The Wrestlers, Viceland’s new documentary series about professional wrestling, is an utterly fascinating series. Musician Damian Abraham, lead singer of the Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up, has taken wrestling documentary and projects it through a fresh, and wild new lens. Instead of another show about “life on the road,” “making it to the big time,” or even examining the tragedies of the industry (which was masterfully done on Viceland’s Dark Side of the Ring) — Abraham presents wrestling through the lens of cultural anthropology while concurrently examining wrestling’s place in the ever-changing social, and political climates of the world.
Abraham uses wrestling to explore cultures from around the world, and examines how the art form’s place in the culture — as a form of catharsis, protest, political statement, and way of life. The Wrestlers’ themes, and narrative structure are not unlike Anthony Bourdain‘s No Reservations and Parts Unknown (which Abraham did guest on). However, instead food being our introduction to a culture, it’s professional wrestling.
The stories Abraham and company tackle here is truly awesome. They address mainstream subjects like the new American independent scene, lucha libre, and the evolution of the sport through the generations. All of these are terrific subjects, and the episode where he examines lucha libre’s response to Donald Trump’s policy about the wall is utterly engrossing (and surprisingly apolitical in its presentation).
However, it’s his journeys into the fringe of pro wrestling that makes for the most interesting subject matter. His examination of death match wrestling — something Vice and Abraham aired online previously — is a visceral watch. Abraham also journeys to the Congo to explore voodoo wrestling, Bolivia to learn how women are fighting misogyny and abuse through wrestling, and Mexico to delve into the world of exoticos and how they battle homophobia through drag.
This is all wild subject matter, and it fits perfectly on Viceland. Abraham’s storytelling is not unlike Bourdain’s — a diehard fan who lovingly takes us to new lands, and is unafraid to address real world, real life conditions surrounding the art form he loves.
As with Dark Side of the Ring, The Wrestlers is a must for wrestling fans, and even more of a must-watch for non-wrestling fans. This is not just a story about wrestling, but a story about humanity.