Family Business

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Looking back, Stephanie winning the McMahon legacy award may seem a little on the nose. But there were enough ways for them to go at that less straightforwardly to set the story on another trajectory – give it to Steph and Hunter, give it to just Hunter, or have Vince give it to himself then run down the audience for old time’s sake – that it at least gave a little misdirection for what was really going to happen. And even if Shane’s music never hit, Stephanie McMahon is wrestling’s patron saint of playing faux sincere. So giving her a chance to read some prepared remarks about how great she thinks she is pretty much all we could ever want. Except, you know, her beloved brother’s music hitting in the middle of it.

Shane coming back is essentially the NPC version of Brock Lesnar’s return to John Cena’s lunch period to eat whatever the poor little guy had packed for school that day. The most over – but probably the third best television performer – member of the McMahon family, he brings a weirdly resonant reality to his return. And as a member of the ruling family and heir to the throne, Shane’s mentioning declining ratings/stock prices and talent injuries have real gravitas as (ugh) a narrative tool to articulate the overwhelming feelings of a certain group of fans regarding a very specific set of tangible problems they’re looking to address. On the (double ugh) Road to WrestleMania, there’s almost always a meta-narrative that the main event attempts to sell. This year’s is Shane McMahon playing the role of The Dark Internet.

Which is what makes the choice to have him work with The Undertaker at WrestleMania in what’s ostensibly going to be a garbage wrestling match so interesting. Some of the excitement over his return will wear off, to be sure. But by letting him be the voice of the keyboard booker in another episode of intractable palace intrigue, Shane should keep everyone interested long enough in a storyline to still be engaged with it after we realize it’s going to end with him turning heel.

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*** WARNING: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE! *** PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIME ***

It’s become very clear that the WWE has decided to turn the New Day, if not into good guys, at the very least into guys they are hoping you’ll cheer for. And, like anything you like becoming a bigger deal, it has most of us worrying whether or not we’ll lose the magic that can only come from grown men referencing unicorns and Final Fantasy VII during speeches they give while wearing spandex.

New Day are too good as a team, and Big E/X have too much potential as stars of the future, for them to stay as genuine antagonists for too long, though. This is something we knew was coming for a while, but the sooner we can learn to accept it, the more control we have in the transition. Losing something you personally held in great esteem because you were there from the point where it started to become what you loved feels bad. But what actually breaks your heart is when that thing becomes everything it used to speak out against and none of the things that spoke to you in the first place.

New Day works in the same way Cabin in the Woods or Community (or Deadpool) does: by skirting the line between playing into and over tropes. It requires those involved to become experts at talking out of both sides of their mouth. But, because nuance doesn’t sell -- and especially not in professional wrestling, a fly-by-night half naked man circus -- the duality that makes an act like The New Day work is lost for a chance to make them someone’s hero, even if they already were to a nation of nerds like me and you (yes, you, reader of 2000 word reviews of a wrestling show).

It’s only transcendent entities -- not even performers, but beings -- that can avoid this trap. And even for someone like Brock, what they are able to do in a given situation is greatly affected by the way in which they want to tell the story. If not necessarily the story itself.

He is the one who knocks, but he can’t obliterate everyone like a whirling dervish of destruction just because he possess the ability to. He needs to sell Suplex City t-shirts just like everyone else, and if that requires him to count along with the crowd in his matches instead of using that time to throw a table on someone, then that’s what he’ll do.

It also makes it easier to turn the crowd at least slightly against him, even if there will always be people willing to pay to watch him eviscerate people. He just needs to attach someone firmly planted in the hearts and minds of the WWE Universe. One segment where he beats up Dean Ambrose is enough to make it so that, if nothing else, people understand he's (at best) an amoral monster at this point.

When Brock becomes a “protagonist” -- he’ll never be a good guy -- he becomes part of the show, even when he’s eating it whole. But because he’s such an out-of-this-world talent and physical specimen, he still feels above it all; completely unencumbered by a need to fit a mold or work a gimmick. Brock is a real life Destroyer robot, and at worst, they may need to find someone for him to murderize with fists (and knees), but like drugs, Brock sells himself.

What the New Day are selling is a chance for wrestling to be more than it is as an art form, for music and pop culture to be part of the show in the same way it is for every other show: a part of a universe that the creators are attempting make us feel as though we are a part of or wouldn’t mind visiting once a week.

Representing the rapid transformation from fabricated sports spectacle into self-aware art form, the New Day should be trusted to more than almost any other performers on the roster to be able to make a transition. But it’s important to remember that sooner than we realize, those New Day Sucks chants might be less ironic than we’d like.

*** WARNING: YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE *** PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY CHILI CHEESE PRETZEL DOG FROM SONIC ON YOUR WAY OUT ***

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It’s hard to know how much the Dudley Boyz have left in the take from an in-ring perspective, but they are performing an absolutely invaluable service by keeping The Usos away from the New Day. If they weren’t already, selfless acts like that put them right into the Hall of Fame of my heart.

And, although some of the signs point to a four-way tag match for WrestleMania, there’s always the possibility of the WWE letting New Day have their own spotlight match while the rest of the tag division, IF THERE’S ANYTHING RESEMBLING A WRESTLING GOD, THEY’LL MAKE SURE IT’S JUST DUDLEYZ’ THROWING DUDES THROUGH TABLES. PLEASE.

While everyone should be pleased with the work that Chris Jericho has done to help kick off AJ Styles’s WWE career, the idea of them being a team anything past tonight is probably a bigger nightmare than what would have happened with the New Day if they had continued working with Y2Dad. At least we knew who’d end up making themselves look better coming out of something like that. Here’s hoping AJ pisses off Kevin Owens at some point in the near future.

Bo Dallas continues to be the Rotunda the WWE Universe deserves, if not the one they need right now. As we say every week in the Palace of Wisdom, there’s so much to love in the Social Outcasts that if Bo wasn’t hitting God-level nearly every night I’d be hardpressed to pick an MVP – between Curtis and Heath, obviously – for the group. Adam Rose continues to be cold diarrhea in a dixie cup.

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The rise of Ryback (trademark pending) following his Big Boy Pants moment has been one of my favorite parts of the show, even as everyone watching at home or in the building has spent the entire time chanting “Goldberg” at him. But this weird “Ryback needs to do Ryback” business seems like it may be placing the “Ryback could be an interesting tweener” cart way before the “can he pull this off and not embarrass himself” horse. Though, as long as this doesn’t end with Big Show and Kane working a Triple Threat match at the biggest WrestleMania of all time, we should put it in the win column.

With Sasha, Charlotte and (possibly) Becky busy during WrestleMania season, it will be interesting to see what they do with Naomi for the next month and a half. She’s a real player in the division, even if it’s only slightly higher than the Clippers are in the Western Conference. It would be a shame to see her momentum over the last few weeks post-Team BAD be squandered in some kind of 10-Diva Cluster Kerfuffle. Even working a feud with Tamina over whose would be better than that.

The best thing going in the Diva’s division, however, is Charlotte. Wearing Nikki’s gear is +100 on the troll scale, and she’s quickly becoming the best talker in the division. Without having to carry Brie, these next two months should be her coming out party before Sasha crowns her ass at WrestleMania and her tenure as the Legit Boss of the Divas. Which will almost definitely be interrupted by a Belly-to-Bayley the night after WrestleMania.

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There’s nothing quite like watching the League of Nations right now. I’ve always had an extremely high level of affection for each member, but the level to which they have been rendered completely impotent by booking leaves me waiting for every one of their matches to be interrupted by Vince McMahon and/or the Anonymous GM bell. Like so much Riddler, they exist almost entirely to make Roman Look Strong. This isn’t necessarily “bad”, but does have a tendency to make you look for where the trap door that chutes them out towards irrelevancy is when it’s time for the real story to begin. The trap door this time was HHH’s Lass Kicker character coming out to lead the WWE Universe in a series of counting exercises.

And, boy howdy, were they excited to see Roman get his ass kicked. This wasn’t even a situation where they were excited to see Triple H for the first time in a while. They just wanted to see someone beat up Roman. Which isn’t good. Not for Roman, not for HHH and not for the main event picture at WrestleMania. That’s not say things can’t be turned around or that it’s impossible for them to eventually build sympathy for Roman as he hurtles inevitably towards everyone’s -- including Hunter himself -- second choice for this match. And there if you include Roman being replaced by Dean Ambrose entirely. This is something that the WWE has to be fully cognizant of, and remedy or learn to adapt sometime soon. Whether or not that means including Shane in this bit of business remains unclear, but given what’s at stake for Roman -- it’s *really* hard to imagine him being able to withstand another PPV where he’s been booed out of the building for “heroically” winning the main event, no matter how much I love the work he’s doing -- they need to pull out all the stops (or change direction entirely again) if they want this to work even half as well as they had originally planned (with Seth, of course.)

What was most interesting about the amount of blood involved in this segment was the manner in which it was handled. While there was definitely movement to get the bleeding to stop -- or at least some pretty conspicuous glove wearing -- they went along with it in such a way that made it seem as though the color may not have been entirely unintentional. However, because they’ve already give up the goose on a street fight -- as Brock and Dean have the same plans in mind -- there’s a pit in the bottom of my stomach that we’ll see a repeat of what happened at the end of WrestleMania 25, where bad blood will reach a boiling point before the show and we’re be left with bad booking decisions essentially ruining a year’s worth of work. They better just hope that they don’t also get another Taker-HBK to shovel dirt on their grave before they’ve even had a chance to make their five minute long entrances.


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