THE RAW REVIEW
I sit here before the computer trying my best to discover an entry point into this particular RAW REVIEW. I cannot come up with anything - other than being honest with you.
Monday Night Raw has become background noise for me.
That is both a reflection of the quality of the show of late and a reflection of my viewing habits.
Even when I focus on what I’m watching I can almost feel my consciousness flickering in and out of the show; the three hours blend together in an infinitely recycling loop of deja vu on top of deja vu, each scripted promo or strained attempt at self-referential humor occasionally inspiring a cringe. The show openly mocks itself and the show openly mocks the WWE's past. As a result, I can't help but feel mocked. Because I want to like RAW and I want to like the WWE's past.
This wasn’t an especially bad episode, mind you.
It was just another episode.
RAW has simply become an old beast of a broadcast in desperate need of definitive change.
On last week’s episode of The Steve Austin Show: Unleashed, Court Bauer accurately described how the basic format of the show hasn’t changed since the 90s, and how RAW simply doesn’t reflect modern sports or anything that engages modern audiences.
And the consistently low ratings of late should be a warning sign to the WWE.
Audiences are not engaged by The Authority, the primary narrative of the past couple years.
There are any number of reasons why people aren’t watching, but I must believe that the main reason is the lack of a consistent, recognizable purpose.
There’s no seeming purpose or sense of urgency to an episode.
And if there is a purpose, it’s that vague pursuit of “entertainment”.
And now that the company has created characters who actually grab a microphone and say, “I’m on a mission to entertain you” or “I fought to entertain you” or “Are you not entertained” it becomes even harder to achieve that elusive goal of “providing entertainment”. The WWE so often says, in their fiction and in reality, how much they want to "entertain" and how "entertaining people" is their sole purpose and they say this with such pride, as though the fact that they're designed to "entertain" somehow makes them superior to "professional wrestling" or other athletic contests where the goal isn't explicitly "entertainment".
If you're talking about entertaining me then you're not entertaining me.
You can’t seduce people by saying, “I’m trying to seduce you”.
It’s incredibly unattractive.
And that’s RAW; an awkward guy walking up to you at the bar and saying “Am I attractive enough to hold your attention for the next three hours?”
Even Brad Pitt would have trouble getting over with that line.
I don’t want to just run the show down, but I don’t know how to put it any other way; RAW is difficult to watch, and it’s especially difficult to watch for that occasional viewer who has even less interest in learning more about what makes Kane tick than I do.
It’s difficult to pay attention to RAW.
And that’s not because I’m a millennial with a short attention span. It’s because I’m a human being who wants to watch inviting television that has a pulse and a seeming awareness of what it’s like to be alive in 2015. I’ve also seen this particular episode of RAW hundreds of times. Almost verbatim, particularly the opening segment where Triple H came out and tried to wrangle Kane away from Seth Rollins. There’s no reason to get invested in that story when that story proves, week after week, there’s no end in sight.
The company needs an injection of life.
The company needs what NXT has in spades.
Youth, energy, hope, and a definitive perspective on itself.
RAW has absolutely no idea what it is and so it’s not appealing. It comes off as lacking in confidence, whether the viewer is cognizant of this or not.
When I think about RAW's various issues I'm often reminded of the hit ABC sci-fi/fantasy drama LOST.
While Lost was a truly great television show for the majority of its run, it inevitably revealed that it simply did not know what it was, that it did not know what it wanted to say, that it did not understand what half its audience wanted from it, and also that it didn’t even fully flesh out the various worlds the shows characters inhabited.
There were times when you were watching Lost where you were thoroughly entertained by some of the performances and the backstories and the mystique of the show’s mythology, but you were also incredibly frustrated because it didn’t seem like the show was going anywhere.
It felt like the writers and the show runners were biding time.
And they were…admittedly.
They had no idea what they were doing. There was no grand scheme or overreaching plan or sense of direction. It was broad-strokes television right from the beginning despite the fact that it often presented itself as anything but; Lost consistently promised you a definitive payoff despite its often wayward plotting.
You placed your faith in that payoff.
The payoff is why you commit to serialized television in the first place.
You went along for the ride through all the ridiculous episodes and through all the bad acting from random, ancillary characters and through all the vague, plodding “Others” conversations. You hung on because you had your favorite characters and because you were certain you’d find out why things were the way they were on the island or you were certain you’d find out what would happen to the characters.
Ignore whether or not you thought the Lost finale was a success or a failure.
Consider, very simply, whether or not that final season represents the culmination of a carefully crafted story, a story with a purpose, a story with an endgame, a story with a semblance of an idea as to where it was always going.
Ignore whether or not the Lost finale manages to touch upon various themes of the show or whether or not it offers closure for characters. Ignore any emotional gratification viewers might get because all the characters are happy in the end.
Does Jack wrestling with a giant beam of light so that he can save the island so that everyone can then go on to have pleasant post-Island lives so that they can then die and then get transported into a pre-afterlife limbo that everyone on the island has created with their minds so that they can then re-learn everything they already learned on the island in that pre-afterlife-consciousness-limbo so that they can then eventually find each other again in that mental after-life limbo so that they can then go to heaven…
...have anything to do with anything?
Is that even something a real writer would bother thinking of before he sits down to put pen to paper?
Or is it just a bunch of sci-fi geeks scrambling from one week to the next, trying to do cool things and trying to say deep things about life because they think those things are cool and deep?
And that’s RAW.
Only it's less consistent and sometimes more convoluted.
RAW is pretty paint thrown on a wall and the hope that the paint will eventually settle into a coherent image. And we have to rely on those few specks of paint we really enjoy to carry us along until the company decides to make an actual picture.
As always, there were some bright spots in this episode, like an incredibly well-booked match between Adrian Neville and John Cena. The match managed to retain the strength and mystique of both without anyone needing to “do the job”.
Rusev’s interference could potentially serve as a natural segue into a battle for the United States Championship between “The Super Athlete” and “The Man That Gravity Forgot” (assuming Rusev wins at Payback).
Where last week I left RAW feeling encouraged by the inclusion of Dean Ambrose in the main event at Payback, this week I left RAW discouraged by how much emphasis the WWE continues to place upon Kane’s moral dilemma. The Authority has become the Nikki & Paulo of RAW - characters that grate due to their very existence. They’re not earning good heat…they’re just making people chant, “Boring!” and they're just distracting from the good that is present in the show.
Even when Ambrose, Reigns, Rollins, and Orton were all in the ring at the same time performing finishers on one another, Michael Cole was still reorienting the viewer’s focus on Kane.
“Kane is still not doing anything!”
That call was more apropos than it wanted to be.
The audience is not interested in whether or not Kane stays with The Authority or leaves The Authority or if Kane loves The Authority but simply dislikes Seth Rollins.
Poorly conceived television often misjudges what’s actually entertaining about itself or in a cheap ploy to entice viewers, poorly conceived television reneges on the goods or becomes incredibly stingy with the goods (fellow Lost fans are particularly familiar with this trick).
The audience wants to see Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins fight (if we can’t see Brock Lesnar).
Good promos and good segments involving those three performers.
Nothing else needs to define the main event scene at this time.
Even Randy Orton serves only to distract from what the modern viewer craves.
The Authority is a relic of an angle, something that worked in the 90s because it had the right stars at the right time. Today, The Authority has absolutely no meaning to the viewer.
The past several years of the WWE have been defined by a few talented performers who could produce regularly entertaining television being bogged down in overly convoluted storytelling or unworthy opponents.
The potential greatness of a Seth Rollins or a Dean Ambrose or a Roman Reigns can’t really be enjoyed when Kane’s drama is always lurking at ringside.
Free yourself from the tyranny of the past, WWE.
It’s time for all of us to step into the light.
Hopefully next week I won't have to work out my unending disdain for the Lost finale to write The Raw Review and the company will kick off a new, more interesting angle. I'll have another live reaction podcast for the upcoming Payback pay-per-view so be sure to subscribe to The Work of Wrestling in iTunes today!
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