TV Review: Dark Side of the Ring (2019- )

Original Run: April 10th, 2019 – current
Created by: Evan Husney, Jason Eisener
Directed by: Jason Eisener
Cast: Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, Jim Ross, various

Vice Media, Crave, 6 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wasn’t sure what to think about this series when I first heard about it. Wrestling documentaries are a dime a dozen and most of them are produced with an agenda in mind.

However, after watching the first season, I really thought that this was the best series of documentaries on the darker side of the wrestling business. Every episode felt well researched, well presented and very fair.

Interviews with the participants may be contradictory in some aspects but they are presented in a way that allows the audience to come to their own conclusion without any sort of agenda seeping in from the filmmakers or producers.

That being said, I was really impressed by this series and I went into it thinking that it’d just be more of the same and a little too “sensationalist cable TV”, if you know what I mean.

Hats off to the guys behind this series, Evan Husney and Jason Eisener, as they’ve created seriously compelling television in an era where compelling television rarely exists.

All of the first season episodes pulled me in and didn’t let go. Even the episodes I thought might be redundant like the ones surrounding the Von Erich family and Gino Hernandez gave me a fresh perspective on both of those stories, even though WWE did a pretty good documentary that covered those tales, a decade and a half ago.

Top to bottom, this series is great and I’m really excited at delving into season two, which features episodes on the Chris Benoit and Owen Hart tragedies. It’ll be interesting to see how these guys handle those episodes but after season one, I’m pretty confident that they’ll do those stories justice.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries but this show is hard to top.

Documentary Review: A Future WWE: The FCW Story (2020)

Release Date: March 8th, 2020
Cast: Sasha Banks, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Gerald Brisco, Charlotte Flair, Steve Keirn, Triple H, Seth Rollins, Bayley, Natalya, Baron Corbin, Corey Graves, Tom Prichard, Dusty Rhodes, Gordon Solie (archive footage)

WWE, 79 Minutes

Review:

This wasn’t a documentary I ever expected to see but I’m glad WWE made it, as it really showcases a lot of the modern stars that started a few years before NXT became WWE’s developmental brand.

Also, being that I’m from Florida and that this promotion was an homage to Championship Wrestling from Florida, which I grew up with, gave FCW a special place in my fanboy heart.

For those that don’t know, Florida Championship Wrestling was where WWE sent their young talent in an effort to teach them WWE’s style of the business. It was owned and ran by veteran, Steve Keirn, and also had other ring veterans on staff to teach these kids how to work and how to excel.

This was a neat piece on FCW simply because it interviewed several of the well-known stars that worked there. It allowed them to give insight into the company, their education and their earliest career struggles and accomplishments.

However, like all WWE produced documentaries, this felt like it was a fairly one-sided story and take on the subject matter. Obviously, it doesn’t talk to those who failed and only focuses on the success stories. Some of the failed talents are mentioned but they weren’t given this platform to talk about their experience.

For the most part, this was still engaging and entertaining and it was nice seeing this small part of WWE’s history get showcased.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other WWE behind the scenes style documentaries and their reality series Breaking Ground.

Documentary Review: The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling (2007)

Release Date: December 11th, 2007
Directed by: Vince McMahon
Cast: Skandor Akbar, Gary Hart, Jerry Lawler, Shawn Michaels, Buddy Roberts, Michael P.S. Hayes, Kevin Von Erich

WWE, 111 Minutes

Review:

For those who don’t know the story of the Von Erich family, it is one of the most tragic tales in the professional wrestling industry.

This documentary, put out by WWE back in 2007, doesn’t just focus on the bad times, it also focuses on the family’s success and how they built up one of the most popular wrestling territories in the pre-WWF global era.

This examines how World Class Championship Wrestling came to be, how it was run and why the sons of the owner became the company’s top babyface stars.

However, it does take a dark turn as you get deeper into the story and are taken through a series of tragedies that tore the family and their business apart.

In spite of all the doom and gloom, this does a fine job of making you appreciate the product that the Von Erichs produced, as well as giving you a real appreciation of their passion for the business and their legacy in it.

If you have the DVD set of this, you also get six or seven hours of full matches from WCCW. That, in and of itself, is definitely worth its weight in gold.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentaries on the legacies of past wrestling promotions.

TV Review: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020)

Original Run: March 20th, 2020
Created by: Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
Directed by: Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth, Albert Fox, Robert Mothersbaugh
Cast: Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Bhagavan Antle, John Finlay, Rick Kirkham, John Reinke, Saff Saffery, Jeff Lowe, Howard Baskin, Travis Maldonado, Dillon Passage

Netflix, 7 Episodes, 41-48 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I knew all about Joe Exotic and even though he’s a weird eccentric zoo keeper and wannabe politician that tried to pay someone to commit murder, I wasn’t super excited to have to sit through an entire documentary miniseries about it.

Being that everyone and I mean everyone is talking about this damn show, I figured I’d just give the first episode or two a watch to see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. Well, I’ve got to say, it sucked me in.

Granted, this could be due to not having a whole lot to do during the COVID-19 pandemic but the real reason this latched onto my mind is due to all the other characters in this story. The majority of these people are all eccentric, batshit crazy and have major skeletons in their closets.

Sure, I knew who Carole Baskin was but I never really deep dived into her past, as this documentary does. I was also aware of Bhagavan Antle but I didn’t know that he basically ran a fucking zoo harem. Add in all the other colorful weirdos and criminals and this becomes one of the most intriguing and weirdest true crime sagas that I’ve ever seen unfold.

This is compelling television and it tries to tell all sides of the story. It appears to be mostly fair to all parties involved but I can see how almost all of them will have a problem with how they were portrayed here, as it doesn’t paint a nice picture for nearly any of the participants. Point being, this doesn’t seem biased in one direction or the other and maybe these are all just shitty people.

Only a few of the key or even minor players here came out looking kind of okay. And if anything, this exposes just how insane this world is and it certainly doesn’t do any favors for the big cat and exotic animal industries. But I’m okay with that, as these places really shouldn’t exist and humankind should work towards not keeping wild animals in captivity, unless it is to actually help and study animals without using them as attractions or personal pets.

In the end, none of these people really seem to give a shit about the animals they claim they’re doing this for.

But I’m also not here to rant on about the politics of this.

So as a show, this is pretty effective and informative entertainment. Now I can’t say that this is effective because of how it is presented, I just think that the story itself is so fascinating on its own that it made the documentary filmmakers’ jobs easier. Granted, I’m also not saying their not skilled, this is just a unique and bonkers story full of strange, oddball, dark personalities that the show just sort of sells itself without any need for extra frills and post-production or narrative trickery.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Joe Exotic’s crazy campaign videos.

Documentary Review: A Corny In the UK (2014)

Release Date: 2014
Directed by: Alex Spilling
Cast: Jim Cornette, Stacey Cornette, Alex Spilling

WrestleTalk TV, 96 Minutes

Review:

I picked up a signed copy of this off of Jim Cornette’s website. I remember seeing the trailer for it 6 years ago but then it went down the memory hole, which is becoming a problem as I become older and older.

Anyway, this was a fun film to watch, as it follows Cornette on his first and only tour or the United Kingdom. It’s great seeing his enthusiasm and his personality come to life while exploring a country he obviously enjoys.

What I liked most about this, is that you get to see Cornette as the real deal Cornette. He lets the audience in more so than he does on his podcasts or as his persona on television over the years. While he may be a controversial figure to modern wrestling fans or his outspokenness about the business and U.S. politics might push people away, I found it hard not to like the guy after seeing this, despite my feelings or thoughts on certain subjects.

Love him or hate him, Jim Cornette is a guy with a lot of opinions that can speak on them much better than most. He sticks to his guns and doesn’t let the modern cancel/outrage culture stand in his way. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s hard not to find him entertaining. Well, unless you’re a snowflake asshole.

This was just a solid way to spend an hour and a half while self-quarantining through this “Mexican Lager Viral Event”. I’m just going to call it that because social media platforms, where I will share this review, don’t like that new C-word.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries of the last few years.

Documentary Review: The Rise and Fall of WCW (2009)

Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Magnum T.A., Arn Anderson, Ricky Steamboat, Lady Blossom, Jim Crockett Jr., David Crockett, Ric Flair, Bill Goldberg, Mike Graham, Shane Helms, Chris Jericho, John Kap, Joe Laurinaitis, Dean Malenko, Tyler Mane, Vince McMahon, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Dr. Harvey Schiller, Michael P.S. Hayes, Kevin Sullivan, Bill Watts, Paul Wight, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan

WWE, 105 Minutes

Review:

I recently revisited and reviewed The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary and I really enjoyed seeing it again. So, I thought that going back and watching the WCW version of their rise and fall would also be a good experience.

It was and it was neat going back down memory lane, as I lived through just about everything covered in the film, going way back to the National Wrestling Alliance and Jim Crockett eras up through Vince McMahon buying WCW and absorbing them into the WWE.

My only real complaints about this are the same complaints I have for a lot of WWE produced documentaries.

Firstly, it’s told from the WWE’s perspective and isn’t always 100 percent accurate and without bias. I mean, that’s fine and understandable, as long as the gist of the story told is pretty close to what happened and in this case, I feel that it is.

Secondly, this would have benefited from more interviews with more of the people that lived through these experiences. WWE tends to leave out the opinions and insight of wrestlers and executives that they have beefs with and thus, these things are typically only presented by talent that is on good terms with Vince McMahon.

Additionally, this, like many WWE documentaries, features a lot of archive interviews clipped and edited into the larger tapestry. While that’s fine, it’d be nicer hearing more direct answers and insight from guys like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan, as opposed to just using material from old interviews.

Needless to say, this is well edited, well presented and it goes through the timeline quite superbly. While not on the same level as the ECW documentary, this still gives you a pretty solid history on World Championship Wrestling and a clear understanding of how it was mismanaged into oblivion.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentaries on the legacies of past wrestling promotions.

TV Review: WWE Ruthless Aggression (2020)

Original Run: February 16th, 2020 – current
Cast: John Cena, Dave Bautista, Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette

WWE, 4 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the Attitude Era, WWE gave us the Ruthless Aggression Era. It’s never been considered as popular but it seems like some people have gotten nostalgic about it in recent years. Maybe that’s because the WWE has evolved into a pretty shitty product since the advent of the PG Era and has never really recovered. I’d say that has more to do with lack of real competition and Vince McMahon losing touch with pop culture, as he gets older, but still won’t give some control to other people who might steer the ship better.

That being said, I’m honestly not a big fan of the Ruthless Aggression Era, as it really started to be where my interest in WWE began its decline. That’s not a knock against guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar or Dave Bautista, it just is what it is because even if these guys are great, they just didn’t have the same sort of electricity as The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho or even Triple H.

I still wanted to check out this weekly documentary series, however, because I typically dig stuff like this regardless of the era it features. Mainly, I like the wrestling business and industry, which is why I can actually stomach things like Total Divas in small doses.

For the most part, this is entertaining television but it does the same crap that most WWE produced pieces about WWE do: it tells a revisionist history because McMahon is always trying to control whatever narrative comes out of his company and he underestimates the intelligence of his longtime viewers and thinks that they don’t remember certain details.

I guess for modern fans who didn’t live through this era, this might come across as compelling, solid, documentary television. It’s certainly well produced, well edited and presented like a top notch production on par with some of the stuff ESPN puts out but it feels like WWE is trying to write a more colorful and interesting history than what reality actually is.

The Ruthless Aggression Era was a step down from the Attitude Era but it appears as if WWE wants to convince its modern audience that it saved a company in decline.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentary television series.