The Spool / Reviews
Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 takes success in stride
The season’s trio of opening episodes find the doc series resisting a victory lap in favor of continuing to focus on life beyond the pitch.
Studio3 Arts Entertainment, FX Productions,
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It should be no surprise that the people promoting Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 are canny. Nonetheless, it is still worth calling out. One can see it in both the sequence of the season’s first three episodes and the decision to provide all three to critics simultaneously. Without the third, it is possible to conclude that success may have thrown a spanner in the works for the series. With the third, it becomes clear that the show remains committed to what makes the first two seasons so watchable. More importantly, it confirms the series’ score of producers—including the team’s two famous owners, Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, and their right-hand man, writer and comedian Humphrey Ker—haven’t lost the ability to tell the stories.

The problem that immediately faces Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 is the team’s success. It is easy to catch up with what happened with the Red Dragons’ after achieving promotion at the end of last (both TV and football) season. However, if you are making a documentary series about how the team is doing, you have a responsibility to tell that story. This places the show in a place to chronicle the team’s celebratory trip to the United States and a lot of soccer games rapid fire.

When forced to be “just” a sports documentary, focused on the wins and losses and the on-pitch activities, Welcome to Wrexham is solid. As it has “taught” the audience football (soccer around these parts), it has grown looser and more comfortable, letting the on-screen action speak for itself. The break-ins by Reynolds or McElhenney to explain a term or mug about some “strange” rule happen far less, giving the audience a less mediated experience. 

Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 (FX)
Phil Parkinson’s tries to keep the team from wilting under the more intense focus. (FX)

However, unlike, say, MAX’s long-running documentary series about the NFL, Hard Knocks, Wrexham is a team on the rise. More important, it is relatively free of toxic impulses or baggage. As a result, when the cameras centers on the pitch, the audience mostly sees competent players and coaches. There’s the usual base level of drama inherent in athletic competition. One certainly isn’t going to see someone arrested and cut or Coach Parkinson waste time picking up trash. For fans of the Beautiful Game, this is hardly a negative. For those more football agnostic, though, it does undercut some of the series appeal.

That’s not to say the duo of openers are without any behind-the-scenes human elements that the show does right. For example, after an injury, Forward Paul Mullins is forced to stay in America until he’s healed enough to fly. He decides to stay with friends rather than accept McElhenney’s invitation to make camp at the actor’s quite large house. It seems to confirm some assumptions about the player. Additionally, it later allows the audience to see him as a fan. He’s just another bloke watching the games he can’t suit up for alongside a group of buddies. 

Speaking of McElhenney, watching a game from the Sensor Friendly section with his son and super fan Millie Tipping is another relatively simple moment. Nonetheless, it repesents a subtle reminder of the team’s commitment to making matches accessible to people since the series’ start.

Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 (FX)
Must give the man credit, without Humphrey Key none of this happens. (FX)

Then, in the third episode, Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 delivers a corker. Splitting focus between the men’s and women’s teams, the episode delves into mental health and the double-edged sword of promotion. There’s still plenty of football, but the aspects that hit hardest have nothing to do with box scores. Rather, they include a fan who runs a men’s support group, a women’s player cut because of the rules about the number of players in one league versus another, and the revelation that promotion brings money and a higher commitment but not enough money than any of the women can afford to only play soccer.

The episode, “Notts Again,” elevates Wrexham from solid to something more. It is another chapter in the series’ ability to show the game extends its tendrils deep into the community. It isn’t just about what the team means to the players or Reynold and McElhenney. Does the men’s support group have a specific connection to the team? No, but through fandom and family, it all gets bound together. The Red Dragons are this nucleus around which the community rotates and bounces off. As before, Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 is at its best when it reveals those connections, big and small. That’s when it becomes more than a sports documentary. It becomes the story of a community.

Welcome to Wrexham Season 3 throws in on FX starting May 2.

Studio3 Arts Entertainment, FX Productions,