Whiffs of royalty may make viewers anxious, but the series wisely keeps its spotlight on its strange mix of Hollywood celebrity, working-class residents, and football.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 opens with Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney telling the audience, directly to camera, that they’ve spoken to the King of England. It’s a good gag, with both demonstrating their talents for comedic timing. It is also the kind of thing that makes avowed anti-Royalists and fans of Season 1—of which this critic is both—a bit nervous.
The key to the Welcome to Wrexham’s success is how it grasped that McElhenney and Reynolds were good seasoning for the proverbial stew. Too much of the two, and it gets harder to ignore that this series is as much a commercial for them and their brands as it is a documentary about a working-class Wales city and the down-on-its-luck football club they love. If viewers are going to spend the season watching the two Chairmen rubbing elbows with the monarchy, well, it’s going to be a rough one.
Thankfully, that anxiety quickly proves unwarranted. If anything, in the four installments (episodes 1-3 and 6) provided to critics, there’s less, not more, of the duo. The voiceover underlining they did in season 1, especially McElhenney, is largely absent. The explainer texts, such as the translations or currency conversions, still show up, but with much less auditory input from the Chairmen.
That’s not to say Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 ignores how Reynolds and McElhenney—and the series—have changed things. In addition to the usual bits on the team’s financials and player acquisitions, the audience sees how tourists have descended on the Wrexham, drawn in by this buzzy technical non-league play team. The desire to be a part of it all even interrupts pub and burger truck owner Wayne Jones’ direct-to-cameras when American visitors attempt to patronize The Turf hours before it opens.
The show also briefly touches on how other towns with similarly non-league teams feel about Wrexham. While it is interesting—and undoubtedly heartwarming—to hear fans from rival teams wish the Red Dragons well, it does puncture the series a bit. Any sports fan can tell you that while boosters aren’t incapable of appreciating another team’s incredible play or an especially historical moment, rivals rarely wish each other well. It isn’t that the show highlights lovely fans. It’s that it doesn’t show us a glimpse of the, shall we say, less sympathetic Notts County enthusiasts. The sweet doesn’t mean as much without at least a dab of the bitter. Worse, it is another reminder that the show is a manufactured product.
As long as they can keep spotlighting [Wrexham’s] humanity, the cross-promotion will keep going down smoothly.
Still, with installments like the second episode, Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 more than makes up for its marketing roots. Focused primarily on Paul Mullins’ son Albi and seventeen-year-old fan Millie—both of whom have autism—“The Quiet Zone” smartly captures how the team connects with the community and vice versa. Does it play on one’s emotions? Very much so. However, it never feels treacly or false. It is empathetic, not just sympathetic.
The other highlight of the episodes provided is “Ballers,” scheduled to air sixth in the season. Eschewing the main team entirely, “Ballers” spotlights Wrexham’s Senior Women’s team, an amateur squad also seeking promotion. If anything, their fight is even more necessary as achieving their goal means they’d finally be paid for their play. As it stands now, they must balance work (sometimes school) with the sport they give their “last drop of blood.” For fans of Minor League Baseball, the story will sound at least somewhat familiar.
Besides highlighting the inequality—the Women seem to be far more dominant in their league than their Men counterparts while playing at the sort of field most parents would be annoyed if their 10-year-old’s games were on it—it also efficiently introduces the viewers to a few key members of the Women’s community. With only brief glimpses, Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 thoughtfully adds depth to the episode. In about 35 minutes, it gives the audience a sense of the team, the stakes, and people’s involvement and lives.
That remains the magic of the series. Yes, there are appearances by the Royal Family or reminders that Reynolds has a financial stake in Aviator Gin. Regardless, Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 recognizes the team and the town as the real draw. As long as they can keep spotlighting their humanity, the cross-promotion will keep going down smoothly.
Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 laces up its boots on FX Network and Hulu on September 12.