It’s also unclear what toneWrestling With Death is trying to create within these first two episodes. Poor videography gives it an amateur look. Family patriarch LaFonce (ring name: “Big Daddy”) does his talking-head interview segments from a church, sitting at a pew half-backwards in a “cool guidance counselor” pose while wearing a leather fringe jacket, but never says anything memorable. When he narrates the action occurring on screen, such as an oh-so-exciting cattle auction, his voice drones, “There’s so much about buying cattle…,” but don’t expect to learn what buying cattle actually entails, because his explanation is so boring that you drift off in the middle of the sentence.
The show tries to play up the juxtaposition between the characters’ careers for shock value. First, there is a scene of a triumphant wrestling match (in front of an unenthusiastic crowd), and then there’s a quick jump cut to a funeral for someone unrelated to the match. Wrestling With Death employs plenty of close-ups of embalming and corpses in coffins during funerals — so much so that the series even opens with a disclaimer.
But there is nothing that can save Wrestling With Death, even for viewers like me, who are already fascinated with mortuary practices (again, blame Six Feet Under) and have a lifelong love for wrestling. The Latham family lives a double life, sure, but it’s one with no conflict or suspense. (Plus, the WWE has already done the wrestling/mortuary combination before — remember when Undertaker tried to embalm Stone Cold? Even that was more gripping than the entirety of this series!)
At its core, Wrestling With Death is nothing more than another terrible entry into the Southern hillbilly genre of reality television. And it’s a big step backward for WGN America, a fringe network whose ambitious first forays into scripted programming suggested it was looking to compete with the likes of AMC and FX.