WWE Evil, the first original WWE series for Peacock, which also happens to be produced and narrated by John Cena, explores eight iconic WWE characters that occupied the ‘dark side’ with great impact. Many wrestling villains have come and gone, but few have stood the test of time and garnered the type of admiration that ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair has. Naturally consumed by the lavish lifestyle, Flair was notorious for showcasing his wealth, women, and wardrobe, much to the dismay of fans and rival superstars. Like episode 1, which explores the rise of Hollywood Hogan, Flair’s legacy has been documented on countless occasions – leaving little to no fresh chapters in this narrative. However, what director Micah Brown has done, with great success, is tell Flair’s story in a Mafia Don Esq. fashion of a villain who loses the balance between his persona and real life.
Episode 7 intelligently kicks off by showing snippets of iconic ‘80s movie villains (or heels), such as Lex Luthor and Tony Montana. It’s the episode’s clever backdrop, and it’s here the show redirects us to wrestling’s villain of the ‘80s as narrator John Cena states: “Every villain has an origin story.” Evil then takes us back to Flair’s childhood, as the man himself recalls a story of him sneaking out of his home to attend a fancy slumber party. Through retelling this story (one of the many incidents that led him to boarding school), Flair highlights how he always wanted a lavish lifestyle – he just needed to figure out a way to get it. Luckily for the Nature Boy, Verne Gagne offered him his way with professional wrestling.
After a brief recap of Flair’s early days as a mid-card wrestler and the plane crash that broke his back, we enter the Nature Boy phase. As all past documentaries on Flair have done, the documentary unloads a litany of classic Flair promos, and like those documentaries, this proves to be a highly entertaining portion of Evil. The promos are a perfect illustration of what made Flair “evil.” Also, interview sound bytes like wrestling historian David Shoemaker’s comments that the best villains know they have something to offer also add great input. In Flair’s case, he had extreme confidence, wealth, the women, and he was not afraid to show it. However, what made Flair’s character special and later destructive, was what fans saw on TV also happened to be the man away from wrestling.
Brown’s choice to mirror Flair’s story with countless ‘80s gangster tales (E.g. Scarface) is not only an effective storytelling device, but it helps add weight to why Flair was, in fact, a heel. Through Cena’s narration, audiences are given the history lesson of the ‘80s being defined by capitalism, further highlighting Flair’s effectiveness in being wrestling’s premiere villain during this decade. Also, recapping wrestling’s use of the Cold War added to this, as we see Flair choosing greed over patriotism during his legendary betrayal of Dusty Rhodes, who had saved Flair from the evil Russians. All of this allowed Evil to successfully recap well-known Flair stories while adding greater significance to his actions and why they were so effective.
The great gangster tales, often, if not always, show the fall of our villains due to their lifestyle and desire for power-consuming every aspect of their life. This is also the case for Ric Flair. The life of Flair, his happiness and fulfilment, revolved around professional wrestling. Therefore, when he took a backseat to other stars in the ‘90s, so did his self-confidence, which meant the Nature Boy became a shell of himself. Of course, the Hall of Famer’s battles with self-doubt is well-documented, but tying that to the story of a fallen villain like Tony Montana, makes it all the more symbolic and impactful. Fortunately, though, there is a happy ending to this tale.
Unfortunately, Ric Flair’s episode does fall into the same trap that Hollywood Hogan’s did. There is little content in this near 50-minute runtime that is fresh. If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ve seen and know the majority of these stories. Despite Brown’s best efforts, he cannot completely eradicate the moments of déjà vu, especially for fans that have seen Flair’s previous documentaries. However, this is a small and unavoidable criticism of a largely strong episode.
Ric Flair’s story ends on a high note, as his years of hard work are rewarded with adulation from fans and peers, as well as his undeniable impact on pop culture. This fondness for Flair is once again tied to the Scarface-like tales, as those “villains” are all eventually revered due to their commitment and charisma. Whether Flair’s commitment to his character was a flaw is left for interpretation. But whether his commitment led to being a successful heel is not.
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