WWE wants audiences to be apathetic. Apathetic and numb so WWE can go on talking about potatoes, women being crazy, black people loving to have fun (and steal and rap), and absolutely nothing. All without judgment. Under the guise that it is entertainment. For three hours.
That’s the only thing that makes sense after (and really, during) this week’s RAW. WWE says they want to “entertain” the “WWE Universe,” and while the “Superstars” in the ring (no need for air quotes there, I suppose) do their best, it’s not like they have the support of competently written storylines or competently spoken commentary to work with. I didn’t go into this endeavor of reviewing RAW hoping to be negative, but with the “build-up” for Wrestlemania, it’s nearly impossible not to be. There’s no rhyme or reason for things, especially the downright offensive parts. Everyone is dumb, nothing matters, and Viagra jokes are brand new. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to be numb to all of that.
Let’s talk about RAW.
The show’s opening segment sees the Randy Orton/Seth Rollins story that’s going to come to a head at Wrestlemania (actually by the end of the night) reach a truly head-scratching and mind-boggling moment when Randy Orton decides to play the Dozens with the non-McMahon-Helmsley members of The Authority (more on that later), giving away his master plan like the Bond villain he’s always been, whether he’s heel or face. Randy actually pushes the bounds of TV-PG all night—perhaps to get some more eyes on the dirt path to Wrestlemania—talking about how he wants to make Seth Rollins his bitch and throwing up his middle fingers, the way snake-based wrestlers are wont to do. It’s cool…to that one drunk dude who shouts things like “I hear ‘em too! I hear those voices, baby!” or just “Voices, baby!” It’s all really cool to him.
But the context of the segment is, in theory, interesting. After everyone but J & J Security (who are both hot-headed and silent, respectively—you can guess who is what) goes in a line and tells Randy how much they love that he’s back in the “family,” Randy gives them all the grief in the world for being “S-A-W-F-T, SAWFT” and Seth for being so gullible. He calls Kane and Big Show out for no longer being the dominant forces that they supposedly were when they joined The Authority. Kane is “the Devil’s favorite kiss ass,” get it?
There are really three things majorly wrong with this segment: 1. They’re forgetting that the best villains are the ones who find themselves to be heroes, 2. This is the ultimate example of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H having to look cool, to the detriment of even their stable-mates, and 3. Blame it on the hubris, but it (and the rest of this storyline) makes Seth Rollins look insanely stupid, despite the fact that his gimmick is literally all about being a very smart guy.
For the first point, look no further than Kane’s “welcome back” part of the segment. He focuses on “one of us” rhetoric, basically saying “We are villains! Everyone else is not!” The Authority’s supposed goal is to do what’s “Best For Business,” and while it’s all clearly spiraling, that doesn’t mean the veil needs to be pulled back that much.
For the second point, think about the very apparent fact that Triple H and Stephanie aren’t in this segment, despite the fact that they’re obviously at RAW. The entire segment is all about making the Authority look like idiotic goofs; though J & J mostly come out looking great for once, in spite of the material. As someone who has especially enjoyed Stephanie’s performances as part of this stable, that doesn’t mean I can’t see the obvious of her and Triple H having to look above everyone else, despite being heels. Even without the WWE going right out and say it, you have to figure there’s clearly a subconscious acknowledgment from the audience that these people—not Triple H and Stephanie—are goofs that are not to be taken seriously. You’re not going to see this same segment when mommy and daddy are in the ring and in control of things. But when it’s just Seth Rollins in all of his “Do you know who my parents are?” glory, it’s open season. The Authority apparently doesn’t have to look tough then.
Because honestly, hangers on like Big Show and Kane don’t make The Authority look tough. Big Show and Kane never look tough. This is no more evident than when they have matches, which is unfortunately all too often. This week, they have a terrible, dead silent match (try as Ryback might to get the already bad crowd to make some noise),* lose, and then get publicly shamed by Stephanie, saying that maybe “joking” Randy was right about them. Remember when Kane gave Stephanie his mask? Remember when Big Show’s iron clad contract made him cry on a weekly basis (or something like that)? It makes no sense that The Authority is just now realizing what audiences realized about Big Show and Kane maybe five years ago (at least).
(If this storyline is leading to the ushering out of Kane and Big Show for real, then great. But, Santa Claus isn’t real, you know?)
Then there’s the third point, where Seth Rollins being “The Architect” becomes even more of a joke than it already was, because now he’s almost too dumb to function. The Authority’s other motto always used to be “There’s always a Plan B,” and they weren’t talking about birth control—The Authority’s reign, no matter how terrible, was always supposed to be about intelligent bosses and their hand-picked (supposedly intelligent or at least tough) guys. Them losing their grip, losing their control (and the oddly voice-modulated Sting promo later in their night harps on about that) doesn’t and shouldn’t change that, at least not when it comes to “The Architect.”
Moving on, I’ve noticed some people actually praising the Intercontinental Championship storyline lately, simply because it’s at least giving the these Superstars something to do (although, Stardust already had a built-in storyline against his brother) and because it’s reminiscent of the 24/7 rule with the Hardcore Championship. First of all, the Hardcore Championship was a joke. Vince McMahon bestowing Mick Foley with that belt back in 1998 was a joke. That was the point. Second of all, it may be giving these Superstars something to do, but it’s not treating them as though they (or the belt) is anything worth caring about. WWE keeps throwing in the buzzword “glory”—“restoring the title’s glory”—but the only thing that has been getting intentional focus in this storyline—besides the hot-shotting of the title—is R-Truth’s guest commentary. Last week, I described it as “almost a literal minstrel show.” Obviously, to make me regret prematurely criticizing, WWE decided R-Truth should bring a burlap sack to the commentary table, the commentary team should spend much of two matches talking about potatoes, and R-Truth should do commentary on those two matches, back-to-back. “R-Trizzle” is now a thing the commentary team (JBL) is saying regularly, and Dikembe Mutombo is a “dated” reference (if you’ve never seen a Geico commercial, Michael Cole), and boy, aren’t black names funny?
WWE is not building a match for Wrestlemania. A match is happening on Wrestlemania, but there is no build coming from WWE. Watch the first two matches of the show, listen to commentary, and try to decipher what the commentary is trying to get over—a career-shortening ladder match at the biggest show in their industry or R-Truth being so “DYNOMITE!”? Then do yourself a favor and watch them on mute, because Bad News Barrett and Daniel Bryan actually serve up a pretty great match from bell-to-bell for the time they have, and Dean Ambrose and Stardust** have some good character moments in their match. Try not to think about JBL trying to start #ThrowTruthABone and the canine implications of that nonsense.
Also, try not to think how JBL literally calls this episode of RAW a “RAP-isode” because of the combination of R-Truth, Wiz Khalifa, “Wizdow” in figurative blackface, New Day clapping, and an Uso dancing in the ring (which is when he finally says “RAP-isode”).***
As for Roman Reigns’ presence on this episode of RAW, there is an oddly-placed video package about him and his alter-ego Leakee, and then later on, he the third most important Superstar in a handi-cap match against Randy Orton and Seth Rollins. Paul Heyman remains the true WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but it’s not without the caveat of him all of a sudden just getting truly racist with Roman Reigns’ Samoan backstory. WWE’s use of Roman’s Samoan heritage has been very iffy since the moment The Rock had to stand with his booed cousin and then every promo with or about him had to be about his “Samoan blood,” but this week, Paul Heyman essentially calls his family a bunch of thugs and Roman Reigns himself a Samoan brute. Heyman’s heel, so the audience is supposed to boo, but no one wants to boo Paul Heyman or Brock Lesnar in this storyline.
Paul Heyman is doing everything short of murdering a member of Roman’s family to get the guy over as a face, but it’s an impossible task. In doesn’t help that, for all of his talk of growth and improvement, Roman wrestles in the main event like it’s just another match. Perhaps it’s because he knows the match doesn’t matter for him (which is another problem in and of itself), but Roman doesn’t wrestle the match like someone who’s going against two people and wants to end it as soon as possible. As usual, he goes through his moves, walks around until it’s time for another move, and then wins the match, an after thought. He then proceeds to stroll off immediately after it, because he knows he’s not actually the main event, even though he’s supposed to be main eventing Wrestlemania. (The most embarrassing part is the camera catching him stroll off.)
After all, the post-match shenanigans between Randy Orton and Seth Rollins is actually longer than the “match.” The shenanigans where, to crib from John Cena, Randy Orton compromises Seth Rollins to a permanent end. The end of RAW actually parallels what happens earlier in the episode, with John Cena taking Rusev to the woodshed.
Prior to Rusev’s “match” against the true hero of all of this, Curtis Axel,**** Cena says he accepts that Wrestlemania is a privilege, not a right, which is a good place to stop. He proceeds to go on his tangent about Rusev being a disgrace to his Russian people and a false hero, which isn’t a great place to stop but it’s understandable at least, given Rusev did cheat to beat Cena. He then proceeds to tell Rusev that “You have the right to free speech, but around here, I have the right to shut your mouth.” Who exactly gave Cena that authority? Stephanie McMahon just told him last week that he needs to stop acting like he’s more than just an employee. It’s not like he’s being called “The Vigilante!” Cena.
As expected, Rusev proceeds to insult America perhaps the worst he ever has, despite Lana’s protests, and Cena comes out to release his wrath. Over words. Rusev kicked Cena in the testicles at a pay-per-view no one cared about. Cena returns a vengeance way past that, just because he’s not getting his way. Cena is a giant, terrifying child, one that actual children look up to and are taught has the ultimate ideals they should strive to have. He literally places the man into a submission with as much force as possible, makes him pass out, then wakes him back up, just to do it all over again. All over words. There’s taking things far, then there’s taking things too far. To anyone watching that’s not a wrestling fan and only sees this segment, they are literally seeing the face of a company torture a foreigner. That’s not blowing it out of proportion—if Cena is the WWE’s symbol of the American way, and Rusev is the foreign force that needs to be put down, then that’s what they are showing. All while Lana is begging and pleading for officials to come down and help. All while Cena is making this face after he does it:
How exactly is that the face of anyone but a villain? There is nothing wrong with being a “badass” face, which is what WWE is trying to sell with Randy Orton—whose beat-down of Seth removes all anticipation of the Wrestlemania match, since he already got his hands on him—and Roman Reigns (despite that stretch of “suffering succotash” promos). However, WWE doesn’t seem to know how to make them anymore, especially in their TV-PG world of hypocritical Be A STAR speak. So instead, what WWE sells is asshole faces, and they do so by spinning dichotomous, conflicting narratives. John Cena is not a character for me or probably anyone reading this—I get that. He’s for the kids. But if that’s the case, he can’t be “for the kids” to look up to one second, making poop jokes, then “don’t take it so seriously” the next, when he’s beating the crap out his rival (well beyond what is explainable) or calling a woman a “ho-ski.” The kids are absorbing all of that, and if you don’t think that matters, you clearly weren’t there when a 10-year-old me was getting grounded for saying “Suck It!” while playing with friends.
This is a bad episode of RAW, but I really do suggest watching the Intercontinental Championship-based matches on mute. Do not watch R-Truth trick Barrett (who should just elbow everyone who tries to take his belt) with a prop belt, unless you’re hunting wabbits or something. You should also watch the Hall Of Fame induction video of Connor “The Crusher” Michalek, because even wrestling fans should have hearts.
- Apologies for the lateness of this review. No, it wasn’t cripping depression from watching this episode of RAW.
- *I’ve come to earnestly enjoy The Big Guy, as his sheer enthusiasm really does make up a lot for his other obvious flaws. It’s just a shame he had to team with human heat vacuum Erick Rowan against Team…Dad. When Erick Rowan is in the ring, Cole says “You can’t take your eyes off him,” and that is perhaps the most bold-faced lie of the night that doesn’t deal with grand theft.
- **Consider this the umpteenth example of Cody Rhodes transcending what is being given to him: Stardust treats the Intercontinental Championship like it is the one belt to rule them all, like it is his precious. (Which could explain everyone’s behavior, but that’s not “funny,” now is it?) That honestly makes the most sense of all of this—Cody is the one who returned/brought the belt to its current visage and made it mean something… until he lost it and it meant nothing again. It really is his precious.
- ***If I sound bent out of shape because of this, that’s because I am. I don’t need you to link me to Vince McMahon calling John Cena “my nigga,” because it’s ingrained in my brain. I don’t need you to link me to Triple H telling Booker T to do a little dance for him, because after last week’s RAW, there’s every chance that could happen again in the near future.
- ****I really want Curtis Axel to make the United States Championship match a Triple Threat. Somehow, someway.
- “They should have never let Cena spit with Wiz Khalifa.” Well, they finally rectified that, John.
- Why isn’t the Superkick Dolph Ziggler’s finisher? At this point, he has it down to an art.
- Call me when WWE finds a time machine to make Bray Wyatt versus The Undertaker a match for The Streak.
- Paul Heyman: “BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR, BROCK LESNAR!”
- New Day beat Kidd/Cesaro (who I’ve taken to calling “my happy place”) and Los Matadores beat The Usos. My Wrestlemania prediction is that I really didn’t realize how bad the tag team division was until tag teams kept coming up immediately after one lost.
- Right after the Big Show/Kane nonsense, Michael Cole tells the WWE Universe to “share your voice,” and he does so while reading the cue card for “sharing your voice” the whole time. That’s a lot of conviction.
- Who called WWE taking #GiveDivasAChance and making it something about Total Divas? There’s no reason Eva Marie should be on my non-Total Divas programming. Plus side: The Bellas’ Flintstones-centric backstage promo put Roman Reigns to shame.