Go Home Raw, You're Drunk

Raw Regurgitated, 3/28
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Before the show, if someone would have said “this Go-Home Raw is starting with a segment where The Undertaker and Shane cut lengthy promos on one another, and it’s the best part of the show”, most of us would have probably set our Raw alarms – I assume we all have alarms for when Raw starts – twenty minutes late and let the DVR do our watching for us. But boy howdy, did this work out 100X better than it had any right. Shane is slowly but surely learning how to talk like a (wrestling) person again. And, as terrible, no-good, very bad, horrible Taker is – and literally always has been – at even wrestle talking, he mostly just sounded like an old dude who wants to beat the crap out of his boss’s kid.

It’s a good omen that the crowd in Brooklyn, which serves as a(/n albeit *significantly* less British but) excellent proxy for the WrestleMania crowd, seems to genuinely want to see these two work together. There doesn’t seem to be much concern about whether or not the match is going to be “good”, just that it’s spectacular and reminds people of things they like. Between the prospect of Shane taking crazy bumps off of and onto things, a lot of blood and the Undertaker at WrestleMania (in HellCell, no less), it was always going to be something worth watching. But now, it’s finally feeling like the yearly Mania match where WWE’s crazy, hard partying past gets put on display as an family-friendly Attitude Era sampler that it was supposed to be the entire time.

Shane being in perhaps the best shape of his life makes a real difference when it comes to this feud working on a physical level. Outside of his punches – though those, to be fair to Mr. O-Mac, seem less like bad wrestling punches than exceedingly mediocre real punches – he seems to be better at nearly every aspect of projecting his physical movement through space to an audience. Which is a nice way of saying “That elbow drop was the bomb, yo.”

***

For the first half of the night, the crowd in Brooklyn was excellent. In particular, they gave all the b-roll the folks in the production truck need for the AJ Styles -Jericho video package: AJ Styles and Y2-Jack-Ass chants, real heat on Jericho and an even a pop for a Zach Ryder victory. “Best in the World at What I Do” Jericho is so worth the terrible face crap we had to go through when he first came back, it makes that New Day crap slightly more retroactively tolerable. Slightly.

There’s not much to say about the go-home angle of what was, at least up until this episode, the best/hottest feud going. It’s not as though this match completely ruined – or even kind of ruined – anything, but it definitely felt relegated to second class status. Whether or not this is because they’ve worked through a lot of this stuff on Smackdown – which also feels as though it may become the place for the Women’s (as opposed to Diva’s) division to plant stakes if Shane ends up winning the main event – remains to be seen going forward, but it was certainly a letdown for those interested in the one feud with real intrigue and narrative momentum going right now.

There’s a little intrigue and narrative momentum right now in “The Andre”. The “intrigue” is mostly centered around how many people will be eliminated by Braun Strowman, and more importantly, how many more he would have to eliminate to get over. The “narrative momentum” is that we all want this thing to happen already so we don’t have to see quadruple chokeslams by Big Show and Kane anymore. Please. Pretty please.

***

For a long time, it seemed like Seth Rollins was the HHH of the Shield – using the HHH/Rock/Austin career trajectories/archetypes – with Roman as the Rock and Dean as Stone Cold. But as they grow into their own characters, they’ve moved into amalgamations of what came before. Seth has HHH’s command of the ring, but with – and this is easy to forget as he’s devolved into Arnold Schwarzenegger – Rock’s next-level athleticism, while Dean has turned into the Rock doing his best possible Stone Cold impression, in and out of the ring. That leaves Roman with the Rock’s legacy – as it’s also easy to forget that he was the only performer of those three with an actual pedigree – and HHH’s ability to get heat.

Or at least, the ability he used to have to get heat. At this point, however, HHH is running on such goodtime vibes from NXT that he’s become almost impossible to boo for most smart fans. Couple that with a Cruz-esque candidate for office – in this scenario, Hulk Hogan is Trump – and it’s a recipe for absolute disaster on Sunday. They’ve got something planned, because There’s Always a Plan B, but if it’s telling us that “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS AT WRESTLEMANIA IS THE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP AND MY HUSBAND, HHH”, then they need to throw out the whiteboard and start over.

If the New Day could work every single night in front of people from Brooklyn, the WWE could close up the “We Tell Stories” shop and reopen as a “We Sell New Day” boutique catering to only the most exclusive hipster wrestling fan clientele. This wasn’t their best performance, but when the crowd is as hot as this one for an act like them, it doesn’t matter. They were good enough that the crowd played it up as great, and when they really hit on something, the joy behind the crowd reaction was “the bird landing on the thing at the Bernie Sanders rally” level palpable. For sure, reactions like this are almost bad in the long term: every reaction that isn’t as over the top as this one feels like there’s something missing (see: literally every show before and after the Attitude Era). For now, though -- a week out from WrestleMania, riding on rainbows and unicorns through the streets of Brooklyn – it’ll just be nice to remember when.

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The match that Kofi had with Alberto after the New Day promo suffered from two things: not being nearly as good as his work with Sheamus at Smackdown last week and not having nearly enough Big E. Or even Xavier Woods. Don’t get me wrong. Kofi’s work over the past few weeks has been fantastic, and if he had wrestled that way his entire career, he’d likely be a multi-time World’s Champion (or, more likely, the best guy to never have won one). But, what works best for the New Day, at least in ring, is that while they are not interchangeable, they are all essentially equals. And having Kofi slowly but surely become the “worker” of the group runs antithetical to that. Things can certainly get more complicated as the number of opponents increases – as they are wont to do for babyfaces/heroes in any scenario – but it would still be nice to get to see Xavier Woods get to work more than one singles match a month. And, for crissakes, give Pops some rest.

Continuing the Never Ending Battle that ran throughout the episode, HHH uses Attitude Era buddies – which will hopefully become a running theme on whichever show Steph/HHH happen to be on after WrestleMania – to run the most wonderfully dumb distraction on Roman. That not meant ironically, as the entire sequence – from the dime store questions asked by Renee Young (as she was likely told to do) to Bubba just shouting things that no normal person would say, even within the context of a wrestling show – was such a wonderful characterization of Roman that it deserves to watched again. As flawed a commentator as he can be, JBL’s has occasional moments of genuine insight. In this instance, him commenting on HHH knowing that Roman was not only willing to walk into a fight, but actively looking for one because “Roman’s a hot head” served as a perfect example of what can happen when characters can be humans with flaws who do stupid things and not just a bunch of Sherlocks operating with different levels of efficacy.

The match between Kalisto and Ryback is the one on the WrestleMania card which feels least likely to be bad, but also among the least likely to be anything worth watching more than once. The build for it – filled with long Facebook comments Ryback left on Kalisto’s wall read aloud by the Big Guy – has proven why, at least for now, neither of them is sniffing the main event of a house show, let alone WrestleMania. But these kinds of feuds – programs essentially thrown together over titles or pride – are a necessary and fun part of the wrestling world, and WrestleMania wouldn’t be the same without them.

***

This promo, by Paul Heyman, was perhaps the best example of why performers like the Undertaker and Roman Reigns need someone to speak for them: it provides them with a second dimension to project to the audience. It’s not engaging with the crowd through physicality, but being able to hold an audience’s attention without movement that is the mark of a truly great professional wrestler. In order to do that, however, it helps a great deal to have the ability to articulate how you actually feel in a given moment through actual words. Without that, you are what they project onto you, and that’s when you’ve already lost any chance you had of winning them over if they didn’t like you already.

Everyone probably would have loved Brock regardless, though. He was his usual beastly self, with his Suplex City presented by Jimmy John’s shirt and the “When do I get to puncherize people, Paul?” face on full display. He’s never as happy as right before he’s about to fight, and he only seems to get more and more excited as the event draws closer. He’s like a kid with a big circle around his birthday on the calendar, except instead of blowing out candles at the end of it all, he beats people up while laughing/sweating profusely.

Dean Ambrose, on the other hand, fights not out of joy, but necessity. And there were a lot of ways "Dude dressed as homeless guy walking around a ring with a shopping cart, putting stuff in it" could have went terribly wrong (and not just in the Hot Dog Cart-flashback kind of way.) But this was played *perfectly* by everyone involved: Dean fights because he has to, and he's preparing himself for battle. There's no need for him to talk, as there's work to be done. Once the work is done, we'll hear from Dean Ambrose again. 

***

We talk about this a lot, but matches like Paige-Emma are a constant reminder of just how far down on the WWE totem pole Women’s wrestling was considered. Somewhere between a good and very good match between two of the youngest stars in a division that has spent much of the last decade stockpiling assets, the crowd treated this like it was a bright neon sign flashing BATHROOM BREAK. All of this conspires to make these matches, or more accurately the crowd reaction (or lack thereof) to them, feel less like “two steps back” and more like the end of the Diva road, with very little built past that.

It might just be nerds like me, but without Corey Graves shouting SHUT YOUR MOUTH, RICH, IT’S TIME FOR ALL RED EVERYTHING, Eva Marie just feels like Red Bella, the cousin they brought on the show to keep it interesting in the eighth season. The “No, we don’t even care if you helped us out” reaction from the other Divas, though, was a thing of real pathos and beauty. More of everyone throwing shade at Eva, please. It only makes her stronger.

In much the same way that you would have been looked at if you were excited about the first segment on paper, the idea that this match would be so, well, boring and poorly received seemed crazy. There is tangible excitement both about this match and the interweaving storylines -- all woven around the “Owens is an almost entirely irredeemable dick” plot thread -- and Owens/Zayn alone has enough heat to burn WrestleMania 32 to the ground. Maybe that’s the problem -- that people want to see Sami-Owens so far above everything else it’s clouded their judgement -- but the guys in this match needed to get on the card one way or the other, and there are much worse paths to take than a multi-man ladder match for the IC title.

***

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

I watched Batman vs. Superman, and at the risk of losing all of your respect, I loved almost every second of it (the second I didn’t is a spoiler for another article). But, at the same time, speaking with people I usually respect the aesthetic opinion of a great deal and reading reviews of the movie beforehand, it became very obvious that even if I did like it, it had enough elements in it that would have to hit perfectly for it to hit my sweet spot.

And, at least for me, it did. I thoroughly enjoyed Eisenberg as a complete reinterpretation of the Lex Luthor character, thought Batfleck was majestic and even loved the Zach Snyder-ness of it all. But, for most people, one of those three elements -- and some other, sillier, complaints about things that people make, which will discuss in a moment -- rubbed them the wrong way. Or, at the very least, made them feel almost none of the good feelings that came along with Deadpool’s release last month, and almost all of the bad feelings that superhero films had routinely generated but seemingly moved away from since the beginning of the Marvel revolution.

The reviews themselves, however, ranged not from HORRIBLE to VERY BAD, but BEAUTIFUL, THOUGH DEEPLY FLAWED to OKAY. The guys at Weekly Planet/Comic Book Movie.com even had to come up with a new rating system for the movie -- and not just because their “Batman totes kills people all the time” videos were directly cited by Snyder in his largely tossing aside that part of Batman’s character -- because of its overwhelming lack of whelming.

There are entirely legitimate criticisms of the movie, or course. And very little “showing of work” on the part of the movie itself to deflect from those criticisms without really stretching yourself thin: the movie’s scale did work against it, there were clearly themes that were not teased out enough to make what they did earlier in the movie pay off, and your mileage will vary wildly on Eisenberg’s Luthor. But, largely, the pattern in the mixed-to-negative reviews became obvious after reading just a few: this wasn’t the movie the critic wanted, it wasn’t an origin story for the characters but instead a specific part of a larger universe or, again, they really just hate Zach Snyder movies.

And ultimately, that’s why I spent most of the movie -- and a lot of the subway-then-train ride home -- thinking about HHH and Roman Reigns: it might be time to admit that people may just not like Roman Reigns, and not want him to succeed over others. Even if the numbers pan out for right now, and there’s seem to be little issue with the actual work being provided, it’s become increasingly clear that, unlike last year, they’ve completely depleted their political capital for this storyline. There’s no way they’ll be able to pass this vote for Roman as the future star of the company with the kind of crowd approval they’ll need for a mandate: they’ll have to put him into a role that allows him to be prominent, but without being the central hero of their television product.

Like Batman vs. Superman, Roman and H failed not for a lack of trying -- seriously, the movie looks like a living comic book and there are moments (like the first scenes in Metropolis) that hint towards a much higher artistic trajectory than where they’d eventually land -- but a lack of setting expectations and accepting them. DC and Warner, for the most part, never had a chance to control their expectations, lost in the wind to uberfans who’d rather complain about what a movie might be or should have been before they’ve even had a chance to shoot a single scene.

The WWE had a real chance to give us a match worth watching, but without any of the stakes or expectations attached to it. They could have went any number of ways with the title scene and the main event of their biggest PPV ever, but have instead picked a no-hope storyline that fans will resent for years and almost instantly forget the purpose of at the exact moment it’s over.

This being wrestling, and red equaling green, there’s only one thing left to that might save this match from being remembered, unfairly or not, the same way BvS seems like it will: (IN BATMAN VOICE) Does Roman Reigns bleed?

I’m betting he will.

***WARNING: YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE *** PLEASE ENJOY THE COMPLIMENTARY BATMAN #BRAND CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY BAT FLAKES CEREAL ON YOUR WAY OUT ***


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