Anyone with an interest in the UK professional wrestling scene will be familiar with the London-based but now internationally renowned, strong-style, punk promotion that is Progress Wrestling. Progress has been steadily building a name for itself, as well as swelling its audience base, since its creation in 2011 by Jim Smallman and Jon Briley.
Its innovative style and investment in UK wrestling talent, as well as its welcoming atmosphere and ‘Don’t be a dick’ philosophy, keeps its fans coming back for more. Its shows often sell out within minutes, and returns don’t stick around for long. So it was only logical that, in 2015, Progress launched its own video on demand service, Demand Progress, so that fans who missed out on tickets could keep up with the action, and attendees could relive the excitement of the live shows.
Demand Progress features a range of content, including shows from other indie wrestling promotions, a well as Progress’ own Chapter shows. But in 2017 Progress decided to branch out into something slightly different, with their own original TV series, Freedom’s Road. Freedom’s Road is a wrestling docu-soap, featuring in-ring matches and to-camera pieces from Progress wrestlers, and following the drama (and the comedy) outside of the ring.
It kept this format for the first eleven episodes of its first season, before shifting into hilarious parody of a WWE-style commentary-and-analysis show for its twelfth and final episode, ‘Thursday Night Fight Night’. Season one of Freedom’s Road was frivolous fun, giving fans extra exposure to their favourite wrestlers, as well as reality show-style screaming feuds and comic interludes.
No one was quite sure whether Freedom’s Road would get a second season. Progress were teasing it for some time before announcing that season two – more than a year in the making – would be available in its entirety on Demand Progress from 17 August 2018. But for anyone expecting more of the same – you’re in for a surprise. Because season two of Freedom’s Road has taken something of a dark turn.
Co-created, written and directed by Alan Ronald, season two hits the ground running with blood, injured wrestlers and an as yet undisclosed peril. “It’s not about fucking wrestling anymore,” says an on-edge Spike Trivet in the pre-credits teaser, leaving us wondering what the hell is going on here?
It is still about wrestling. Obviously. But the matches take a backseat to the scripted drama; and this season it’s less soap and more – grit? There is still the through-line of feuds and petty grievances, camaraderie and – well, wrestling stuff. But the story also takes a turn into the bizarre, dipping into surreality and paddling with the implausible. Because if wrestling (and – shhh! don’t tell anyone!) isn’t actually real, then a story about wrestling really can go wherever the hell it likes. And it does.
Ronald, who as a writer and stand-up comic is no stranger to taking a story in an unexpected direction, has aimed for a slow drip-feed of strangeness that builds, over nine episodes, to – I’m not going to tell you what. But if David Lynch were to write a wrestling show, it might look something like this. Freedom’s Road is also pretty packed with comedic dialogue, which we might expect from the likes of the time-travelling Chuck Mambo, but is pleasantly surprising when delivered by some of the more serious character wrestlers.
The production values on Freedom’s Road are pretty impressive, particularly when taking into account the micro-crew that worked on putting the show together. The whole thing is surprisingly glossy in comparison to the first season, and the camera work and lighting look as though they belong to a show with a much bigger budget. Add in a tight script, a gorgeous partially hand-drawn title-sequence, and an atmospheric theme tune, and you have a wrestling show with a unique style and character. I don’t think there’s anything else out there that’s quite like this.
Freedom’s Road has found its feet; and it will need them, because boy is it going to run.
Watch the first episode of Freedom’s Road S2 for free. The full season is available on subscription from Demand Progress.