Roush Review: ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ Brings Hollywood to Wales for Underdog Story
That motto, so familiar to Ted Lasso fans, also applies to FX’s Welcome to Wrexham, an endearing docuseries that feels like a Hollywood fable. Once upon a time — make that 2020, during the pandemic — two wealthy actors (Deadpool’s Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia/Mythic Quest auteur Rob McElhenney) indulge their obsession with sports by purchasing a faded soccer team with a 150-plus-year history in the struggling Welsh village of Wrexham. It’s a town, sighs one of the locals, “that battles against odds constantly.” McElhenney, who grew up in South Philly, identifies with the burg and how fiercely its residents become attached to and identify with their team. (For Rob, it was the Eagles.)
Also battling against the odds: the storied Red Dragons, whose home turf is said to be the world’s oldest international football stadium. They’ve been mired in the “football purgatory” of the fifth-tier National League for 14 seasons, and the goal of the new bosses (who assumed ownership in February 2021) is to get the team promoted back into the majors. Many of the working-class fans in Wrexham, who admit the town could use a boost, see this investment—in money and fresh talent—as a godsend. But first they need to start winning.
“We will laugh at ourselves, but we will never laugh at the situation,” insists Reynolds during a Zoom call with the team’s board, and it’s clear from the start that they’re serious about this uphill climb of an enterprise, which they can only observe from afar for many months because of COVID travel restrictions in 2020–21. (Except for a scene-setting prologue, through the first five episodes made available for review, they have yet to fly across the pond to meet their team face to face.)
Their loss, because Welcome to Wrexham is at its best when it spends time with the resilient players and their stubbornly devoted fans. I became instantly attached to true believers like Shaun Winter, who yearns to watch games in person again with his sons, a necessary bonding experience after his marriage fell apart. “It’s part of life, isn’t it?” he concedes.
Begs another local follower: “Please give us hope. All we want is hope.” You don’t have to be a sports fan to relate to that.
Welcome to Wrexham, Series Premiere, Wednesday, August 24, 10/9c and 10:30/9:30c, FX