I wasn’t expecting much from “Wrestling With Death,” WGN America’s newest reality show about a funeral home family by day, amateur wrestlers by night. This review in the New York Times didn’t sell it to me, either.
But I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the first two episodes on Tuesday night. I found myself smiling and chuckling, mostly because these people are great characters.
I worked for years as a newspaper reporter, and I learned that everyone has a story to tell. If I came across LaFonce and Sandra Latham, I would have to write about them right away. LaFonce is a true Renaissance man. He not only runs a funeral home, he not only wrestles under the name “Big Daddy,” but he also owns a farm and raises cattle. We see him helping to prepare a body for viewing, we see him wrestling in his too-tight spandex, and we see him bidding at a cattle auction. What can’t this guy do?
I may not live in Arkansas, but I can identify with small-town life as depicted in the show. There aren’t a lot of options for entertainment in small towns. It’s true that a stroll around Wal-Mart and eating at the local restaurant is a perfectly acceptable reason to get out of the house. If there’s not a lot of entertainment, kudos to people like the Lathams for making their own in the form of a wrestling league.
This is what the New York Times reviewer missed. I understand it can be easy to dismiss this way of life as “idiotic” or “dull.” The reviewer talks about the “small, barely enthusiastic” crowd at the wrestling matches. It may be a small crowd by New York standards but for a small town, I thought the matches attracted a pretty solid audience.
I also thought this show had a lot of heart. I think mainstream media need to give us an inside look into all aspects of the death, dying, and grieving process. The families in this show are grieving and sad. Seeing that can help us feel less alone in our own grief.
Sure, the show’s set-up is a little odd, but it’s colorful and unique. I’ll watch it again next week.