THE RAW REVIEW
That’s about how many minutes of legitimately good (or entertaining) television existed on last night’s three-hour RAW broadcast. This is an estimate based on the opening match, Daniel Bryan’s segment, and the final segment.
Despite an incredibly strong conclusion, I walked away from RAW feeling drained and disheartened. After last week’s somewhat scathing RAW REVIEW, I was hoping I’d be able to write something predominantly positive about the latest episode. And while I will focus on the positives, in the end, it’s incredibly important that we don’t allow the veil of minute goodness that was the opening and closing segments of the show to blind us to the overwhelming mediocrity that was the January 12th episode of RAW.
In my past reviews I have purposefully overlooked segments such as the one involving Dean Ambrose and the psychologist or poorly booked matches like New Day vs Cesaro & Tyson Kidd, because harping on the negative is oftentimes not very useful and, just like focusing on the positive, can skew our perception of reality.
So it is my goal to present the most realistic evaluation of the show and the company, as a complete piece, that I can. There’s no pretense about this being my personal take on the show. But I do endeavor to present what the television viewing experience is actually like for some people, and it is my hope to provide WWE usable feedback rather than a litany of angry Tweets.
If the show is to be judged on quality within its massive quantity, then it is undoubtedly unsuccessful. Certainly there are those who will not find those three hours as grating as others. There are those who will delight in the Dean Ambrose backstage segment and the Miz & Mizdow promos. I’m not here to ruin your fun (I took delight in certain moments, because I like those characters and I like those performers). I’m here to argue that, beyond our fandom, it’s just not good television, and it’s especially not good television for someone who wants to watch a pro-wrestling show, a pro-wrestling show that’s the least bit thoughtful about its content and the least bit considerate of the intelligence of its audience.
Instead of nitpicking the variety of ways the majority of RAW was a decidedly difficult-to-watch television broadcast, I’m going to focus on one incredibly specific criticism that has grand implications on the way RAW functions.
We know that RAW is scripted. Nowadays, the show literally has a script. Upwards of twenty-five writers apparently work for the company and contribute to the production of the show. Not only does that reveal itself in the erratic style of RAW and in the remarkable fluctuations in quality from one segment to the next, it is revealed in the way the pro-wrestling characters interact with one another.
The writers, very obviously, aren’t thinking from the perspective of a professional wrestler.
The writers aren't even thinking from the perspective of a sports entertainer.
Oftentimes, they’re not even thinking from the specific perspective of the character they’re writing for.
And, most importantly of all, they’re clearly not thinking from the perspective of a man in a fight.
Now I’m no brawler. I didn’t get into fights with kids growing up. I didn’t have drunken brawls in my college days. But I am a man, and I know what it’s like to be challenged by another man. I know what it’s like to want to punch another man in the face and drag him to the ground and make him tap out. I know what that does to my heart-rate, to my facial expressions, to my muscle-tension, and to my thought-process.
None of it makes me want to tell the story of Jack and The Beanstalk.
Nothing about another man challenging me makes me want to threaten my bosses by “taking my ball and going home.”
All of it makes me want to win. All of it makes me want to assert my dominance on my rival to the point where they are left beaten, broken, and without recourse.
If I respect my rival, then I want to humble him. I want him to know that he will never break me, regardless of who wins, and I want him to respect me for that.
That is the world of competitive men and competitive women. That is the world of sport. That is the world of an athlete.
The Big Show cut a promo on the WWE fans and on Roman Reigns. Typical heel fair. Decent enough, effective in getting people riled up.
Roman, the WWE’s chosen star, then came down to the ring and cut a promo about being “little Roman” who bought some magic beans and climbed a bean stalk and found some golden coins and a goose and then smashed in the teeth of The Giant.
In case you didn’t realize, he was talking about The Big Show - and he made sure you knew he was talking about The Big Show...in case you didn't realize.
Roman Reigns, the man who plays him, would never launch into a diatribe where he describes himself as a little boy after he’s been challenged to a fight by another man. Or at least I hope not.
This promo, although it was delivered much better than any Roman’s delivered thus far, epitomizes everything that is glaringly wrong with the WWE’s writing staff.
The writers of The Ruthless Aggression Era were often criticized for “never having been in a fight and having no sex lives.” While that puts it all in a crude, simple form, it’s entirely indicative of the truth. When you're writing about a testosterone-fueled world that revolves around competition, dominance, and honor, it helps if you understand the Cro-Magnon male instinct. Experience is absolutely necessary in any good writing.
I feel like I’m watching something created by people who have no idea what it’s like to want something. I feel like I’m watching something created by incredibly self-conscious, misguided people who are constantly living in the shadow of others instead of expressing some kind of desire.
Not only do people simply not talk the way today’s wrestler talk, it’s just not fun to listen to Roman Reigns speek in a little kid voice to The Big Show. It’s not creative, it certainly doesn’t make Roman seem like the powerhouse the WWE wants me to think he is, and it’s fundamentally at odds with the world I’m supposed to believe in. It also just makes me miss The Rock.
“But he’s mocking The Big Show! It’s not about the fight in this case. It’s like when guys insult each other, when they’re posturing with yo mamma jokes and things like that!”
I imagine the other side attempting to counter me.
Then why didn’t he tell a “Yo mamma” joke?
(As bad as that would be it would be more realistic)
Why didn’t he do anything that makes the least bit of sense in that moment? And then, lastly, did you actually enjoy what you saw?
Roman could have very easily come down to the ring and just stared at The Big Show in a threatening manner and it would have made for an infinitely more entertaining segment.
The writers are thinking from the following perspective: let’s make something entertaining and funny and fun and star-making and give Roman this chance to shine by telling a story! Let’s have him do a riff on Jack and the Beanstalk because The Big Show is a giant and he was once even called The Giant so it’s like we’re referencing the past and it’s a whole thing!
The WWE desperately needs someone on their writing staff who thinks from the following perspective: what makes sense in a fight? what makes sense in this world!
Smarks will just say Roman sucks on the mic.
That’s missing the deeper issue.
The deeper issue is that the writers have no worldly experience - they’re not thinking. I’m sympathetic to their individual plight; desperate to keep what is likely their dream job (at least I hope it’s their dream job…I hope they’re wrestling fans), struggling to meet deadlines, fearful that their hard work will be erased at the drop of a hat because of the barked-orders of an all-powerful creative dictator, constantly despised by everyone all the time.
Perhaps the writers are not to blame - perhaps the writers are writing good things but by the time it comes out of Roman’s mouth it’s been twisted and perverted to the point where it no longer reflects anything that would ever conceivably come out of Roman’s mouth.
The point is that somewhere along the way the WWE forgot the world it worked in. Someone important in the company is not considering who these characters are, what world these characters inhabit, and how these characters would naturally interact with one another.
These are the basics of writing. The basics. And it’s been forgotten because the people who run this aspect of the WWE are sequestered in their little world where they’re emboldened to regard their sinking ship as a majestic bird soaring through the sky.
The writers (or bookers) seeming lack of consideration for a specific character is revealed in John Cena’s opening promo.
Cena threatened to take the WWE World Heavyweight Championship off WWE television if The Authority did not bring back Ziggler, Rowan, and Ryback.
Simply put, John Cena would never threaten to derail the WrestleMania main event. That just would not happen. John Cena would never threaten to take the WWE Championship and “go home”. I’m sure we could all cook up some situation where he was forced to choose to do so, but that idea, in the way it was presented on this episode of RAW, would simply not occur in that man’s brain. It’s simply not an actual thought John Cena would ever have.
Firstly, this does not make Cena look benevolent or strong in the least. It makes him seem weak, conniving, and obnoxious. Secondly, it’s too easy to poke holes in this thought-process as Triple H quickly did in the remainder of the segment. Such makes it seem as though Cena said this ridiculous thing just to make The Authority look even better (curious how The Authority characters are almost always right and almost always the only ones having any fun). Thirdly, John Cena threatening to derail the WWE by taking the championship off WWE television is utter nonsense because that is the exact situation the WWE and the fans have been living with since SummerSlam. It would be no different than what we already know. It would have no affect on anything, and it would just associate John Cena with the villainy we’ve already endured.
So, after just a few minutes of saying what the WWE writers gave him to say, John Cena looked weak, villainous, and stupid.
This is the top face in the business. The headliner.
The episode was very much about testing, humbling, and humiliating John Cena. That’s fine. The way he lost to Rollins achieved that, the way Rollins took over in the final segment achieved that.
But Cena shouldn’t look ridiculous, and be humiliated because he was given nonsensical lines to recite.
Herein lies another massive issue with the current WWE product; the company's inability to nudge the forth wall in a way that's interesting and fun to watch.
For far too long the company has preached “Any reaction is a good reaction.”
That is not true.
There’s a massive difference between good heat and terrible television.
If people are screaming in your face, “You are a bad person. Your behavior is reprehensible. We cannot stand the way you insult us! We cannot stand to look at you or be around you because you are a bad person. I no longer want to be friends with you unless you go through therapy and rehabilitation immediately!” then that is not good heat.
If you respond, “Well I’ve been doing those jokes on purpose though. I’m being ironic. It’s like a thing people do. I’m trying to get you riled up but I don’t really mean it. It’s my gimmick! Look at all these good things I do for children and cancer survivors! Oh and by the way, buy this tee-shirt! 50% off until 3am!” then you’re missing the point - the point is that you’ve still created an environment where people hate you and no longer want to be your friend.
That is not a good reaction. That is your friends and family telling you that there is something very fundamentally wrong with your behavior and that you need to make a change if you want keep them around.
The WWE family is pleading for the WWE company to check itself into rehab as soon as possible.
Let’s entertain the possibility that the WWE actually is producing bad television on purpose so as to elicit a strong, negative response from the viewership. Let’s imagine that putting Booker T on commentary, a decision that is so universally despised that the company obviously knows it’s not what people want to hear, is purposefully designed to draw heat, in a general way, for the WWE and The Authority.
Even if we consider this effective because the company achieves its goal by eliciting that strong reaction, the result is that we’re still just watching something we don’t want to watch. It’s still just bad television, and it's still especially bad pro-wrestling television that ignores the company's history. And the reaction elicited is so jumbled that it can’t be considered effective - it’s resultant from a confusing blend of reality and fiction, not a compelling blend of reality and fiction. It’s also difficult to understand exactly why the WWE would allow itself to consistently be portrayed as a hideous, detestable villain. The company has been represented as evil on television for nearly twenty years. Mr. McMahon can think that doesn’t affect the way people think about his company all he wants - it does affect the way people perceive the WWE.
When I see Stephanie and Triple H doing positive, philanthropic things in real life, I feel like the wires in my brain are getting crossed. My instinct is to hate them, because I've been trained to hate them for twenty years. They want me to hate them. They're spectacular at drawing heat in their performances. But the company is really choosy about what it wants me to feel and when it wants me to feel it. I can't think highly of the company no matter how many wishes they grant - I just can't because their fiction tells me those efforts are evil and disingenuous and their fiction is poorly constructed, ill-conceived, and not entertaining.
I ask non-Network subscribers to comment below to the following question: is the current Network marketing strategy doing it for you?
The fact that the WWE continues to allow “$9.99” and heels to be associated with the WWE Network, the fact that they’ve just accepted that the promotion of the Network can be nothing but grating reveals a lack of effort on their part to create something people actually enjoy and reveals a misunderstanding of the product they’re promoting.
In three sentences I'm going to sell you the WWE Network better than the WWE has in one full year of advertising: The WWE Network gives you access to your childhood, memories that excited you then, inspire you now, and stay with you forever. For 9.99/month, anytime you need, available on all streaming devices, you will have proof that men and women can fly, that good triumphs over evil, and that anyone can succeed. Watch, believe, repeat.
My respect to Paul Heyman for that last bit.
People respond to positivity - and positivity can come from a heel or face.
By positivity I do not necessarily mean “happy” or “uplifting.” I mean “proactive” and “logical”.
The WWE continues to just accept that the millennial generation whines, complains, and has no attention span without taking the time to understand the millennial generation. They create a television show from the standpoint of, “Well, people are just going to change channels every now and then anyway”. That is not true when a millennial watches Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or Parks and Recreation or The Office or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos or Twelve Years A Slave or Guardians of the Galaxy or Boyhood or Skyfall or The Dark Knight...
I don’t want to watch a television show or a movie that’s not working for my viewership, and I especially don’t want to watch a television show or a movie that is trying to get the attention of an absent audience member. And I really don't want to watch a television show or a movie that's trying to get the attention of someone who has no interest in watching the thing I love: professional wrestling.
You just accept, WWE, that I’m not going to pay attention to two hours of your show instead of convincing me there’s a reason to pay attention.
That is a recipe for absolute failure.
The contentious relationship you have with your fans does not make you more money, WWE, it does not earn you good heat, and it does not create a sustainable environment. It clearly does not create a happy locker room and it clearly does not create objectively compelling television.
Take Dean's backstage segment, for example.
Like Roman’s promo and Cena’s promo, Dean’s segment represents the writers' lack of depth and consideration for the characters. It's an Acme cartoon recreated badly on primetime television. I understand what's inherently amusing about the concept, but in practice it is bottom-barrell theater that doesn't move me to have a genuine emotional reaction.
Hey you know what would be funny? Dean Ambrose in therapy. And then at the end of the segment he’s the one reading the therapist! And then he mocks the therapist!
That’s great! Hey and maybe we can bring back Dr. Shelby!
Who’s Dr. Shelby?
And, getting specific about the jokes themselves, when Dean Ambrose was shown a picture of Seth Rollins in a game of word-association, Dean just said, “Scumbag.”
Wouldn’t “Lover” have been more interesting?
Now I might be mistaken, but I’m fairly certain that the WWE advertised a reunion between Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns on their website going into RAW, and I’m pretty sure that the bit they advertised was something like, “How will The Authority respond to Roman and Dean’s actions on SmackDown?!”
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns should have been teaming together in the final match of the night. Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, very obviously, should reform as a legitimate duo and take on the powers that be. Their union on SmackDown was superb, and it was superb because it made complete and total booking (narrative sense).
And this is where the IWC argument that the WWE catches on to what fans actually want and then purposefully does the opposite seems to hold water.
The most read article on this website right now is about why a Roman & Dean team-up is absolutely best for business. And it’s one of the few universally beloved articles. And I can't actually find the source behind it "blowing up". So either it has been promoted in some outlet that I can't trace or it's just a topic people care about. Most fans, it would seem, want Dean and Roman to get back together and finish their business with Seth Rollins and The Authority.
Instead we get Roman describing himself as a child, we get Dean in “comedy” bits, and then we get Dean randomly attacking Rusev and losing because he can’t continue in the match?
Everything the company has done with Dean Ambrose since Hell in the Cell has slowly but surely come close to negating everything the company did for Dean Ambrose before Hell in a Cell.
And why? Did he say something naughty in an interview? Or was he just…too good at what he did?
There is no reason Dean Ambrose shouldn’t already be a top guy, a legitimate contender for the main event at ‘Mania against Seth Rollins. There’s no reason that match shouldn’t be an obvious choice based on everything that happened in all of 2014. Instead fans have to grasp at that imaginary brass ring, hoping, one day, they’ll be watching a show that simply makes sense.
Vince McMahon says he listens to the people in attendance.
Did you hear Dean Ambrose’s consistent pops throughout 2014? I’m not just a Dean mark. I’m thinking about the future of your company. I’m thinking about how your company has failed to produce a transcendent personality in fourteen years.
The WWE occasionally tells us we have a voice. Daniel Bryan told us we have a voice and got us chanting “Yes!” again.
John Cena (in what represents another break from what makes sense) told us we have a voice and commanded us to get “Hashtag Authority Sucks!” trending. And he told us to do it twice in case we missed it the first time - like he was on an infomercial.
How am I not supposed to feel insulted by all of this?
Hashtag Authority Sucks?
Hashtag Brock Lesnar?
John Cena screaming at me to "hashtag" something. Michael Cole screaming at me to "hashtag" something.
There will be no hashtags today. There will only be this:
you are producing a pedestrian television show that often disgraces your legacy and encourages people to think wrestling is "fake" and nothing more than a bunch of steroid-using failed football players rolling around in their underwear. You are insulting me, your fans, your workforce, and yourself.
If you think doing things to aggravate your fans is a great way to earn heat, I suggest you watch NXT Take Over R: Evolution.
Sami Zayn’s victory and then complete destruction at the hands of a heel Kevin Owens represents the kind of emotional manipulation you want, WWE. That show seemed to end on a glower note. In reality, that show ended spectacularly because the fans were moved in a genuine way by the fiction presented to them.
We felt something real…as a result of the unreal.
Raw inspires disingenuous reactions as a result of disingenuous actions. And it’s all very boring. The dynamic is stale and repetitive, and everyone is to blame for this.
If you look up #RAWNewOrleans you will see thousands of people saying the exact same thing. That’s boring. It’s boring that the WWE emboldens the IWC to keep on being the IWC. It’s boring that an evil boss character is doing evil things while good characters overcome the odds.
It is as simple as that.
You know what’s not boring?
The combination of Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, and Paul Heyman.
That is good television.
And it’s good television primarily because the segments involving these performers were the only segments that revolved around logical pro-wrestling situations. The moments where Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Paul Heyman, and John Cena interacted were grounded in the pro-wrestling fiction. These moments were true to what the WWE actually is, and this is a recurring theme in all of my writing; the moment we embrace what we really are is the moment we achieve greatness. That is true of a television show like RAW.
RAW works when it’s being a pro-wrestling show. RAW fails when it’s being an Acme cartoon or horror movie or anything other than a pro-wrestling show.
Based on what’s happening for the reality of the company at this very moment, one would think, from the perspective of a businessman (not creative), that the WWE would at least consider perhaps making a few changes. And one would think they’d consider making a few changes based on the instantly accessible, overwhelming feedback they receive on a daily basis from their audience.
Never has the company had such a direct line into the consciousness of their viewers, and never has the company so thoroughly ignored that access.
And if they’re not ignoring it, if they’re using the fans’ disdain for heat, let me state this directly: we do not want to see that. It’s obvious, it’s easy, it’s unintelligent, and it hurts you. If you’re doing that, it’s still just bad, boring television.
If you told me, right now, that all NXT merchandise was on sale, I would immediately go to WWEShop.com. If you told me all of the main roster merchandise was free for three hours, I would just keep writing my RAW REVIEW...the RAW REVIEW I write whilst wearing Kevin Owens' tee-shirt.
I know I am not alone in this, WWE. The negative environment that RAW permits and that surrounds RAW, even if it’s designed so as to one day reward your viewers with a moment of triumph, hurts you. It makes people less inclined to tune in and it makes people less inclined to spend money. And such a tactic doesn’t take into consideration the fact that your business is inherently unreliable. If you torture us so that six months down the road our chosen wrestling hero can stand victorious on the grandest stage of them all, what will you do when that chosen wrestling hero gets injured and is sidelined for eight months?
It might not seem like it, but I am trying to help you. Even if I’m blind to some larger plan you have, even if I’ll be silenced by excellence next week, you need to understand that this is how people who love your company feel. You need to understand that well past the idea of “heat” there is genuine discontent with the lame, cheesy product you produce on what is supposed to represent your absolute best.
All of that lameness and cheesiness melts away when the mythical Heyman and Lesnar come to town and reorient everyone’s focus on what matters.
Heyman’s promos were brief, existing mostly as a means of putting over Seth Rollins, but they were welcome and effective.
And in that final segment, Seth Rollins had the best promo he’s ever had. He is one of the only consistent performers who works within the confines of a sport-based reality. The show was clearly designed to put him over, and it worked and it was thoroughly enjoyable to see.
While I’ve been a big fan of the Cena/Lesnar feud and singing its praises for many months (Heyman finally spelled out the meaning of the feud for you, directly describing Lesnar as reality and Cena as fantasy), and while I wish Cena & Lesnar could have had what was initially booked as “The Final Chapter” at The Royal Rumble, the sudden intrusion of Seth Rollins, on this particular RAW, was sold to perfection by all involved.
When Rollins interrupted Heyman with, “I wasn’t finished yet”, Rollins asserted himself as, unquestionably, the most important person in the ring. Even The Authority took a backseat to Rollins, and it wasn’t just because the narrative was designed to do so. The company can put someone in a position to get over, but that person has to make you believe in them. Rollins makes you believe.
I only wanted to see Cena vs Lesnar at The Rumble, but the quality of Seth’s promo and his relentless bravado helped me, at the very least, accept his presence and understand, narratively, his place in the match.
Heyman’s reactions were on point as usual, selling Seth’s dominance with every word Rollins spoke and every move Rollins made. Go back and pay attention to Heyman’s expressiveness when Rollins interrupts him, and how Heyman reacts to Brock getting curb-stomped as if it’s the most horrifying thing that’s happened in human history.
Cena, sadly for his character, felt a bit like a third wheel, struggling to find his place in the scene. He rebounded with an AA to Brock through the table, but, again, it was Rollins’ moment.
As sold by Heyman, Seth’s involvement is something of a twist we never saw coming, his arrival an unexpected wrinkle in what was a familiar story of good versus evil.
The feud is now good versus evil plus time.
Unfortunately, for good and evil, time catches up to all of us.
The Future always wins.
And it will be interesting to see whether or not The Future turns out to be a Paul Heyman Guy.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section and share this review with a friend. You can also follow me on all the usual social media gimmicks by clicking on the links below.
Have a nice day!