Monday, May 17, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/17/04

Well, like I said last week... and the week before... and the week before... and so on and so on, RAW's been at a high water mark for almost two months running now. There's no two ways about it, the talent is fresh and exciting, the writers are pumping out some great material, the main events are delivering and the momentum is exciting. The sense of impending doom that's accompanied the opening theme of RAW ever since the shows started getting good is starting to subside. I'm starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, it's more than just a lucky break and a hot feud, and this streak will keep going for a while. It's nice to turn on the TV for my Monday night addiction with an unyielding sense of optimism for a change.

Last night's episode launched on an off note, throwing Trish (who's quickly becoming nothing more than a part time wrestler) into the ring with Lita (who really hasn't been all there since coming back from neck surgery) to open the show cold. The match honestly wasn't that bad, although it still pales in comparison to the matches we were getting routinely from the women's division six months ago. Yes, I'm still harping on what they've done to what used to be RAW's only worthwhile division, and no I won't be forgetting about it any time soon. Even a show as good as this one can have its flaws, and the complete dismissal of the ladies who buoyed this program during a sub-par 2003 is glaring.

As I was saying, though, the match wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be, and was actually building to something of a hot finish before a silly Kane monologue from backstage interrupted things and cost Lita the victory. Personally, I was looking for them to pull the old "boy who cried wolf" routine here; Trish would see Kane coming down the entryway and freak out, Lita wouldn't believe her because of what she did last week, and the match would come to a similarly abrupt halt. One silly finish is just as good as the next, I guess.

I've said it before, but I'm still amazed at what a sharp corner Randy Orton turned during his match with Mick Foley at Backlash. Beforehand, right up to the RAW before the PPV, he was a kid with potential, some problems in the ring, difficulty establishing an interesting character, a good gimmick and a humongoid push. Literally the next night, when he strolled out with the Intercontinental Title slung over his shoulder and a jigsaw puzzle of cuts zigzagging his forehead, he was like a completely different person. He spoke with confidence, his eyes no longer danced worriedly from side to side during a promo, even his ringwork seemed dramatically improved. It was like that one match symbolized the end of his innocence, his growth from boy to man, amateur to professional.

He picked up right where he'd left off last night before Shelton Benjamin broke up the public display of verbal masturbation and threw down a challenge for the Intercontinental Title. Bejamin seemed off in his promo, like he was forcing the words and had no emotion behind them, but that's not really what the segment's going to be remembered for. I'm having trouble deciding my position on the racial slant they seem to be taking with this angle, right from the get go. I was a big fan of the race-related storylines of late 2002 / early 2003 involving D'Lo Brown and Teddy Long, and then Booker T and Triple H, but my immediate feeling is that enough's enough. They screwed up both of those potentially hot feuds by making a lot of initial noise with the racism angle and then tiptoeing around the subject for the remainder of the storyline. What's to make this time any different, and does the potential Benjamin / Orton feud really even need it?

On the other hand, take a listen to the heat Orton garnered the very moment he uttered the words "you people." The crowd turned on him, not in a "oh shit, not this storyline again" fashion, but something more along the lines of a "oh shit, this boy needs to get his ass whupped." There was an instant vibe, even though neither guy came right out and said it was about the color of their skin and Benjamin even seemed to let the issue slide right off his back. That told me there's definite money to be made here, as well as a really emotional, honest story waiting to be told. I'm gonna hold off on making a judgment until I see if and how it plays out over the next couple weeks.

I love where they're going with Eugene and William Regal, with Regal subtly throwing in hints that he's working on growing a heart while Eugene remains oblivious to his Uncle's maneuverings. This could really pay off big for both guys if and when they reveal that Eugene's been faking the whole time, somewhere way down the road, and I can't wait to see the matches that such a revelation would produce. Think about it; Regal would have been not only completely humiliated and manipulated, but one-upped by a guy who's already proven he's more than a match for him in the ring (as last week's training videos proved.) So long as they don't rush this storyline, it could be monumental.

I was thinking along the same lines as OTC war hero Mark Price in reference to the Kane / Lita mystery question. I was waiting for them to reveal that Kane was just testing Lita's resolve all along, and that the real answer he was looking for was a no. Alas, it was not to be and this abysmal Kane / Lita mock Stockholm Syndrome storyline trudges on.

I did think the visual of Kane choking Matt out with the chair was extremely powerful, and was legitimately one of the most disturbing things I've seen on WWE television in quite some time. Matt's throat honestly seemed to be collapsing right there on the screen, and Kane couldn't have cared less. I'd put it right up there with the mist fluid draining out of Tajiri's mouth last week on the scale of cool, effective, subtle little touches that make the product look a hundred times more realistic and entertaining.

Batista's gotta quit with those weird bodybuilding poses on his way into the ring. He looks like a fruit.

I know I've already raved about Randy Orton for several paragraphs tonight, but I've got one more hunk of praise to throw his way before the night's over; I'm starting to love watching the guy work in the ring. Every week I notice something different about him, and this week I realized his tendency to sell offense differently than most anybody else on the roster. When Chris Benoit chops his opponent, 99% of the roster would take it, bend at the midsection and clutch their chests, waiting for the next one. Orton took one of those knife-edges, lost his footing, attempted to recover it, gasped for breath and fell to the mat. Sure, it took a little bit longer from start to finish, but it made the match much less of a cookie cutter and more of a live, exciting environment.

Speaking of which, that match was right on pace with the rest of this month's main events. I love watching Benoit and Edge defend the tag titles, even though they've only been opposed by members of Evolution thus far, and seeing Orton in the ring learning from the champ makes for great television. There's really nothing more I can say about this defense, except it was everything it needed to be. A fast paced, entertaining ride that we're lucky to be getting on free TV. Enjoy it while it lasts, I know I am.

The Eugene / Coach / Rock segment was a tremendous ride, guiding viewers through just about every emotion in the book and leaving them on a high. It's just amazing to me how quickly and easily the Rock can cruise in for one night only, ad lib half a dozen new catchphrases, put over talent without tainting his own star and leave the show for another six months. Watching this guy after a couple of months away from the ring is like watching him in the middle of an eight month run at the top... he never loses a step. This was a tremendous segment, though, not just for the Rock's contribution but for the crowd's great reactions and interaction. This wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining without that audience, and combining their excitement with Rocky's natural charisma, Coach's solid heel work, Eugene's momentum and a very well written storyline produced a really statisfying segment.

The battle royale was uninspiring at first, but wrapped up very hot... which, I guess, you could say about every battle royale ever booked. I really enjoyed the ongoing tale of Evolution's domination, Kane's excessive power and Shelton Benjamin's desire to succeed. I actually enjoyed what we saw of this (thanks to the half dozen fucking commercial breaks they snuck in) and it honestly didn't feel like another typical, lackadaisical, half-assed fight where only the last couple participants are really putting in an effort. There was a real sense that everybody had a vested interest in winning this match, which is the way it should have been considering the reward. Little touches like Rosey saving Hurricane and Shelton Benjamin refusing to let Evolution throw him to the floor made this all the more exciting. I also like that they put Kane over here, as it further reinforced that "anybody could win" atmosphere. I'll guarantee you nobody would've picked Kane if the result hadn't been leaked onto the internet, especially considering his ongoing issue with Lita and Matt Hardy. Unpredictability is good, especially when it comes as the result of matches like this one.

I've also gotta applaud the booking of the last five minutes or so of that match. Everything fell into place with perfect timing, just about every one of the last ten men in the ring looked like they could honestly win the thing thanks to the way they were booked, and there were several great, in-continuity moments that were genuinely cool. Kane and Batista barreling down upon one another in the middle of the ring, motionless bodies strewn around their feet? Very cool. Edge attempting to skin the cat, only to get caught in the act by Randy Orton and physically forced to the floor? Very cool, and something that's not seen often enough. Ric Flair nonsensically locking in a figure four halfway through the match? Uhh... yeah, that was weird and slightly comedic. Shelton Benjamin avoiding elimination by sheer willpower alone? That was HELLA cool. Aside from the odd elimination of Triple H at the very end, this was extremely well-booked and performed from beginning to end.

The first time I watched this show, I wasn't overly thrilled by it. I thought it was a solid seven at best, that it was boring in places and that the main event wasn't all that great. Upon my second viewing, my viewpoint had changed. This was a great show, probably the best written we've seen in years. The talent was on all night long, despite several guys working double or triple duty. The Lita / Trish and Kane / Val matches weren't all that I'd hoped they would be, but the Tag Title match and battle royale more than made up for those two mishaps. I'm loving life as a member of the RRC right now.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.1

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