THE RAW REVIEW
Think of your neighbor. His name is Ed.
He wears clean polo shirts and khakis and he never seems to age.
He’s always smiling when you see him.
In the morning, as you waddle out onto your porch in a coffee-stained-bathrobe to pick up the newspaper, Ed goes out of his way to say “Hello!” and engage you in brief, AM-dialogues. And He says “Hello!” with such enthusiasm that you find it hard to believe anyone could be that happy to say “Hello!” to you.
You occasionally watch Ed from your perch in the attic, glaring down on him through a small opening in the window. You watch with a slight sneer as he cuts his grass. He rides a John Deere like it’s a trusty, well-bred stallion, cutting with gusto. He whistles while he cuts the grass, even though he can’t hear the tune. He inspects the grass after it's cut, nodding in approval.
He knocks on your door one too many times a month and asks you questions like, “Is this your screwdriver?” and when you say, “No, that is not my screwdriver?” he insists you come over for dinner and check out the latest addition to his Man Cave.
And when you begrudgingly go to his Man Cave because your wife reminds you that you actually did have fun that one time you went to his Man Cave, Ed starts telling you about the new products he's selling at work - he tells you about a high-powered vacuum cleaner that digs into the fibers of any carpet and removes all possible stains.
He tells you that he can get you a deal on one if you like. You spurn his advances, and he goes on smiling and nodding and inviting you to dinner parties.
At dinner parties, when Ed laughs, you can hear him through every wall.
And when your eyes settle on him and when he glares back at you through the crowd of politely conversing couples and hors-d’oeuvre-eaters, you catch a brief glimpse of the truth.
Ed is pain.
Ed is in a lot of pain.
It’s as though he’s trying to convince himself of himself.
And he keeps poking and prodding you because maybe, just maybe, your idle chit-chat, your “Good morning, Ed” and your “How was the weekend, Ed?” will give Ed the reassurance he’s seeking.
But you find yourself in a bind, because you can’t help but find Ed to be completely insufferable.
You don't care about helping Ed, because there is no helping Ed. Ed is a leech, sucking at your soul, desperate to get some of your life-force.
The very sight of Ed makes you tense up and grunt.
You start to plan your day around Ed and how to avoid Ed.
Ed’s sickness becomes your sickness.
Ed’s relentlessness whittles away your sanity and pretty soon you wonder if it might not be better to just get the hell out of the suburbs and build a new life in the Australian Outback where Ed can never find you.
Well-meaning as Ed might be, you just want to be able to get your newspaper without having to say anything to anybody. You just want to make sure that you're spending your time wisely and that the people you spend your time with are honest, good people.
After two hours of half-watching Monday Night Raw, I had to finally accept that I simply had no interest in what was on the screen.
On this Monday night I quickly got to that undesirable mental state where every sight and sound produced by Monday Night Raw made me quiver in muscle-tensed disdain.
Probably not a rational reaction.
But RAWs like these are nails on chalkboard to me. It's a teeth-pulling experience sans anesthesia. This is more a reflection of my disposition and what I want from the television I watch than it is a reflection of the show itself - I'm willing to concede that.
I can dissect the troubles with RAW in a detached, analytical way. I can easily find the good in any given show (such as Roman Reigns vs Kofi Kingston) as easily as I can appreciate the humanity of neighbor Ed's hypothetical soul.
I can do my best to formulate an argument for why, objectively, RAW isn't good television. But I cannot explain my visceral disgust without acknowledging that my individual mentality and my perspective on what makes something good is the cause of that disgust.
Certainly wasn’t the worst episode. I wish I could write about it in a way that offers more than a description of my experience of watching it. But, sadly, for this week, I can do no such thing.
After John Cena, Kevin Owens, and Adrian Neville finished their business, this backstage-segment-heavy, paint-by-numbers episode of RAW simply could not convince me to pay attention for longer than a few minutes at a time. The experience of RAW - what the show actually is and what the show does with its three hours slowly peels back my skin and fiddles with exposed nerve-endings. JBL's actual voice and the transparent transitions and the meaningless Diva matches just fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with my patience, mocking me, jeering me. By the end of the night I had to hit the mute button.
I still absorbed the entire episode, mind-you. A passing glance is all one needs to comprehend anything and everything that’s happening from one segment to the next.
To give you an example of the kind of thing that makes me cringe; R-Truth came out during a Money in the Bank segment and actually cut an interesting promo, proclaiming that he’d win the MITB ladder match. Kane responded that R-Truth wasn’t even in the MITB ladder match. Kane delivered his line incredibly well, his absolute befuddlement quickly injecting the scene with some unexpected comedy. R-Truth, somewhat embarrassed, then realized he wasn’t in the match, and apologized to Kane and apologized to New Orleans and politely walked backstage.
This was the only inventive, genuinely entertaining moment of the night. This is actually one of the best scenes I’ve seen on RAW in a very long time. It was a moment that poked fun at the pro-wrestling fiction in a sense-making way, a moment that fit perfectly with R-Truth’s crazy character, and it was a delightful deviation from the norm. It was unexpected, and that made it even more fun on a show that is nothing but predictable moment after predictable moment for three incredibly long advert-filled-hours.
As R-Truth was sincerely apologizing for unjustly inserting himself into the segment, the camera then cut to a shot of Roman Reigns and Dolph Ziggler laughing.
Their laughter was so inauthentic that it affected my ability to enjoy the moment that preceded it.
They yucked it up with ham-fisted thigh-slaps and head-shakes in a way that stung my soul, and I could feel my persistence wane, my ability to stomach such childish inauthenticity vanish.
In that moment, Roman Reigns and Dolph Ziggler became pantomimes.
They couldn’t just laugh.
A moment that actually was funny became entirely unfunny because their disproportionate, cartoonish response was impossible to believe. No one would laugh that hard to what happened. They might not even laugh out loud. A bemused smirk would be appropriate.
They had to laugh because they knew they were supposed to laugh. And they had to broadcast their laughter because if they didn’t broadcast their laughter then how would the viewer know that it was laughy-time?!
Their genuine emotion, whatever that might be (and their genuine response probably is laughter) gets filtered through a writer’s idea of laughter and a writer’s idea of who Dolph Ziggler or Roman Reigns actually is.
Or maybe they are being themselves and that’s just the way people laugh now.
The IWC is perhaps too quick to blame the writers.
A bad writer is not responsible for Roman Reigns and Dolph Ziggler giving stilted, inhuman performances in a moment where they’re supposed to react in a very normal way to a very normal situation. I'd be surprised (maybe even unsettled) if anyone actually said to Dolph and Roman, "Really play up the laughing, laugh so hard it's like your guts are splitting open."
If the writers or the system is to blame at all, then it’s to blame for creating an environment where Dolph Ziggler and Roman Reigns (and many others) perform from such a painfully self-conscious place. Today's roster is the best, most interesting collection of performers we've had since The Attitude Era, but moments like these undermine that potential.
As nitpicky as some might find this to be, it’s a perfect representation of why I find the show so hard to watch.
So many of these younger pro-wrestlers have to telegraph their feelings, hurling their emotions or their speeches or their catchphrases in the viewers’ faces that the inauthenticity of the entire show reaches such extreme heights that it ceases to resemble anything emotionally resonant or even humanly possible. It's disingenuous pitch after disingenuous pitch on top of the disingenuous pitches mocking themselves for being disingenuous.
The tipping point was a prototypical backstage scene early on where Seth Rollins, yet again, reverted back to a cowardly-heel character begging Triple H and Stephanie McMahon for help despite having confidently proclaimed on last week’s episode that he needed no one’s help. A proclamation he screamed in Triple H's face.
Steph and Trips even called Seth out on this fact, and Seth retconned the story so that he meant what he said about Kane and J&J, but not Steph and Triple H.
Triple H & Steph then tried to encourage Seth to stand on his own two feet, stating that he didn’t actually need their help, thus making him appear even weaker, and muddying the waters of characterization further.
Last week we got a taste of the right Seth Rollins; a champion who passionately wanted to get his title back. A man who spoke with courage and fire.
This week, that was all just snatched away the moment he walked onscreen - seemingly because the powers that be fear Seth would transform into a babyface if he ever remained a consistently confident, entertaining character. It’s as if the bookers believe that in today’s age of smart-crowds, the only way to keep someone a heel is to wrap that character up in a plodding story that makes absolutely no sense.
This is but one of many small & large issues that plague the show and make it, for me, occasionally unwatchable.
I understand why someone would enjoy this show, and I understand why someone would think that I'm being too hard on the entire series. I understand why someone would insist I stop watching and start watching a different promotion.
I understand that some people love their neighbors and that some people get along perfectly well with Ed.
I am not one of those people.
I still don’t plan to pick up and move to a new house anytime soon.
This is my house and I’ve done a lot of work to maintain it. I love the house.
But I do hope Ed retires and moves to Florida as soon as possible.
We need something new in this neighborhood.
If you'd like to find out what keeps a WWE fan watching RAW despite the frustration, listen to the latest episode of THE WORK OF WRESTLING PODCAST BY CLICKING HERE. New episodes available for free every single Monday.