By Scott Saffran
The wacky world of wrestling has been long dominated by one force: World Wrestling Entertainment. Every Monday and Tuesday night, their television programs broadcast on the USA Network. Every few Sundays, their pay-per-view events air. For every second in between, there’s the WWE Network, a streaming service chock full of all the pro wrestling you could imagine. Pro wrestling in America, especially on our airwaves, is damn near a monopoly. Fortunately, on March 15 a new avenue opened up. On that day, Netflix brought aboard Lucha Underground. While it still airs live on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, the show’s first two seasons have found a residence on the streaming juggernaut.
What is Lucha Underground? The easy answer: pro wrestling. No matter which way you slice it, the show is focused on presenting professional wrestling matches. The long answer is a bit more interesting. For the bulk of its existence, traditional American pro wrestling broadcasts have been consistent of wrestling matches loosely (or not at all) strung together with interview segments and backstage vignettes. LU takes a very different approach. The series is filmed as a narrative with an unmistakable B-Movie crime/horror/sci-fi vibe. Every episode is part of a larger story. Each match contributes not only to the night’s events, but to an overarching tale that includes a diverse roster of characters consistently crossing paths. The backstage vignettes featured throughout are filmed with a cinematic flair and add much to the distinctive style of the show.
While this all aids in making LU unique, the singular separating factor remains lucha libre. The cast consists of luchadores from the United States, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Puerto Rico. Many luchadores are masked, some are not – but all perform as unique and entertaining characters ranging from motorcycle goons to spiritual embodiments of mythical beasts to immortal vessels of death itself. Many legendary luchadores like Rey Mysterio Jr., Chavo Guerrero, Blue Demon Jr., Dr. Wagner Jr., and Mascarita Sagrada have made appearances and even stuck around for a season or two. The style of combat is high-flying, high-risk action that challenges traditional American wrestling conventions. The multitude of combatants contribute a range of backgrounds, keeping the in-ring proceedings always exciting and never stale. Lucha libre is extravagance, from the costuming to the announcing to the fans at ringside. LU embodies those traditions excellently and adds its own unmistakable twist to maintain its individuality.
Why should you watch Lucha Underground? If the idea of pro wrestling throws you into a twisted rage, this show will do nothing to change that. Like mentioned above, no matter how you slice it, LU is still wrestling. If you used to watch WWE when you were in grade school, then you should give this a try. Familiar faces and favorite tropes make this easy to get in to as a casual fan, while the narrative form fits perfectly for weekend binging. If you actively enjoy wrestling, but have been repulsed by the major wrestling promotions, then you should absolutely add this to your list. LU prides itself on showcasing the best and most promising talents from across the globe and takes a more self-aware approach to presenting wrestling that is considerably more comfortable to watch. If you are entirely new to the world of wrestling, then I could not recommend any program more than Lucha Underground. I would only caution new fans that the show might spoil you and make watching other programs like WWE pretty difficult.
What should you know about the world of Lucha Underground if you want to watch? Well, interested parties, you’ve made it this far. If you are actually interested in watching LU on Netflix, there are a few pieces of information you should know going in. The show is set in a single arena: the Temple in Boyle Heights, CA. As introduced in the first episode, the show is run by promoter Dario Cueto. Cueto is played by Spanish actor Luis Fernandez-Gil. Fernandez-Gil has had no prior wrestling experience, but assumes the role with exceptional talent. He has been recognized in 2015 and 2016 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter as Non-Wrestler of the Year. The show progresses linearly, with all information necessary for viewing available at the start. I could recommend several matches, but there is no need to start anywhere but the first episode. Additionally, you’ll want to stick with it for a bit. The first few episodes act as a pilot and you’ll have to wait an episode or two before the show really picks up steam. You might also want to get those subtitles up on screen. As many of the performers are native Spanish speakers, their promos are in Spanish; Netflix subtitles are in English and will translate the promos for you. Most importantly, prepare to have fun. If I haven’t conveyed this clearly yet, LU is entertainment. This is over-the-top, ridiculous amusement and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, you are going to have a great time.