It's hard to stand out in the reality-television world, but a family that runs a funeral home by day and a professional wrestling federation by night may just do it. Wrestling With Death premieres next week, and Yahoo TV has an exclusive sneak peek at the entire first episode.
Away from the glitz and glamor of major promotions like WWE, local and independent federations are less about oiled-up musclemen and more about community. In a town like Osceola, Arkansas (population: just over 7,000), wrestling is a little like regional theater — with performers who are also friends and neighbors. In a town that small, it seems a lot less strange that wrestling and undertaking would go hand in hand.
"I think they're a very normal family," says executive producer David George. "When you're around death all day long, you kind of find an appreciation for life." The only thing that's different about the Lathams from any other family is the way they express that appreciation.
In the first episode, the family is introduced. LaFonce "Big Daddy" Latham is the patriarch, having run the Wilson Funeral Home for the past 35 years (the wrestling federation has only been around for 22). His wife, "Ms Sandra," gave up wrestling eight years ago due to breast cancer. The wrestling portion of the episode (the time is evenly split between the ring and the funeral home) revolves around LaFonce's attempts to get her back into the ring.
Derrick is a new addition to the family — having recently married LaFonce's daughter Jaime. He's a wrestler, but for LaFonce, being part of the Latham family means you wrestle and work at the funeral home. LaFonce and Jerry initiate him with the classic "jumping up from the embalming table" gag.
That also causes conflict with LaFonce's other daughter, Tonya. She's the funeral home's office manager, and she's married to Jerry "White Lightning" Smith, but she doesn't like wrestling. Similarly, LaFonce's son, Bubby, is the head mortician and embalmer but wants nothing to do with the family's extracurricular pursuits.
Then there's 9-year-old Max, grandson of LaFonce, who looks like a pint-sized King Kong Bundy. His father is Harry "Serpent" Clapp, who, if the name didn't tip you off, also wrestles. Max's stepdad is Derrick, which must make for some awkward lockups in the ring.
Wrestling With Death does a fine job of bouncing back and forth between the minutiae of embalming and the loud and wild action in the ring. The show is most engaging, though, when it draws emotional connections between the two worlds.
The premiere episode follows the funeral of Becky, a longtime fan of the Lathams' Mid-Southern Championship Wrestling. She was inspired by Ms. Sandra as they both battled cancer, coming to matches during her illness. "Even when she was sick, she was still jumping up and down," says Jerry. And when Sandra does decide to return to the ring, it's due, in part, to the sense of responsibility she feels to Becky and her family.
It looks like, in the next episode, LaFonce's desire to push people into the ring before they're ready may cause more trouble, and city boy Derrick looks into cattle ownership. What do you think? Do you like the Lathams, or is their life too bizarre? Do you prefer the wrestling side or the undertaking side? Let us know below.
Wrestling With Death premieres Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. with back-to-back episodes on WGN America.