' ' Cinema Romantico: 30 for 30: This Was the XFL

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

30 for 30: This Was the XFL

We here at Cinema Romantico have all manner of reviews that get written and then, for one vague reason or another, never actually get posted and simply sit in the drafts folder, waiting to get the call at either the right or most dire moment. Well, our review for ESPN’s “This Was the XFL” has been sitting in the drafts folder for going on near 12 months now, considering it aired nearly a year ago, and it may never have seen the light of day if the XFL’s preeminent huckster Vince McMahon had not just threatened to dust off the ex-football league’s cobwebs and give that old pile of bleached bones another ill-advised go. As such, we dusted the cobwebs off our “This Was the XFL” review for your quasi-pleasure.


“This Was the XFL” — No. 14 in Vol. 3 of ESPN’s apparently never-ending 30 for 30 series — was directed by Charlie Ebersol who is the son of Dick Ebersol who was the President of NBC Sports when it joined forces with professional wrestling impresario Vince McMahon to concoct a springtime football league called the XFL boasting radical changes to the NFL template. Alas, the league combusted, more or less, on arrival and was sacked after a year. And while Charlie Ebersol does not ignore the league’s myriad shortcomings, nor pull punches with his talking heads, allowing much air time for NBC Sports’ vocal, haughty opponent of the XFL (and of McMahon himself) Bob Costas, the director still can’t help but skew a little hagiographic, not unlike 30 for 30 entry “Jordan Rides the Bus” in which director Ron Shelton simply could not help but defer to his mighty subject, transforming the minor league baseball odyssey of Michael Jordan, His Airness, into a fable of redemption rather than a kitchen sink chronicle of disappointment. And yet, through his rose colored glasses, I swear, Charlie Ebersol still comes away with some gleaming insight that kind of unintentionally raises Vince McMahon, slime-ridden salesman, to inadvertent oracle.

The XFL, as the doc swiftly recounts in its prologue, came together because NBC had lost its NFL rights in the preceding years and yearned for gridiron programming. Why exactly McMahon, on the other hand, took up this challenge remains less clear, likely nothing more than ego, and he is shot through with ego as is made quickly clear at the infamous press conference “This Was the XFL” captures in all its vainglory where McMahon brayed about how his league would be bigger, bolder, and much more brutal than the boring, staid NFL. Of course, as “This Was the XFL” shows, the league did not in any tangible way exist as McMahon made these pronouncements, selling an entire business enterprise with nothing more than bluster, a recklessness foreshadowing the ensuing folly.

The XFL’s downfall correlated to nothing more, really, than the quality of the product amounting to sludgy mediocrity causing viewers to turn away in droves. Oh, the film half-pitches some inane theory that a particularly compelling game in the second week of the season that NBC was forced to cut away from due to a sudden stadium blackout for a far less compelling contest all alone could have altered the league’s fate, but Charlie Ebersol offers zero evidence that this one game was not merely an outlier. From there, the movie is principally an exercise in schadenfreude as we watch McMahon’s desperate attempts to inject a little sizzle by way of professional wrestling machinations into his gridiron debacle that only hastens the league’s demise. By the end, McMahon is telling Bob Costas in an HBO interview about how his players are competing with so much heart, resorting to the very clich├ęs he boldly proclaimed he would subvert.

Bob Costas becomes something like the principal antagonist of the league, laughing in the face of McMahon in that infamous 2001 interview and laughingly deriding it in the present. He does not in any way conceal his disgust that the XFL would so unabashedly sexually exploit its cheerleaders and accentuate the sport’s already inherent violence in the name of marketing with its so-called innovations like no fair catches and a “human coin toss” that found two players chasing after a loose football and that generally resulted in injuries. The end of “This Was the XFL” takes great pleasure in pointing out how a few production tricks, like on-field cameras, were eventually adopted by the NFL, proof of the upstart league’s savvy. And fine, but what Costas, and everyone else in the doc seems to overlook, is how the XFL was, in all its misplaced braggadocio, unwittingly un-hypocritical. The NFL strikes myriad phony poses to present itself as what it’s not and distract you from what it is. The XFL, on the other hand, struck no poses. If anything in American society has ever actually earned the bromide It Is What It Is, it was the XFL, a morally vacuous garbage barge and proud of it. If they had played decent football, who knows, the sky might have been the limit.

1 comment:

thevoid99 said...

I had a few issues with that film as there were historical revisionism as it relates to the WWE where it was said that it had become the sole promotion in "sports entertainment" (I hate that fucking term) upon purchasing WCW. It only bought WCW for $3 million because AOL/Time Warner wanted nothing to do with a company that lost more than $60 million in 2000 alone and it took someone in Jamie Kellner, who had never watched a wrestling program nor attended a wrestling show, to just pull the plug on WCW on TV. Plus, I found Meekmahan (that's what I'm calling the WWE head these days out of my lack of respect for him) to be someone that is very delusional as we all know what he's doing now with the XFL which will bomb again.