THE RAW REVIEW
Every week I look forward to hearing the following words: "Ohhhhhh…don’t you dare be sour, clap for your world famous two time champs and feel the powerrrrrrrrrr!"
It’s often said and written lately that “The New Day is the best part of RAW”. That sentiment is unshakably accurate. Last night, while watching all of RAW's three hours, I desperately sought a muse. I needed a reason to write this Raw Review. It wasn't until New Day showed up in the final segment that I found it.
The New Day doesn’t simply “do everything right” with their screen-time, The New Day has created a world for themselves where they can “do no wrong”. Through hard work and relentless creativity, these three men continue to teach the WWE a valuable lesson every single week: creative freedom is entertaining.
While I cannot know exactly how much creative freedom The New Day has, it is abundantly clear that their segments have something the rest of RAW doesn’t. The New Day is fearless, and less focused on pushing a particular phraseology or philosophy that contradicts who they are as performers. Everything The New Day says and does is a natural extension of what amuses or interests them.
And that’s why The New Day has become so compelling.
There is no barrier between the minds of Kofi, Xavier, Big E and the expression of their minds. Therefore, there is no barrier between The New Day and the WWE fan.
When I hear New Day speak and when I see New Day gyrate, it feels authentic. They’re guided by a phraseology they’ve invented or redefined to suit their goal, not a set of sound-bytes meant to make their rivals look better than themselves. They listen to their opposition and respond accordingly, often outlandishly, but never dishonestly.
A perfect example of this occurred in their segment with The Rock last week. During his lengthy promo, The Rock dismissively alluded to Bryon Saxton as, “That black guy on commentary, I don’t know”. I remember feeling a peculiar shift in the atmosphere when The Rock said this; it was almost as though 2016 was raising an eyebrow at The Rock.
The New Day refused to let that statement slide. Where most promo exchanges today feel like rote processes with each wrestler trying to perfectly hit their mark, The New Day used The Rock’s words against him. They found an exposed nerve and started to play with it, “Now, Rock, we’re gonna need you to relax a little bit,” Xavier Woods went in. “And as far as that black guy that you don’t know…his name is Byron Saxton and he’s by far the best commentator at that table right now. Watch the product!”
The Rock appeared a little thrown off, perhaps even irritated, by this biting retort. It's almost as though The Rock wasn't expecting someone else to "go off script" and metaphorically gut-punch him for something he said.
There was real purpose and real fire in Xavier’s tone; the goal of both the performer and the character was to defeat The Rock in this moment and he absolutely succeeded. Kofi Kingston picked up where Xavier left off (again, demonstrating the value of listening during an improvisational exchange), “So I got a better idea, how ‘bout we talk about the black guys that you do know, I’m talking about The New Day! Three men who whooped The Lucha Dragons, three men who whooped the Dudleys - they from your era now, that’s right - and just last night at The Royal Rumble match these very same three men put the whopping on your cousins The Usos.”
This dialogue transitioned seamlessly from chastising The Rock for reducing Byron Saxton to “that nameless black guy” to detailing The New Day’s exploits in the WWE’s fictional universe.
That’s a promo worth listening to - a blend of real-world observation/real-world commentary, personal truth, and fictional truth. Kofi didn’t stop there, though, “You call yourself the people’s Champion, but I’m looking at you and I don’t see any Gold…is it under your shirt…where dat tho?”
This helps establish that their tag titles are important to them.
The New Day isn’t self-consciously concerned with making others look good. They don’t seem scared that they might agitate someone. They want to agitate someone, because they’re good heels and they’re supremely confident in what they're doing.
They understood that it was their job to get themselves over with their speech as thoroughly as possible and that it was The Rock’s job to raise his game to their level and fire back. This “one-upping” results in entertaining, memorable television. That’s a principle that defined The Attitude Era - I give my best, you give your best, and we’ll play our best game together.
And although The New Day wound up on the business end of a People’s Elbow, they were the definitive victors in that segment. Since hitting their stride, no one has been able to out-perform The New Day. All attempts to label them buffoons or cast them in a negative light only makes the person saying such things appear out of touch or foolish. The New Day’s antics work so well, that others have even tried to mimic those silly antics and it never really works.
Only New Day can do New Day, and that’s precisely because their gimmick is informed directly by their real-world personalities and their priorities as performers.
The success of the gimmick is still a mystery to some. “Internet fans” adore The New Day despite the fact that they’re heels - a custom that defines the PG-Era (“smart” wrestling fans respond favorably to a good performance and respond negatively to a bad performance; the only heel for a smart fan is a performer who’s not as good as their push suggests, a nuance of today’s generation that still seems to confound or elude many).
The New Day are consistent heels despite the ironic-hipster-millennial-love they receive. Their commitment to being heels isn’t broken by fan-admiration. The moment a “smart crowd” starts chanting along with "New Day Rocks", Big E will call their town a dumpster-fire or Xavier Woods will refuse to play Francesca II and say, “No, you don’t deserve it”. The dancing, the clapping, the unicorn horns, the My Little Pony attire, and Francesca II is all designed to be as obnoxious, grating, and self-aggrandizing as possible.
And it all works. It doesn't matter if they’re cheered while being heels. It doesn’t matter if they compliment Byron Saxton one minute and insult The Rock the next. It doesn’t matter if they flaunt their behinds and strap neon dildos to their heads. Everything they do absolutely, 100%, works, and helps define their role in the WWE today.
While New Day being "fun to watch" is a big reason they're successful, there is a deeper reason The New Day is not only successful, but incredibly important.
The New Day is purposefully undermining the PG-Era.
If DX represented “pushing the envelope” in a TV-14 era, then The New Day represents what happens when a stable pushes the TV-PG envelope as far as it can possibly be pushed. And by that I do not mean that The New Day is bending the rules of the TV-PG rating.
Quite the opposite. The New Day is what happens when “family friendly Sports Entertainment” is taken to a literal extreme. What do you get when you journey into the depths of a sanitized Sports Entertainment extravaganza where "anything can happen"?
You get unicorn horns and trombones and random dancing and catchy tunes. You get relentless pop culture references regardless of how nonsensical those references may be. You get exaggerated emotional responses. You get soft insults like “you’re booty” or “shame!”. You get redundant insults about local sports teams or local celebrities. You get universally reviled characters insisting that they’re beloved despite all the evidence to the contrary. You get characters who demand audiences clap despite the fact that the audience doesn't want to clap at all. You get characters who go on about “the power of positivity” despite the depressing reality that defines their creative environment. You get a steadfast fantasy world that absolutely hates anything that points out its flaws.
The New Day embodies all those aspects of today’s TV-PG Era that modern professional wrestling fans absolutely despise. That’s why they’re great heels even if they’re heels in a “meta” way. Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E took a creatively flat, inherently condescending PG-gimmick that initially suppressed their creativity, and turned it around by critiquing that flat, condescending gimmick.
The New Day is mocking anything and everything about today’s WWE (including those ironic-smarks who cheer them).
I suspect the reason they’re able to get away with this is because their biting PG-Era commentary is hidden beneath the guise of “entertainment”. The WWE doesn’t really understand what The New Day is doing because it only sees that New Day is "entertaining".
I can already hear the clickity-clacking of commenters quick to suggest I’m “reading too much into this”.
When The Rock called their unicorn horns “Llama penises”, The New Day freaked out in such an exaggerated fashion that it instantly undermined The Rock’s attempt at a comeback. They are so utterly offended whenever anyone attempts to insult them - more so when the insult might cross the PG-line. Their reactions become more entertaining than the insults (and that’s why no one has yet to mount an adequate offense against them). No one knows how to deal with the New Day or come close to combating them because no one understands what The New Day is actually doing.
They responded to The Rock's comment, “You can’t say penises on TV”. Big E pretended to cover the mics as he yelled “You can’t say penises on TV”, making sure to emphasize “penis” when he said it. Their fixation on The Rock’s insult pointed out the ineffectiveness, and the stupidity of the insult. They said “penis” more times than The Rock did. They acted horrified that the TV-PG rating might be broken, but then they intentionally broke it over and over again.
Last night, before their main event tag match, they continued to chastise The Rock for violating the family friendly nature of today's WWE. They shouted "Shame!" again and again. "Think about the children!" they pleaded, screaming that they loved the children. Kofi Kingston then pointed out a dancing child in the audience "...that's right New Day Loves the kids...now understand one thing...we will still fight you, but we fight you out of love!"
Xavier Woods added, "If New Day stands for anything it's for the fair treatment of children and trombones around the world!"
And then Big E shouted, "But tonight is about revenge!"
This is the kind of hypocrisy and nonsense smarks constantly chastise the WWE for. This is the kind of hypocrisy and nonsense the smarks constantly shame the WWE for and that the WWE constantly defends by shaming the smarks for being too nitpicky.
New Day then went on to undermine the basic plot of the entire episode, stating emphatically that they were "going to beat up The Rock's cousins and The Rock's cousin's friends". The condescending way they stated this, as if they were talking to six-year-olds, points out how transparent and formulaic PG-storytelling continues to be on the main roster.
All of this is the essence of satire.
The New Day is pointing out the hypocrisy of the system by becoming an exaggerated version of the system. The New Day is the personification of the PG-Era; an auto-critique.
Consider how Xavier, Big E, and Kofi were booked prior to The New Day taking off. These are three excellent performers whose talent was always undeniable, but never truly showcased. They understand, intimately, what it’s like to be creatively stifled by an increasingly corporate, increasingly contradictory Sports Entertainment variety show.
They have channeled their frustrations and their creativity into something that's not only entirely unique in pro-wrestling, but something that's genuinely inspiring. Xavier Woods, Big E, and Kofi Kingston have proven that a sense of humor, relentless commitment, an awareness of reality, and a willingness to be fearless can win even in the face of creative oppression.
Although The New Day ironically shouts at me to “feel the power” every single week, I end up feeling that power in a sincere way. It makes me happy to see performers doing what they love. It's uplifting.
When the weight of a scripted three-hour RAW starts to feel too heavy, New Day eases that burden. Kofi, Xavier, and Big E shatter through the malaise like a trifecta of rainbow-caped, unicorn-riding super heroes. They refuse to allow me to sit too comfortably in my complacency, and they remind of what can happen when passion finds a way to thrive.
It is my hope that the example New Day sets will continue to inform the rest of the WWE's product.
May we all feel the power of creativity.