However you want to look at professional wrestling, whether you see it as something that combines world-class athleticism with storytelling, or simply a few sweaty dudes in tights doing a lot of grappling, wrestling is first and foremost supposed to be entertaining. And for my money, Lucha Underground, the promotion that combines high-flying masked men with the drama of a soap opera (an actual soap opera, not "a soap opera for men" like I've heard so many people call wrestling), might be some of the best TV going.
Of course, finding it on your television isn't always that easy. Appearing on Robert Rodriguez's growing El Rey Network, you might have to search iTunes to watch a season. But however you find it, one episode and you're hooked. Lucha Underground offers up a lot of things the casual wrestling fan has never seen before, but also a lot of what has been lost over time.
Wrestling is in a weird spot, a period of change with a new school of more vocal fans who can and do flood Twitter with their opinions on which wrestlers and stories they don't like. Ever since WWE became the one big game in town after buying out their main competition in 2001, namely Ted Turner's WCW and the upstart ECW, you either had to like what the WWE was putting on TV, or you had to dig deep to find what was good on the independent circuit.
Fans are looking for something a little more. The WWE's creative team is a constant source of ridicule on Twitter because, like any other sport, fans think they can do a better job. The other promotion you might catch on your cable plan is pretty much stocked with a lot of holdovers from a bygone era, with boring story lines and bad acting, more and more fans have been looking towards the indie circuit when they're looking for something different. WWE, to its credit, has noticed this, and that's probably why their developmental promotion, NXT, has reenergized the entire company and given fans a slew of great young talent to cheer for, training and bringing up some of the freshest wrestlers in the men and women divisions that the company has seen in some time.
Lucha Underground offers something totally different, however. Where the WWE has some of the best stars in the world and puts on one of the tightest weekly live shows on television, some complain it is stuck in a different era in terms of storytelling and the kinds of wrestlers the powers that be push to the forefront and has almost toned things down since it became a publicly traded company. I disagree with that. I think the WWE offers up a great product, but doing it week in and week out is nearly impossible. There will always be lags in the stories and things might seem repetitive.
That's what sets Lucha Underground apart from any competition. Filmed in seasons instead of a continuous nightly slot like Monday Night Raw, the first thing you notice about Lucha Underground is how intimate it is and how you feel more like you're about to watch a fight from Mortal Kombat and not so much a wrestling match. The movement is fast, there's lots of blood and violence, maybe more than the old "hardcore" days of ECW, and the stories are much darker than anything you'd get anywhere else. Some sites have taken to calling it "grindhouse wrestling."
But maybe the thing that makes Lucha Underground so hard to stop watching is the show's ties to specific culture, namely Los Angeles, where the show is filmed, and Mexico, where a number of the wrestlers come from or are billed from. Chaco Guerrero, of the famous Guerrero family, as well as Blue Demon Jr., the son of one of Mexico's greatest wrestlers ever. There's a mix of tradition with something new, something darker and ultimately more interesting. The matches move fast and the stories almost call to mind something you'd read from a comic book written by Frank Miller. It's grindhouse wrestling, sure; but there's also something borderline noir about it, with a healthy dose of telenovela drama thrown in there. All of that mixes together, and the final result is one of the most surprisingly captivating television shows on right now.
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