In the best of ways, the new documentary series Monster Factory, available on Apple TV+, feels like a work of fiction. It’s slickly produced, filled with naturally charismatic subjects, and its events play out like the best of Hollywood’s underdog, rags-to-riches storylines.

It’s perhaps not surprising that a work of non-fiction storytelling could seem so scripted, or that a work of such fantastic character could all be real … this is pro wrestling, after all, and combining truth with fiction, actor with character, and honesty with playful hoodwinking is the foundation upon which the sport/spectacle is based.

As suggested in our preview article last week, the history of modern wrestling documentaries began with “tell-all” pieces that were tasked with stripping away the whispered and rumoured (but also generally understood) tenets of wrestling: the outcomes are predetermined and the wrestlers themselves are part actor, part athlete. The first peeks behind the curtain were almost all centered on well-known wrestlers and the paths that led to their success. A second wave of documentaries then emerged which were more focused on the up-and-coming wrestler, where success might not be about becoming a top-tier superstar but just living the dream of wrestling in any form.

Monster Factory sits comfortably in the middle of these two extremes. The subjects you will meet are not household names, but neither are they unknown, hidden gems. They’re not currently fighting for a top spot in a nationwide promotion, but they’re all teetering at that point and clawing at the chance to do just that. Through a keen eye, happenstance, or a helping hand from the “documentary gods,” series directors Galen Summer and Naiti Gámez capture the subjects at momentous points in their careers, all for different reasons.

Those subjects, The Notorious Mimi (Amelia Herr), Twitch (Lucas DiSangro), Bobby Buffet (Hurley A. Jones Jr.), Gabby Ortiz (Gabriella Belpre), and Goldy (David Goldschmidt), are all training under the watchful, loving, brutally honest eye of Danny Cage, himself a former student of the Monster Factory school for wrestlers in New Jersey. Throughout the six episodes, each are given some time to shine and share their personal journeys.

Despite her seemingly overnight success in the business, Mimi still fights to belong in the world of wrestling which is nothing like the world she grew up in. Twitch brings his promo A-game into the Factory, on the one hand hoping to make his Tourette’s Syndrome irrelevant in regards to his ability to perform, while also hoping to encourage anyone else facing a similar path to view his success as inspirational. Likewise, Goldy has found in wrestling a way past his ever-lurking anxiety that had him physically sick as youth at the thought of going to school or social functions. Buffet is a magnet for the fans’ attention who finds himself realizing what it will take to push beyond where his natural talents can take him. Finally, Gabby, who entered wrestling soon after her mother’s passing, is at a crossroads as she looks back upon her years given to the business and where she finds herself now.

In the end, though, it comes back to wrestling, and it comes back to getting it done in the ring. As Goldy succinctly points out: “Wrestling doesn’t give a f— about your issues.”

The Paulsboro Wrestling Club is home to the Monster Factory. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

It also always comes back to Cage. With his own family history fraught with resentment towards his father’s refusal to help him on his path, Cage has sworn to support anyone who is willing to fight for their dream. His chief frustrations throughout the series stem not from his students lacking talent, but from their lack of passionate pursuit of furthering their talent. “I can’t make them want it,” he utters, when he feels he’s handed someone everything they need for success. His students truly seem to adore him, knowing that behind the gruff criticism they receive is the true caring of a coach (or: the soft and gooey inside of a Lindor truffle behind the hard shell, as Gabby describes Cage’s personality).

Part of the dramatic structure of the series is a lead-in to “The Showcase”, an event put on by current and former Factory students — some of whom, like Q.T. Marshall, show up throughout the series and speak to what the training centre has meant to them, and also to help out the latest recruits. Marshall’s own journey through training at the Factory, chasing and nearly giving up on his dream, was captured for the 2019 documentary The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story, which is interesting to watch alongside Monster Factory and see how everyone finds their own way through their time in the training centre. In that doc, and in Monster Factory, the family and friends of the wrestlers are on full display and become an integral part of the story.

Apple TV+ certainly believes in this show, as evident by the high-quality production and the soundtrack, which is no small part of the feel of the show and surely a costly part of the budget (songs by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Eurythmics, and Phil Collins augment the score written by Dan Deacon). By presenting a story about fascinating people who happen to wrestle, the streaming service will certainly be hoping to garner a wide audience, and there’s more than enough to satisfy viewers who come in knowing nothing about wrestling.

At the end of the day, though, it’s still wrestling fans who should love this show. There’s time spent on the minutia of creating characters, gear, and timing entrances to match the music. The wrestling that’s shown receives high production values and comes off looking and sounding like action movie sequences. Knowledgeable wrestling fans will see old favourites show up and will also recognize those in the Factory program that were already bound for a different kind of success beyond Cage’s world, or are about to be.

Without aiming to minimize the dreams and desires of the wrestlers featured in Monster Factory (and the unsung cast of wrestlers around them as well), the strength of this series is in allowing the subjects the opportunity to define their own successes and to celebrate when they achieve it, while also honestly holding themselves accountable when they miss their mark. The series should be an eye-opener for those outside of the pro wrestling bubble and a welcome journey for even the most tuned-in fans.

All six episodes of Monster Factory are available now through Apple TV+.