Perhaps it’s too easy to view Tales from the Territories, the new wrestling docu-series co-produced by Vice Studios Canada and Seven Bucks Productions, as “Dark Side Light”, rising as it has from the ashes of the Evan Husney/Jason Eisener Dark Side of the Ring series. It’s also true, however. Accompanied by the same hazy flashback clips as Dark Side and telling tales of some of wrestling’s most entertaining stories from behind the curtain, Tales from the Territories opens its first season with a pretty safe episode of wrestling veterans sitting around and spinning yarns about the good ol’ days.
It’s like Dark Side of the Ring, Legends House, and Table for 3 all wrapped up in one show.
Dwayne Johnson, serving as one of the executive producers, lends his voice to the opening credits with a tip of the hat to the days when passionate fans still believed (almost giving it a kind of Christmas special vibe). He then checks out, leaving the rest of the show to narrator Sean K. Robb and the wrestlers themselves. A roundtable of Dutch Mantell, Jimmy Hart, Jerry and Jeff Jarrett, and Jerry Lawler are your guides to the golden age of the Continental Wrestling Federation, better known to fans simply as the Memphis Territory.
It’s an era when knives were drawn, guns were pulled, and being attacked by outraged fans was the stamp of approval for a show well done. Jeff Jarrett, flashing a close-up shot of his WWE Hall of Fame ring — like really obviously focusing on it — says that fans treated the wrestlers like their favourite sports teams and were invested in the rivalries, as opposed to today where people are fans of the whole show or the business itself, like a Broadway show.
Lawler talks about being forced to work hard to entertain the fans who would come back every week, and working even harder to try and draw them back for the week after. Tales are told of fans getting too close to the action (landing a homemade blow dart in Hart’s rear end, for example), after which local police would simply bring the intruder into a room in the back and let the wrestlers beat them out of wanting to do it again. Old school, punitive action, to be sure.
The story of Mario Galento is told a little more seriously, and is the highlight of the episode. As Jerry Jarrett tells it, Nashville promoter Roy Welch, suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, is suspicious of Jarrett trying to squeeze in on his territory. In response, he sends journeyman wrestler Mario Galento to send a warning. Jarrett is in a match versus Lawler when Galento enters the ring and attacks him, so Jarrett goes back to his shoot training, goes straight for Galento’s eye, and takes one out.
Lawler and his manager Sam Bass continue the attack, after which Lawler, in an admittedly impressive move considering what was happening, gets on a mic and sticks to kayfabe by explaining that he helped Jarrett because he’s the only one who gets to beat him up. Galento keeps coming after Jarrett with a night stick, but Jerry attacks Galento as he’s rolling into the ring — which, honestly, every wrestler knows that’s going to happen when you enter the ring like that.
Lawler follows it with a story of Galento attacking him much later on during another match in another town. Mario approached him with a straight razor as Lawler splits to the dressing room. Jimmy Valiant pulls a gun out of his bag to stop Galento in his tracks, and all three were arrested.
More stories follow: Eddie Gilbert hitting Lawler a little too hard with a car during a parking lot segment; Joe Leduc cutting his own arm with an axe in a promo about scarring himself to remind him of his goals; and a lengthier talk about Hart and The Iron Sheik doing a promo in front of footage of a U.S. helicopter going down in Iran. A couple of fans, one of whom whose son was on that chopper, call the arena to say they’re coming to shoot Jimmy Hart and The Sheik. While this threat fizzles out, one of them dogs Hart for weeks, with no real conclusion to the story. Hard to say what’s kayfabe here. It’s perhaps logical to think that if these fans were coming to shoot the wrestlers that they wouldn’t call ahead to announce their intentions.
Mantell talks about doing a show in prison, then an interesting re-tell of himself and Jeff Jarrett doing a match on PBS with a symphony backing the action. Mantell says he didn’t really understand it at the time, but is proud to say that match is featured in The Smithsonian Institute.
Lawler stops Jerry cold from telling a story and takes it over himself — one about Jackie Fargo putting hot balm inside the clothes of Jerry Jarrett and his partner Tojo Yamamoto. Mantell starts telling a story of Lawler using a flashing blue light in his car to pull over James Harris (Kamala), but Lawler quickly takes that story over too. Wrestling history is replete with ribs that helped wrestlers pass the times, and Memphis was no different.
The last story featured is the Waffle House knife fight. Randy Savage is irritably trying to order waffles when a regular customer walks in and announces he just got married. Savage is just upset because his waitress has gone over to congratulate him. The newlywed and Savage come to blows and the other guy pulled out a knife, so Savage gets one off the counter only to realize he’s holding a butter knife. They break out into the parking lot and the guy gets away, so it’s another story that’s certainly emblematic of Savage’s hot streak, but just kind of fizzles out.
Tales from the Territories offers, if the first episode is any indication, straight-up nostalgia — something akin to attending a fan expo and listening to your favourites relive their past exploits. It’s slickly produced, taking the aforementioned production values of Dark Side of the Ring and putting them into something perhaps a little more palatable for a mainstream audience.
In case you’re wondering, by the way, Andy Kaufman doesn’t show up in this episode because his and Lawler’s tale gets its own show next week. Stay tuned, as always, to SlamWrestling.net for coverage of future episodes and news about Tales from the Territories.
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