Monday, May 24, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 05/24/04

There's no denying the fact I've been absolutely lovin' RAW as of late, and judging by the scores contributed to the regular RRC, I'm not alone. This is a show that's been clicking on 90-95% of its cylinders recently, for all intents and purposes. Sure, sure, a couple wheels are squeaking, a couple gears are grinding; the women's division has been tanking for months and a couple storylines are weak and uninspired. Still, regardless of how many stupid, over-used engine metaphors I can find a place for, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable program since WrestleMania. The stories have been largely original, entertaining and realistic. The characters are becoming much more thoroughly developed and multi-dimensional. And, as if I even needed to make mention of this fact, the matches have been out friggin' standing. Every week we've had a main event worth archiving to the permanent collection, and it's not all revolving around just one or two men. The main event scene is as refreshed as it's been in years, and a lot of the younger or underutilized workers are actively making the most of the opportunities they're being given. I'd be lying if I said I'd never been as excited about an episode of RAW as I have been these last couple of weeks (that honor would go to the episodes between WrestleMania 13 and 14, when anything really did seem possible) but I've been extremely happy all the same. This has been a show WORTH getting excited over of late.

This week's episode kicked off with a bit of foreshadowing, as Triple H and Evolution complained to Eric Bischoff about Shawn Michaels' involvement in last week's battle royale. I liked bits of this, but alternately disliked others. I love the tension and frustration they're building within Evolution; Trips, Batista and Flair looked like a small pack of feral dogs in this bit, snapping and shouting at one another with a strange mixture of ferocity and fear in their eyes. Flair and Hunter in particular seemed to be staring fierce holes in one another, almost to the point that I expected the Nature Boy to be ousted from the group later in the night. On the other hand, I loathed the way Eric Bischoff came off by quickly and quietly folding in light of the stable's demands. Bischoff should be sharply dominating the segments he's invovled with regardless of who he's confronting, not bowing his head and taking all the abuse his talent feels like dishing out. This is a guy with the power to make or break careers, at least in storyline terms, yet he acts like he has no power at all. Why should an audience fear and respect a man who suspends an athlete, then comes crawling back to him two weeks later and has to agree to special conditions to get the guy to come back to work? It's silly booking, and it's a side of Eric's character I'm getting really tired of seeing.

Flair and Edge just weren't clicking in their match. Both guys looked completely out of place and unfamiliar with one another, both in their interactions and their physical exchanges. The match felt really forced and rushed, and the finish came up out of nowhere. Flair was totally off his game, nearly killing himself on the turnbuckle flip and then forgetting to kick out of the following pinfall attempt. Not the kind of opener I was hoping for, and a step down from the kind of quality both guys had been putting forward lately. Flair needs to stick with the tag matches or relegate himself to a supporting role, interfering and expressing himself with his remarkably good body language during Orton or Batista matches.

What's that? A Diva Search? Sounds like Vince is raiding more of WCW's old ideas again. Or have you forgotten where Stacy Keibler came from?

I've got next to no interest in finding out what "the magic question" was, because it's only going to lead to more shit down the road. Seriously, I can't for the life of me imagine a decent payoff to this lame, lame setup. It's either going to be comedy ("Can I help brush your hair?"), sexual ("Wanna do it?") or attempted psychological ("Do you want me to hurt you?") and none of those paths have any interesting twists or turns to introduce. On that same note, the complete homoginization of her relationship with Matt Hardy is just disturbing. They look and act like robots, programmed to do things average people in a relationship would do. Neither one of them has a personality that reaches beyond their choice in wardrobe for that particular week, and their interactions with one another are stiff, wooden and lame. It's like the Spike / Molly storyline of several years' back, just without the charm, the audience support or the potential. And this time Kane has some bizarre fixation on the Molly character.

I appreciate the story they were trying to tell in the ring with the Hurricane / Rosey vs. La Resistance match, but there was just too little at stake to really make much of a difference. Once he'd taken that ugly, ugly bump over the top and out to the floor, Helms was noticeably favoring his knee and Conway capitalized on it. It's a simple thing to focus on, but it can really make the difference between an OK match and an entertaining one. Like I said, though, there just wasn't any kind of motivating factor to push this match up another notch or two, and it wasn't given any kind of time either. Hurricane is less than insignificant on RAW right now, only used when there's a three or four minute gap in the program that needs to be filled, and I can't begin to fathom why he hasn't been sent back to Smackdown and repackaged already. Conway and Grenier are at least in slightly better shape, but the complete lack of competition and a justifiable tag team division is hitting them pretty hard as well. Can you honestly remember the last time the Frenchmen were actually involved in some sort of storyline as a team? Conway had a short little stint with Eugene, and Dupree had a really brief story with Steve Austin before they both fled the program, but those were both singles programs and I can't remember much more before that.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Jericho and Orton last night, especially the conversational nature of their little chat. This didn't seem like two guys exchanging catchphrases or reciting a few lines they'd been fed by the writers backstage, it honestly seemed like a pair of loud-mouthed, intelligent, egotistical guys sparring on the mic. Orton's simply on fire right now, and Jericho's been no slouch over the last couple of months either, so this was an unexpectedly fun little one-off between a two of the show's biggest names.

The following tag match was, like the interview itself, unexpectedly good and very entertaining. Jericho turned it up noticeably for this match, and was clearly outshining both the competition and his own partner from bell to bell. Occasionally Y2J will fall into a rut. His matches will become formulaic, his spots will become tedious, overplayed and telegraphed, and his pacing gets a little goofy. This wasn't one of those nights. He was hitting all of his spots in original ways, his timing was spot on and he was very motivated. That's a really nice thing to see.

Not to shit on the rest of that tag match, either. As I said, Randy Orton is right in the middle of a great run, but so is Shelton Benjamin and even Batista is taking some giant steps in the right direction. This will be a fun match to watch a couple of years from now, when we know what's just around the corner for the current midcard workhorses of RAW, who became the next next big thing, who burned out and quit the business and who's still lingering in the middle of the card. A very nice match that wound up being the evening's best.

While Shawn and Hunter were brawling in Eric Bischoff's office, something else caught my attention; that photo of Bisch and Johnny Nitro that they flash at the start of every episode of RAW? You know the one, the goofy little "I'm an evil bastard and I'm grinning at you" shot that Eric's always got printed out on foam core and hung on the wall of his office? When the show starts and it fades in, you can't see below chest level because of the crop... but the full blown shot was hanging in the background of that little fight, and I swear to god Bischoff's either wearing black shorts or no pants at all. If you've got a tape of the show or TiVo'd it, (another shill for the product that's changed my life) go back and check it out. I swear I'm not crazy.

As if that little shot of unintentional humor wasn't bad enough, they then moved straight on into the women's match and Victoria's accompanying choreographed dance number. Honestly, when she stepped out there and flew right into that intricate routine I just started laughing. That was truthfully something I would've expected out of an N'Sync video or maybe, MAYBE a Bob Sapp promotional tape. To see it thrown out there so elaborately and suddenly was, to me at least, extremely funny and sad. Victoria was a character that seemed so stupid and doomed from the very beginning, but to transform her into this after she'd struggled and struggled to make her heel act so successful is a little questionable.

Also of note; poor Molly. I like that they're keeping the division so competitive and unpredictable, but I just wish they'd let the former champ get a win once in a while. There's a great aura in the air that any one of these ladies could possibly win a match against any of her competition, especially now that Victoria's stood up for herself and proven that she can do more than tap out to Gail Kim. I just wish they'd stop worrying about tinkering with the characters and let the girls do their jobs.

The Benoit and Eugene vs. Coach and Cade match was about as close to a Benoit squash as we're ever going to get. Cade was thoroughly owned in that match, but still managed to get a few shots in to keep things competitive and Coach was an afterthought, rightfully so. He's a tremendous heel manager but he shouldn't be in there laying into the World Champion or even a guy the size of Eugene. Truth be told, though it was short, that match did everything it should've done. Garrison wasn't completely dismissed, Benoit came off looking like a good guy and a legitimate champion, Coach drew some solid heat and didn't put up much of a fight, and Eugene got the big rub of working next to a legend like The Crippler.

Oh yeah, and I can't believe they didn't try calling this a "handicapable match" before Benoit came in to even the odds.

I feel let down that we didn't get a true main event, and I've got to echo the sentiment of just about everyone else who covered the show when I say the Triple H / Michaels encounters went on way too long. One or two segments and the big announcement would've been more than enough, but to pepper the show with them like that shrieks of overkill. It's not like the PPV is tomorrow night and the bookers have completely forgotten to build for the match, so the entire month-long feud needs to be condensed into one show. I don't understand how this was supposed to be bought as such a sporadic fight when the last match wrapped up with fifteen minutes to spare. It makes Bischoff look bad for not planning as far ahead as he had recently, not using his TV time as efficiently as he has throughout his career as GM and trying to go all Heyman on the RAW locker room when that's really not who he's been up until now. Pull aparts like this are tough enough to buy when it's just a bunch of referees trying to hold back the three hundred pounders... but when HBK and Triple H are pulling away from everybody else on the roster, it's getting out of hand. I'm thrilled about the potential of this match, but they're really killing it for me by force-feeding it like that.

Despite my complaints, this was still an above-average show. We got our standard quality tag team match, which managed to shake up the participants successfully for like the forteen-hundredth time in a row. We got some quality character development from Evolution, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. And, overkill or no, we got confirmation of a match worthy of your excitement at Bad Blood. Unfortunately, we also saw a lot of sloppy writing, contradictory character directions and an overabundance of Hunter vs. Shawn. This was better than average, yeah, but not by nearly as much as the last couple months' worth of episodes.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.7

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