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Rainn Wilson's We Are The Champions Is a Docuseries With Heart

Netflix's latest is feel-good TV when we need it most.
  • Rainn Wilson hosts We Are The Champions on Netflix.
    Rainn Wilson hosts We Are The Champions on Netflix.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should preface this review with a confession: I take competition very seriously — even when the competition is very silly — which probably makes me the perfect audience for We Are The Champions.

    The new docuseries — which comes to Netflix from a gigantic team of executive producers that includes Martin Desmond Roe and Chris Uettwiller (Shut Up And Dribble); Nick Frew (Religion Of Sports); and Rainn Wilson (who also narrates) — is an anthology; each episode takes a half-hour deep dive into an obscure or idiosyncratic competition. Wilson's serene delivery lends the proceedings gravitas, even when the contest in question is inherently ridiculous (frog jumping) or disgusting (eating hot chili peppers); the Wes Anderson-manqué titles and art direction contribute to a sense of timelessness.

    One imagines that the show was pitched with an emphasis on its wholesomeness and positivity; I can see it entertaining fans of shows like AppleTV+'s breakout hit Ted Lasso or Making It, NBC's crafting competition. The problem is that, because it's an anthology, each viewer is going to vibe harder with some episodes than others. In my case, it just happened to be the odd-numbered episodes that captured my interest. "Cheese Rolling" takes us to Brockworth, Gloucestershire in England for a look at the local tradition of chasing a taped-up wheel of cheese down an extremely steep hill. Specifically, we get to know Flo, who's preparing to compete for the fourth time and defend her undefeated record despite a fairly serious injury sustained during her last run. "Fantasy Hairstyling" takes us inside the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, in which extremely skilled and imaginative stylists construct seemingly impossible hair creations; everyone from the executives who host the competition to the stylists to the models to the audience members is Black, making the episode a joyful celebration of Black excellence. Then there's "Dog Dancing," which is exactly what you think it is: people who love their dogs so much that they've taught them choreography and brought them to Italy to show it off.

    It's not that the other three episodes — "Chili Eating," "Yo-Yo," and "Frog Jumping" — are bad; they just didn't hold my interest quite as much. (Okay, "Chili Eating" is a bit gross. There's a lot of crying and snot and gigantic glasses of what is probably room-temperature milk.) I found the editing on "Yo-Yo" frustrating and the championship routines themselves hard to follow; only from the score and the crowd reaction was I even clued in that a trick wasn't successful. And while the frogs of "Frog Jumping" are extremely gifted athletes, they suffer in comparison to the dancing dogs of the episode that directly preceeds theirs — not only because many of the dogs are embellished with costume jewelry while the frogs are not, but that's part of it.

    Each individual's experience with the show will be different, though, and it's definitely worth sampling. Take a cue from the jumping frogs and (forgive me) hop around to find the episodes that align with your interests. If the show has one lesson to teach, it's that even those who strive for greatness aren't winners all the time.

    We Are the Champions drops on Netflix today, November 17.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: We Are the Champions, Netflix, Rainn Wilson