Monday, August 23, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 08/23/04

I heartily enjoyed most of last week's show, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the two solid singles matches that filled the body of the episode and the outstanding angle that closed it up. The writers finally came to terms with the old idea of "striking while the iron's hot," and shook things up impressively with the Evolution save-turned-beatdown that signified Randy Orton's expulsion from the stable. This was an angle that could've been drug out over the course of six months, with hints dropped here and there, eventually leading to a singles match sometime in 2005... but instead, they used the potential to boost the new champion's image and get him immediately involved in a red-hot main event angle. It's still nice to be surprised from time to time, and I think this is great evidence of that fact. I was salivating at the sheer number of possibilities regarding where they could run with it from here, and all but forgot about the previously-announced wedding that was scheduled for the very same show. Seeing that cheesy invitation up on the screen almost immediately following the familiar introductory video snapped me back into reality. I didn't have high hopes for where this could lead, judging from the overplayed angle's track record.

We kick things off with the Diva Search, which results in instant mashing of the "thirty second skip" button on my TiVo remote. Imagine my surprise (and sudden switch to the "eight seconds prior" button) when I spied The Rock suddenly in the ring, soaking up the cheers. Even the Rock's charisma couldn't pull this one out of the crapper for me in the end, although I'd be lying if I said he didn't put in a valiant effort. This was fun at times, but really started to drag after the initial high of "OMFG ROCK'S ON TV!!1" wore off. He's at his best when opposite somebody he can verbally berate without censoring himself, and that wasn't an opportunity he was gonna get here. Must've been a blast for the live crowd, with Rocky's attention to the folks around ringside and the area in general, but it lagged when watching at home.

The Divas themselves were particularly tough to watch here. One girl challenges Carmella to a match (met with instant screams of horror from the live crowd) and then nothing comes of it, which leads me to believe she thought that little gem of an idea up all by her lonesome. Another sits on a pie. SITS on a freaking PIE. How many more weeks of this do we need to trudge through?

I did like the little nods to continuity and Unforgiven matchbuilding at the end of the segment, continuing Rock's on-again, off-again feuds with Coach and La Resistance while also giving the Tag Title match at this month's PPV a little bit of love. That stuff was such an afterthought to the "main event storytelling" of the Diva search, though, that it barely deserves mentioning. Blah.

Edge and Y2J were really having trouble in there together last night, standing in great contrast to the match they put on just two weeks ago. Both guys seemed to be an inch or two off with their punches, both were misstepping during their big spots and they each started reverting to the rest holds when things got a little out of control. The booking wasn't doing them any favors, either, with two commercial timeouts and a notably bad set of overbooked finishes. A big part of what made their last singles match together so good was the slow build they were allowed to construct, their dedication to telling the entire story in the ring and the extremely light touch of the booking team. This week's match had none of those things, and felt extremely rushed to boot. They've both earned a little bit of slack for their past work, both together and apart, but this was just a stinker through and through.

The face-off between Hunter and Orton felt odd, even before Trips started going on about how he'd hunt down, torture and kill the new champ if he didn't come to the ring and hand the belt over to him. H was all over the place in this one, going from bizarre metaphors about hourglasses to furious demands from out of left field to sheer pleasure when it seemed as though he was going to get his way after all. I'm not sure what good a referee would've done in the ring here, even if Orton HAD decided to hand over his gold. Would that've been an officially sanctioned match? Would the ref need to count three, or just raise Hunter's hand? At any rate, we don't get a chance to find out as Randy pouts his way down the entryway, pauses for dramatic tension and hawks a juicy one in his mentor's face. Honestly, that was the one part of this segment that I thought came off as outstanding. Not only does Orton buy his own hype, but he knows why others buy it, too. He didn't even have to say a word to telegraph the message into the minds of the viewing audience; "I did it to Mick Foley. What makes you think I won't do it to you, too?"

I'm indifferent to Orton's decision to then turn ass and run. On one hand, it puts him at stark contrast in two lights to former champ Chris Benoit. He simultaneously looks like a much bigger pussy than the Wolverine, but also a much smarter athlete. He's tactically choosing his battles, escaping the wrath of Batista and Flair, but he's also running from a fight and delaying the inevitable. The longer you run from these guys, the angrier they'll be when they walk down to the ring alongside Triple H at his next title shot. Orton wasn't in the form I was learning to appreciate last night. Bits and pieces of his character were there, no doubt, but he was missing something. He still doesn't feel like championship material.

There were bits and pieces of the Regal / Flair match that I liked; Regal's insanely good selling of that big, nasty, swollen eye, the concentration on ground-based submission wrestling for a change, and that super-solid finish. On the whole, though, this too fell quite a ways short of my expectations. Flair is no longer at the point in his career where he can change up styles wildly from night to night, and Regal wasn't up to the task of carrying the Nature Boy to a solid faceoff. Ric kept looking like he wanted to pick up the pace a little bit, and Regal kept reacting by grabbing him in a bizarre, painful-looking chinlock and slowing it down even further. Both of these guys can still be quite good in the right situation, but this was no such situation. The added distractions of Batista, Eugene and Chris Benoit didn't do much more than highlight how slow the action in the ring really was moving. Like I said, though, great finish that fit both men like a glove.

Finally, we wrapped things up with the wedding everyone was dreading. I'm still not sure what to think of this segment. On one hand, it had some genuine, laugh-out-loud-absurd moments, (like the midgets, smiling, adorned in eye-makeup, wandering down to ringside as if we should know better than to question these things!! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!!!) and on the other it had an excess of poorly acted, wannabe dramatic moments. I will say one thing; it definitely wasn't as bad as I'd feared it was going to be. OK, now I'll say two things; it went on every bit as long as I was afraid it would. I'll fess up to loving the ochestral remix of Kane's theme, (and I was seriously waiting to see if they'd go ahead and have them play Matt Hardy's music, too, when he inevitably ran in) as well as the hilarious "so you're having my baby" video package Kane put together for his bride to be. Even Matt Hardy's run-in, long and drawn out as it may have been, wasn't totally horrible. The camera angle for that big chokeslam off the entryway was just about perfect, and if it hadn't been preceded by the return of Kane's superhuman weather-control abilities, the whole thing might've gone down a little bit easier in my opinion. Then again, accompanied by a pregnant bride willingly rolling herself down a set of stairs to join in a fight, a pint-sized wedding party, a bible reading from Eric Bischoff and a complete lack of speaking roles during the "speak now or forever hold your peace" portion of the ceremony, maybe a sporadic, unexplained wall of flame isn't such an abnormality after all. This wasn't awful, but it didn't fit, either. I don't see how we can take a segment like this at face value, while also being asked to cheer the matches themselves as genuine competition. That's a pretty big leap for anyone to take.

This was the first show I've seen in quite some time without a match I could call above-average. Chalk that one up to the running total of two total matches they actually graced us with, I guess, coupled with the insane length of the Diva Search / Evolution / Marriage segments. Speaking of which, those were crazily bad decisions as bookends for this show, starting us off slow with the least popular segment on the program before Rocky's appearance, and then closing it up with a humor-lined ceremony and a long shot of Kane and Lita heading backstage after the wedding that just wouldn't die. I can't call this even close to average. I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't like it, either.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.6

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