Dark Side of the Ring Brian Pillman Review: A Story of Promise, Tragedy, and Family

VICE TV's Dark Side of the Ring kicked off their much anticipated third season with an emotional and personal look at Brian Pillman, who sadly passed away in 1997. There's an equal amount of promise and tragedy in Pillman's story, though unlike some other Dark Side of the Ring stories, this one does also have a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel, and it all makes for one of the most compelling episodes of the series to date. Pillman was a commanding presence both in and out of the ring, and if you were already a fan you'll likely grow to understand him in a much deeper way. For those who aren't as familiar, it's a fascinating and honest look at someone who pushed the envelope and navigated the wrestling business as few others have, and provides a glimpse at the effect constantly walking that edge can have on an individual and their family.

The two-hour format allows the team to give a much more thorough look at Pillman's rise from promising standout to the loose cannon persona that he became famous for, and more importantly all the start and stops he endured along the way. Pillman was at his heart a family man, and few things came before providing for his families and his children. That's the driving force in almost everything we see him do, and it's that determination and focus that really paves the way for his successes in the wrestling world.

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(Photo: VICE TV)

Steve Austin knows that quite well thanks to his time working alongside Pillman, and Austin really paints a picture of how dedicated Pillman was to not only the craft of professional wrestling but also turning adverse circumstances into opportunities. Austin and Pillman's team-up as the Hollywood Blondes was management's idea because, as Austin says, they had nothing for them and so stuck them together in a tag team. Austin wasn't on board at first, but Pillman won him over, and Austin reveals it the whole theme of the Hollywood Blondes was his creation, including the name and the gear.

Austin remembers Pillman reading books constantly to improve his vocabulary for promos, and all of that homework paid off time and time again. Despite creative just teaming them together out of having nothing for them, they got the act over, and you could see Pillman evolving and adapting his heel persona in real time. Despite WCW breaking them up for the lamest of reasons, Pillman didn't let that deter him, and that's when we really get to see his mind for the business.

Nowadays the stars of WWE, AEW, and other promotions are used to the blurred line between kayfabe and reality and often play on that to their benefit. When Pillman was hoping to play WWE and WCW off each other to get a better deal with WCW however, that was not the case, and Pillman was one of the first to expose the reality of the business to the general audience, utilizing everything at his disposal to manipulate the audience into believing that he was really this loose cannon who could go anywhere. That was a double-edged sword it turns out, as while he managed to secure a deal with WWE because of those actions, even after being in a horrific car accident, he started to lose himself in the character and go down a road he would unfortunately never return from.

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(Photo: WWE)

VICE TV pulls the curtain back on the effect the accident had on not just Pillman but his family. Pillman still got the WWE deal by covering up just how devastating the injury to his leg was, and despite being injured still delivered memorable moments in the ring and became one of the hottest stars in the company, including an infamous segment with Austin at his home, but his continued work in the ring never let him recover from his injuries. To deal with the pain he would medicate with both liquor and pain medication, but in that drive to continue to provide for his family and get to that superstar status, everything else would suffer, and that continued until he tragically passed away.

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(Photo: VICE TV)

Family is a consistent theme throughout Pillman's story. Despite what was happening and mistakes made (which there were plenty), Pillman's children were especially important to him, and that's why it's so sad to see what they had to go through after he passed. The family's issues with Melanie Pillman are documented all throughout, and Brittany, Dani, and Brian Jr. all share how downhill things went when their dad passed away and other people came into the picture. Stories like this often just end in tragedy, but as I mentioned before, there is a hopeful tone to where this story ends up, and it's all because of Brian's sister Linda.

When the children needed someone to truly take care of them and provide shelter, financial help, or just a calm presence, Linda was there, and she's the reason the Pillman family is so unified after all the tragedy they've experienced over the years. Brittany eventually went to live with Linda, as did Brian Jr., and as we see in the episode, Dani stays there from time to time as well. Brittany says she's not sure what they would've done without Linda, and after you see what they had to live with, it's genuinely wonderful to see them happy, and Linda seems incredibly happy as well to have them there. In fact, Brian Jr. has started wrestling just like his father, and is now part of the Varsity Blondes in AEW, so it seems there's been quite a bit of healing since their father's death.

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(Photo: VICE TV)
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VICE TV has consistently delivered compelling and honest looks at some of wrestling's most infamous stories without losing the people behind the stories, and this is no different. There's a lot to appreciate about Pillman the wrestler and the father, but the episode's honest about showing what wasn't so great too, and how many challenges his family had to overcome to get to where they are now. If you're going to miss an episode, don't let it be this one.

You can catch new episodes of Dark Side of the Ring on VICE TV every Thursday.