WWE Studios struck gold with their Stephen Merchant penned 2019 hit film Fighting With My Family, based on a documentary about the infamous Knight family and the rise to sports entertainment stardom of Paige.
Both a box office hit and critically acclaimed, it shone a light on Paige’s trials and tribulations in becoming a WWE Superstar. It was both funny and tragic in turns as well as being brilliantly written to boot. So when it was announced that The Big Show would be getting his own sitcom… well, it’s hard to know what expectations were as a WWE sitcom was certainly a first. However, there was the potential for something singular, something a bit different.
For a company that once prided itself on taking risks and pushing the envelope (the Attitude Era, anyone?), it’s a shame that WWE’s sitcom about a seven-foot-tall, 400-pound professional wrestler should have to fall back so heavily on sitcom formula and convention.
The premise is pretty straightforward. Paul Wight is the titular Big Show, playing a fictionalised now-retired version of himself who is married to Allison Munn’s Cassie. They have two daughters together, Mandy (Lily Brooks O’Briant) and JJ (Juliet Donenfeld). Older teenage daughter Lola (Reylynn Caster), from a previous relationship, comes to live with them in Florida having left Minnesota as her mother has taken a job in Brussels.
Hijinks ensue, with Lola having to fit in with her new family and try out to join the high school ice hockey team. Yes, that’s right. The school ice hockey team. In Florida.
In any case, the main problem here isn’t to do with the weather in Florida, it’s the fact that her family is just so darn nice. Even though Lola’s luggage gets lost on the flight to Florida and her middle sister Mandy stages a sit-in to protest Lola getting her bedroom, there is virtually zero animosity between the sisters and they make it up pretty quickly.
Lola ends up sharing a bedroom with wise-cracking younger sister JJ, which is entertaining given Donenfeld’s delivery of one-liners is unmatched by the rest of the cast.
The relationship between Munn’s Cassie and Caster’s Lola is very warm which is fantastic but, unfortunately, doesn’t lend itself to the intrinsic conflict needed to generate true comedy gold.
While all of this is going on, though, the Big Show himself is somewhat lost in the mix. The problem seems to stem from the Big Show portraying a version of himself that is so close to him (he’s an exceptionally nice, self-effacing guy if you watch his Broken Skull Sessions interview on the WWE Network) that he doesn’t really get the chance to act as a foil to the rest of his family.
It’s not that he needs to live with his foot in his mouth like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm or be a pretentious snob à la Frasier or even be completely amoral like the gang in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia as those shows have a different target audience – but therein lies the confusion. Who is the show really aimed at? In the aforementioned Broken Skull Sessions interview when the Big Show mentions his then upcoming sitcom, he says that according to market research his character started to gain more traction with the teenage girls in the audience for coming across as a warm father-figure. Fair enough.
However, that doesn’t mean that the show has to rely entirely on tired, well-worn tropes of the sister with ‘middle child syndrome’, the zany younger sister and the troubled teen. Or if it does, then something needs to be done to develop the form in some way. With a cast as talented and capable as that of the Big Show Show, it should be easily achievable.
It also highlights one key missing ingredient which underpins all comedy which is a subtle sense of tragedy on the part of the main character in terms of exposing their foibles to comic effect.
Given that the central premise is meant to be the Big Show getting under everyone’s feet, maybe a slightly more crotchety version of the character could have worked. Having to get to know his kids again and getting to grips with the fact that he’s retired while his wife is rightly forging her own career as a realtor could have created more of the requisite comedy with a crabby Big Show stuck in the middle of it all. However, they all get along so well that it doesn’t really work.
Then there’s the supposedly haunted house that Cassie is trying to sell which represents a missed opportunity for a cameo from one of the WWE’s back catalogue of supernatural characters.
One of the other issues in the first episode appears to be the lack of explanation as to why the Big Show has retired. If it was to do with nagging injuries, maybe that was something that could have been played up a bit more. Considering the premise of the show hinges on the fact that the Big Show is now at home and getting under his family’s feet, there is none of the comedic bickering that you might expect.
Guest appearances from retired WWE Superstars Mark Henry, Rikishi and Mick Foley certainly help in terms of giving the Big Show some familiar faces to play off against and provide a possible direction for the second series. Henry and Show play off against each exceptionally well with a chemistry that could have been established in the first episode rather than waiting until two-thirds of the way through the series.
The show does, however, have its moments. When the Big Show offers himself up to be wiped out on the ice by Lola at her hockey try-out to impress the coach and show her toughness, the connection between Wight and Caster is quite touching.
The Big Show also demonstrates his proficiency at physical comedy when hangs Lola’s hockey coach up on the wall by his t-shirt which at least elicits a chuckle.
Munn and Wight’s chemistry is another highlight as Munn’s wealth of experience as a comedy actor undoubtedly helps to carry the whole show.
In these uncertain times, the gentle comedy of the Big Show Show is bound to be a hit with a family audience. The cast is great and, once things get going, the Big Show’s comedy chops do start to come through.
However, unless you’re a fan of dad jokes and watching a bunch of 300 plus pound ex-wrestlers doing their rendition of the Backstreet Boys, then this might not be for you.
The Big Show Show is on Netflix now.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!