Nostalgia Documentaries: The Dark Side of the Ring

When I have depression, be it from PMS, S.A.D., or the usual kinds of sorrow, I wind up going down a fairly predictable path. Those little blocks of days that pepper my years are the days when I am not productive. I don’t draw, I don’t write sneers, I don’t do my work on commissions that have already been paid for and are constricting my heart with tension. I don’t do anything but lie in bed and watch video entertainment. I don’t even have the strength to read! I only lie there dead-eyed staring at a screen and occasionally typing to Dollissa or cchris because addictions to chat may wane but they never die.

Drawing of Amandoll lying in bed, eyes open but tired. An eyebrow shows that she is engaged in state of exhaustion or ennui. There is a laptop on her belly.

At least when I have these moods, I watch new programming instead of things I have seen a thousand times and therefore can pay little attention to, or sleep through. I guess this is my bare-minimum of an attempt at productivity: I take in new content. Sometimes it is the guilty pleasure of watching reaction videos of people hearing songs I like for the first time in their lives, but usually I just put on a documentary.

Documentaries, in my opinion, are the perfect form of edutainment. If made well, I will watch informative programming on basically anything that doesn’t upset me too vividly. Like, for instance, you won’t catch me watching a program that covers the world of illegal endangered animal poaching. And actually I don’t really watch many nature documentaries because I spend the whole time wondering if the death footage I’m watching was set up by camera crews and a director. But I meant to tell you about why I do watch them, not what I don’t watch. How about I try again in the next paragraph?

Documentaries, in my opinion, are the perfect form of edutainment. Even the driest of topics can hold my attention. Ancient Sumeria? Yes, please. War History? Sure thing! Abandoned attempts at utopian societies? My eyes are peeled, my brain is ready. The history of numbers and mathwork? Yes times a thousand. The goddamn entire history of Europe’s monarchies? I hate-love it. Tell me everything. Expert interviews, animated charts, living maps, recreations — I’m not so hot for the actors portraying the past, but I can’t control the documentary trends. Anyway, that actor portraying Oppenheimer in god only knows what trash doc I was watching years ago softened my stance on that practice. I’m straying from the topic again!

An image of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Father of the Atomic Bomb. He has on his distinctive hat and his jawline has never been more crisp.
Do you think Oppenheimer ever wrestled?

What I have been trying to build up to but am probably also trying to avoid admitting even though it is the point of this article is that this sick addiction to documentaries is how Hulu grabbed a hold of my attention and made me feel the opposite of proud of myself.

I watched every episode of the Dark Side of the Ring in just three days.

Despite being friends with Billy Holiday, Zach, and some others, I have very little to do with professional wrestling. Even though I have been to one match in my real life, and stooped to play a WWE app for in-game money in a different stupid app, I more or less know nothing of it aside from the things everyone knows because it slides into popular culture from time to time. I was aware of the WWF in the 80s because it followed Saturday Morning Cartoons and I have an older brother. There’s a little nostalgia there. I remember a lot of names. But now that I have looked back on that past, I realize that six year old me didn’t understand pretty much anything at all.

Since I love biographies, nostalgia, and documentaries — I was instantaneously hooked. Also, friend xylo (who is a lot like me in knowing nothing of this sport), started watching it too. We had a friendship journey involving delightful dramatic backlit reenactments, angry muscle baby men blurring the lines of pretend, and still-living old men who are still angry for other reasons.

This series by Vice Studios somehow had three seasons and caused other Dark Sides Of serieses to happen including Dark Side of the 90s, which yes I also watched. Excuse you, I was sad and overwhelmed a lot this year!

There were thirty episodes of DSOTR and I was submerged in their delicious scandals and information far longer than a week ago, so I will tell you what I remember, per subject. This is the perfect way to deliver gossip, half-remembered but fully-scandalized. It is the Sneer Campaign Guarantee.

The orange bette face as the almanac sun on a black background. The orange text beside it says "Gossip half remembered and fully scandalized, delivered to your minds by sneer campaign." With our promise in quotes beneath that that just says "We promise."

Season One

The Match Made in Heaven – Macho Man Randy Savage starts us off on our journey. We learn of his fairy tale romance with Miss Elizabeth and how, like most fairy tales, it was a lot of terrible stuff that no one should ever wish for. It was sad, but I had nostalgia for memories. I remembered him after my cartoons, and later, that he liked Slim Jim meat snacks for money.
The Montreal Screwjob – This episode was about the ruination of Bret Hart’s reputation, or a double-cross that the wrestling management won’t admit? It’s an infamous occasion amongst the wrestling fans, but I didn’t ever know about it and my big takeaway was something like, “gosh! What a group of dramatic men! This could be on Dynasty!” How naive I was to think this was an isolated instance of dramatic muscle-men.
The Killing of Bruiser Brody – I hadn’t heard of Bruiser Brody before but he came off as very sweet and likeable in this episode and I was upset that he had been murdered. Justice for Bruiser Brody!

An image of Bruiser Brody wearing a huge crown ringside. We added the text that says "We want justice! We want revenge!"
By “we” I certainly mean “everyone in the whole world.”

The Last of the Von Erichs – This one must not have been very interesting to me. I think it involved a Texan family that was all blonde and strange? I won’t fact check myself.
The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino – I don’t really remember this one either. Maybe I was ill? Maybe I was having a watchathon featuring a fever? This might have been a Canadian Wrestler who was… murdered? Went missing? He had been up to no good though, most likely. I found that to be a theme in these stories.
The Fabulous Moolah – This is apparently some hard old broad who started a lady wrestling empire in the distant past. Lots of people came in to trash talk her. She seemed hard to get along with OR WAS SHE. I’m still not sure if this one was an expose or if it was a piece designed to tarnish her rep. The Ghost of FabMoo, please don’t beat me up.

Season Two

Benoit Parts one and Two – This was the guy who was on the news about butchering up his family out of the blue. I remembered this vaguely, when it happened. It was around when they started to realize that roided-up men who are angry and violent for a living and more importantly also get knocked in the head a lot get holes in their brain that make them into ticking time bombs that may or may not explode! A sad story for the ages.
The Life and Crimes of New Jack – New Jack is a surprisingly likeable and charismatic wrestler who engaged in the extra-violent wrestling of the 90s, which I had heard of as a rival to the main TV wrestling, but didn’t know it was more Extreme, despite that word being in the name. This is also the first time I noticed the interviewees on this fine docuseries included The Sandman, a wrestler I didn’t know until I was sent a Cameo from him.

Screencapture of a Cameo appearance of The Sandman, mid-word. You can almost see up his apparently-broken nose.
The moment the Sandman personally challenged me to a Singapore Cane on a Pole match, a series of words that meant nothing to me upon first viewing.

The Brawl for All – If memory serves, someone in the wrestling planning thought they should just have a match that resembled a bar room brawl? No gods, no masters, no rules. Last man standing? Anyway it didn’t work out and the guy who is like a wrestling expert who talks a LOT fully blames the wrestling writer guy with the gigantic eyebrows. He’s still 100% furious. Shakingly furious. It was great. Good episode. Second Fave.
Jimmy Snuka and the Death of Nancy Argentino – Superfly Jimmy Snuka probably had a coked-out rage fit and killed his wife/girlfriend/fiancee. But it… was inconclusive? He got away with it? Maybe he didn’t. I don’t have time for cocaine shenanigans though, so I shook my head disapprovingly the whole time and let it leave from my mind.
The Assassination of Dino Bravo – Maybe I was confusing the Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino with this one? Or maybe two wrestling men were caught up in the dirty world of organized crime and were offed. Or maybe Dino Bravo or Gorgeous Gino did not have that life story at all and I dreamed it. My apologies to their families left behind. I hope you never read this article.
David Schultz and the Slap Heard Round the World – A wrestler slapped a journalist! It was probably a tap for a wrestler, but to a normal person with an uncalloused face and delicate writer’s neck, it was probably a big deal. The press came down hard on wrestling for a minute. The journalist is still pretty mad about it. It was like watching a weird episode of High School But Adults.
Cocaine and Cowboy Boots: the Herb Abrams Story – See my opinion on Jimmy Snuka. It was difficult for me to watch or enjoy this one. Herb Abrams seemed to be a very irritating person.
The Last Ride of the Road Warriors – A sad story of friendships broken. Essentially the Fox and the Hound, but adult man wrestlers.
The Final Days of Owen Hart – They ended this season with the biggest downer. This one made me all the way sad. I set up residence in Frown Town.

Season Three

Brian Pillman Parts One and Two – Cincinnati’s own Brian Pillman seemed interesting. And our friend Zach ran into his son at our local Covington Kroger, which can only mean that Brian Pillman Jr is actually a Covingtonian because no one else would be in there. I’m not a reporter but I bet I’ve got the scoop on that fact.
The Ultra-Violence of Nick Gage – Nick Gage seems great, although his form of wrestling makes me feel squeamish.
Collision in Korea – This episode, above all others, interested me the most. Apparently, the most popular wrestlers of the 1980s were invited to North Korea to perform? Why? Why? How did this happen? Even though it is clearly explained why, why, and how, I still am asking. I’m maybe asking more insistently. Of all the episodes, this is the one I might go back and watch some day.
Becoming Warrior – This one is just about The Ultimate Warrior, a popular wrestler of his day, and the one whose small poster I had on my wall, gathered as a prize in a box of Honeycomb cereal. I didn’t really need or want to know more about the real man.

A mild collage that has the Ultimate Warrior Honeycomb poster in the middle and the honey comb boxes on each side of it. The boxes from when it was from.
A flood of memories returns to me. Mostly the memories are about the flavor of Honeycomb.

In the Shadow of Grizzly Smith – A difficult watch! Grizzly Smith was a bad, bad man. Terrible episode. Very uncomfortable.
The Dynamite Kid – A British wrestler whose story I can’t remember much of. I think he got the brain holes, too. : (
The Plane Ride from Hell – A story about what it’s like to have a bunch of pro-wrestlers drunk on a long flight. A bad idea from beginning to end, and even though their behavior was shocking, I can’t really call it surprising.
The Double Life of Chris Kanyan – I can’t remember either of his lives.
Blood and Wire: Onita’s FMW – Japanese wrestling! The wrestling covered in this episode was extra wild.
Bikers, Bombs, and Bedlam: Johnny K-9 – Another wrestler up to no good and receiving consequences.
The Many Faces of Luna Vachon – Luna Vachon was an intense lady wrestler! She seemed like a fun time!
Extreme and Obscene: Rob Black’s XPW – A straightforward, unsurprising documentary episode on XPW. I didn’t find it very interesting.
The Steroid Trials – Apparently at some point, possibly overnight, wrestlers went from steroid monsters to wink-don’t-tell steroid monsters to having to actually not take them? Or the public was outraged that these very obviously roided-up impossibly-muscular men took steroids? I’m not blaming the show, but this little piece of wrestling history was kind of dumb. A dumb thing that happened. And for that reason, the whole series ended on a womp-womp note.

I also wound up watching a completely separate documentary about Andre the Giant this year so I guess you can say that I am now a pro-wrestling historian expert. I’ll put it on my business card.

This is my real business card. It says Artwork at the  top, and there's an Amandoll comic drawing waving from the center. There are a lot of abilities listed all over this thing, but now clearly out of place in the bottom left, it also says "extremely smart about wrestling history!"

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