sweetly wacky story.
And the is crazy. Welcome to Wrexham the elephant in the room addresses early on: why these two boys? Why this club? Why… any of this? A single, concrete answer remains elusive, but the couple is clearly having a good time. There are reports that McElhenney got the idea after watching the modest Netflix success Sunderland ‘Til I Die’. “I wanted to do this, but I needed more than just TV money to do it,” McElhenney says in an early talk-head segment about why he approached Reynolds. “I needed someone with movie money. superhero movie money. Gin baron money… How many businesses does this bitch have left?” The hows and whys of the two settling in at Wrexham is vague, but it makes sense: though Wrexham is nowhere near the lofty heights of the Premier League and regularly televised matches, it is a proud club and mainstay of English football, in fact being the third oldest professional football team in the world.
McElhenney and Reynolds are clearly the stars of the show, and their chatter is fun, but a core strength of the series is how it emphasizes the club, its supporters and the city around them. On the day when the supporters’ trust (Wrexham’s previous property, made up of more than a thousand working-class workers) meets to discuss the proposed takeover, families around Wrexham gather around their laptops as if watching the moon landing for the opportunity to grill Deadpool why they should entrust him with one of the most important parts of their daily lives. Wrexham is a long way from Hollywood, where Rob and Ryan sit in a marble-decked kitchen agonizing over the cost of installing a new playing field, then pay for another when the first turns out to be flawed after Wrexham’s opening game. A venue in regular rotation is the pub outside the stadium; another is a store that advertises ‘DVDs, Blu-ray and VHS’.
And there’s another main character who comes to the fore: Humphrey Ker, a brilliant British comedian who guest-starred in Sunny and writes for McElhenney’s Mythical Quest. It seems Ker is the go-to source of football knowledge, advising McElhenney and Reynolds on everything from the realities of supporting a club (it’s usually painful) to whether or not they should splash to a successful striker from the league above to stop a pawn and join the project. Ker is eventually installed as executive director at Wrexham (while maintaining his TV career in the US), and the awkward speech he delivers to the players and coaching staff on his first visit to the club will resonate with anyone who has ever seen a little out of their depth at work.
Welcome to Wrexham can be seen, under cynical scrutiny, as a clever PR move to mitigate the risks taken by McElhenney and Reynolds, who are credited as executive producers in this document: if it all fails and we have a lot of images of them caring, working and frowning, then the backlash will no doubt be less intense as they reduce their losses and retreat. They are aware of this and both seem genuinely concerned about being seen as dilettantes or, as they often say, ‘bastards’. “We can’t just disappear if this doesn’t work,” Reynolds thinks aloud during a Zoom conversation with his partner. “People… well, they know where to find us.”
Over there is plenty of potential for failure, and the docuseries certainly doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of football possession: older or underperforming players should be released; coaches should be fired; and when looking for professionals to run and manage their club, McElhenney and Reynolds must constantly prove they are real. The overall vibe is nice though, with the show doing a great job explaining the frustratingly complex English league system with snappy diagrams and snappy US-to-UK-to-Welsh translations here and there. And when the turnstiles open for Wrexham’s first official game under new ownership, the atmosphere in the 10,000-seat stadium is powerful and raucous (and far from it. Ted Lassopainfully unconvincing CGI crowds and rendering of The Beautiful Game). To love football one has to make an agreement to take the torment with the ecstasy, and Wrexham’s had enough torment. It’s time for a little fun.