Off the Ropes, Prime, Sundays, 1.30pm Reviewed by Nick Ward
Television and the gloriously over-the-top, cartoonish spectacle of pro wrestling were made for each other, but have largely been strangers ever since the guardians of decency hounded Superstars of Wrestling off the air back in the 90s, after Kiwi kids started adding piledrivers and elbow drops to their traditional school playground roughhousing.
Before that, we pleaded with our parents to be allowed to stay up to watch On the Mat, with Steve Rickard putting down his microphone from time to time to sort out baddies like King Curtis, an obese yet fearsome dude who looked like he could hold dinner plates in the scars in his forehead.
Sky screens the various brands of the WWE monopoly, but Off the Ropes better captures the flying-sweat-on-the-front-row feeling of the old days as the boys and girls of Kiwi Pro Wrestling go at it.
The last attempt at a homegrown grapple-and-grunt show was when the infant TV3 tried to counter Superstars with the infamous Main Event, hosted by Nelson's own Butch Bradley as the polite good guy Kiwi commentator and John Dybvig as the loudmouth bad guy American commentator. Track down Dybvig's book Microphones Up My Nose for a side-splitting insider's account of the disorganised, amateurish mess that resulted.
But we've all grown up a bit since then, and it looks like the dedicated folks at KPW have done their homework. Their product also has a few rough edges, but all the essential elements are in place, not the least of which is a co-operative audience, with the usual high proportion of kids and diehards, who are clearly enjoying leaving their fakery detectors at the door and enjoying the slapstick feuds and bumps.
As well as providing work for the tougher sort of performing arts course graduate, the KPW shows have a Kiwi flavour that goes beyond the accents. Asked to evaluate a potential tag team partner, "Irishman" Mike Ryan came straight to the point. "Nah, he's a girl."
The wrestlers tend towards the wiry, have nicknames like "the Technician" and "the Fixation" and include a vain guy with a Back to the Future-inspired gimmick (who appears to have raided his dad's meagre supply of 80s clothes), a circus ringmaster and a guy in a straitjacket doing the old homicidal maniac routine. I'm surprisedthe mental health groups haven't shut that one down – they should, so he can get lost and I can concentrate on the winsome blonde "nurse" who accompanies him to the ring.
My favourite so far is Jonnie Juice, fighting out of "Awesometown" with his excellent "manager" Queen Hollie, who distracts his opponents so he can finish them off with the "Rejuicer".
The wrestlers don't always sell their moves well, and they can't always do the paint-stripper-for-breakfast voice they need for their rant-and-rave "interviews". These look like they've been shot in someone's garage, and the writers sometimes fall down badly with lines like "We will marinate the recipe for success". But it's all in keeping with the unpolished nature of the game.
As far as choreographed violence goes, this is no worse than my own childhood Sunday afternoon favourite, Monkey. It also stacks up pretty well against the competition, IPW wrestling on Cue TV, where some matches look like they were shot with a cellphone camera after most of the lights in the arena blew out. IPW has, however, produced my favourite ringside moment – a couple of kids mercilessly taunting a grappler about carrying a few beers on his belly, with chants like "Suck it in, Jordan, suck it in". Cheeky little sods.
And if their parents aren't allowed to belt them, neither are the wrestlers, which must annoy the hell out of them.
- © Fairfax NZ News