Monday, October 25, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 10/25/04

Funny they'd use a term like 'Inmates Running the Asylum' at this point, isn't it? I mean, amidst a growing number of comparisons to the latter days of WCW... attempted quick fixes, strangely-chosen imports from the minor leagues, poor PPV performances... you think they'd want to steer away from something as blatant as Eric Bischoff standing in the middle of the ring, declaring that 'the inmates are running the asylum,' a phrase which is almost synonymous with the death of McMahon's old rivals in Atlanta.

But that was indeed the phrase they used at the opening of this week's show, just after killing five or ten minutes with a complete re-airing of last week's Bischoff / Eugene match. And you know what? It actually worked. Eric Bischoff was in great form last night, actually saying very little but telling an intriguing tale with his body language. This wasn't the same Uncle E who's been bowing under pressure to basically every heel on the roster for the last eighteen months. This Bischoff was fed up, concise and meaningful. He'd had enough, he was ready to quit playing around and start doing business, and.. well... he was acting like a great GM. Not the whole "giving myself the night off" thing, although that did eventually create a great cohesive storyline for the rest of the show, but the fact that you knew he meant what he was saying. It's like he finally realized the kind of power his title could wield and was ready to quit buckling under pressure. I want to see more of this guy.

So, in retrospect the Taboo Tuesday replay served as an excellent opener for the program, since the entire premise of the episode was dependent upon its viewers understanding the backstory. In that role it still went a little long, and it was a bit unsettling to drop right into the match without an introduction like that, but it served an important purpose as one of the bookends of the episode.

Of course, Triple H and Evolution wasted little time in snatching the reigns away from the rest of the locker room, all but running into Bischoff on his way back behind the curtain as they hit the entryway to claim the temporarily-vacated GM role for themselves. Hunter was kept relatively short here, and Flair brought the body language in spades, basically frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of Randy Orton. The roles felt backwards in this segment, though, with the heel challenging the face to a match on free TV and the face only accepting once certain stipulations were met. Also, it was disappointing to see them ignore the sign of respect they'd shared after their match at Taboo Tuesday. Orton was still stumbling on the mic here, but Flair's reactions and enthusiasm more than made up for it. Better than your average Evolution promo, and somebody needs to double the dosage on whatever Flair's been on this month because he's been outstanding.

I had trouble getting into the Jericho / Benjamin Intercontinental Title match, which is odd because I'm usually really big on both guys. They just seemed to have problems getting the ball rolling together last night, like they were trying out some new spots and they weren't always working out how they'd been envisioned. I didn't see their Taboo Tuesday match, so I can't make any kind of comparison to that, but I've definitely seen better from both. They had enough time to do something with, but it wasn't the unforgettable classic you'd imagine it to be.

I loved the bits and segments with Bischoff and Coach backstage sharing the Grey Goose. Didn't help or hinder the show in any way, it just reminded us that they were there and that neither Evolution's attempted dominance nor the faces' coalition affected them in the slightest.

Likewise, I really enjoyed the ongoing backstage segment between Evolution and, basically, the entire locker room. It started out on a believable note; Hunter, Batista and Flair looking for trouble where there is none, and ended in a really inspiring face-off between this small cluster of heels and a large grouping of faces. There was the strong scent of change in the air during this segment, like the locker room finally realized it was time to stand up, which is something I haven't seen done quite this well since the days of the nWo. Here's hoping they learn from WCW's mistakes and follow through on it this time, rather than just constantly delaying the payoff.

Man, recapping the amount of backstage segments and interviews that went down on this show is really opening my eyes to how lacking this week really was in matches and actual physical segments. What's surprising about that is the fact that I didn't notice at the time of the initial airing. Most of the segments were good enough to distract me from the fact that they were taking time away from the matches themselves, and I'm usually the first to take notice of something like that.

So yeah, another set of promos followed that set of backstage segments up. Edge kicked it straight through the uprights with his first true full-heel promo in years, giving a piece of his mind to anybody willing to listen. I'm glad to see them keeping away from the comical character Edge portrayed the last time he was a heel, as no matter how great he was in that role it wouldn't have worked this far up the card. Take Triple H for instance; as the leader of DX he was on the upper crust of the midcard at best. Once he dropped the stable and became "The Game," he almost immediately cracked the main event. Now he's established enough to go back to the comedy from time to time, because we all know he's just an inch away from turning back into the deadly-serious man that dominated the main event for so long. Rocky did the same thing. So did Mick Foley. So, to a lesser extent, did Austin. Don't get me wrong now, I'm not implying that Edge could be the next Rock, Hunter or Stone Cold... I'm just saying he's taking all the right actions to follow in their footsteps. Anyway, long story short, great promo. One of his best to date.

Pity Shawn Michaels couldn't follow it up with more of the same. The amount of cheese and sugar-coating in that speech was enough to turn even the most steadfast of stomachs. Granted, it was necessary to give him the opportunity to explain his absence, but man... could they have maybe given him somewhere to go with it? No "I'll be back and when I am, Edge better watch his ass," nothing like "I respect Hunter for defeating me at Taboo Tuesday, but when I return I'll be gunning for him again." Instead we got a pandering, lame, stilted speech about how the fans are so motivational, inspiring, wonderful, whatever. Shawn's been pure gold since coming back a couple years ago, but this was not his finest hour and it makes me yearn for a heel turn, pronto. I want to smell the venom on his words, not the sticky sweetness.

I didn't care for the Batista / Maven bit, surprise surprise. The buildup was decent enough, although these impromptu matches are starting to get a little old, but the match itself was totally counterproductive and unnecessary. Crushing Maven in the ring isn't going to do anything to improve Batista's image, since he's dominated much bigger names in the past, and it's only going to reinforce the initial Tough Enough champion's perception as a perennial loser. The ongoing coalition of the faces was nice to see continuing throughout the program, though, and I guess that was the real reason for this matchup. Basically, Maven looked like a complete moron here for bitch slapping Evolution's monster, getting his ass handed to him in a series of small paper cups in the ring, stealing a win unconvincingly, then relying on the entire locker room to bail him out when said monster came looking for revenge.

Oh man, then they followed it up with that horrible Gene Snitsky / William Regal match. Once again, Regal's thrown into a situation where he doesn't look completely inept, since he never recovered from the rookie's blindside assault, but I'm getting really tired of seeing the Brit on his back at the end of a match. They had such a great opportunity with him earlier this year, it's just beyond my understanding how it could have been botched this badly.

Snitsky then proceeded to cut the latest in a series of unapologetically bad promos, right there in the middle of the ring. I'm seriously missing the joke with this guy. I realize that a lot of his supposed attraction is in just how bad his speeches really are, and that there's a certain camp appeal to that, but... damn, I mean he's not even doing this on purpose. He was glaringly bad on this show, following all that unbelievably good backstage action and that outstanding Edge promo, and I can't enjoy something so absurdly putrid. Additionally, the guy's just scary to look at, what with that enormous goatee, the thinning, near-bald spot near the back of his head, the body that's so big you're just waiting for a muscle to graphically pop out of his arm and land on the mat during a match, and those teeth. Oh man, those teeth. Go back and look at his top row of chompers during this segment... it looks like he's wearing a pair of dentures over top of his real teeth. I kept waiting for him to accidentally spit them out.

Finally, we wrapped things up with the much-ballyhooed main event rematch between Ric Flair and Randy Orton, with Orton's World Title future at stake. Flair was bouncing all over the place in an attempt to further get Orton over as the real deal, and for a decent part of the fight the younger star kept up. Bits and pieces of this reminded me of Flair's matches with a young Barry Windham or a younger Sting, where he put them over as hungrier than he could ever be, but just as I would start to get swept away by the memories, something would happen to snap me back to the present. Orton would lose his wind and they'd need to bide their time until he was ready to go again. Flair would get caught blatantly feeding his cheek to the younger challenger for a tide-turning punch when Orton didn't quite get there in time. Orton would forget to sell a leg, think about it and then realize he should be in pain. There were half a dozen moments I noted where Randy didn't have an offensive plan of attack and had to fall back on throwing Flair over his head in a backdrop. They set out to tell a really nice story in this one, but the various missteps made it difficult to completely enjoy. Orton's made major progress since debuting, no doubt about it, but I still don't think he's ready for the role they've opened up for him just yet. He's able to hold his own in a spot match, but he still struggles when it comes to merging that skill with the ability to tell stories on the mat.

Post match, the faces finally say enough's enough, corner Triple H and give him the on-screen beating he's had coming for YEARS. It's a great feeling to see the nice guys emerging triumphant once in a while, especially when they've been the whipping boys of RAW for such a long time. It's not something I'd want to see week-in and week-out, but it was tremendously successful as a surprise closing for this week.

It was great to see the bookers concentrating on a single-episode storyline this episode, rather than just another chapter in an epic, six-month-long saga. It was really enjoyable to have an opening, a climax and a conclusion all within the confines of a single two-hour program for a change, and the happy ending left me with a great, upbeat feeling. The writing of the big picture was fantastic this week, and though a few segments struggled the whole story was much more solid than I'm used to seeing. I'll give this a thumbs up, although it could've been a whole lot more if Flair / Orton and Jericho / Benjamin had come through a little stronger.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

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