Monday, November 22, 2004

WWE RAW Review: 11/22/04

RAW's been running with an awful lot of momentum this month, transitioning nicely from the big locker room revolt last month to the rotating roster of GMs after Survivor Series very nicely. They've not only maintained my interest in the shows themselves, but they've kept me stoked for the next episode almost unanimously for the last quarter of 2004. Considering the state of affairs the show was in after Summerslam, with Orton abruptly turning face and struggling his way through a rough time with the fans, I think that's one hell of an impressive correction. I liked what they had cooking on the back burner with Batista's slow turn, Maven's obvious indecision and Eric Bischoff's new sense of authority, and I liked what they had cooking on the front burner with Benoit, Jericho, Orton and Maven's motion to remove Evolution from power. The writing's been outstanding all month long, the characters are starting to resemble actual people and not puppets who memorize a line or two, and the action hasn't suffered an unrecoverable setback as a result. It's been seeming like the brains behind RAW have finally "got it" (to paraphrase an old WWF Super Bowl ad from several years back) and I've loved seeing things starting to come together.

This week's show looked like it was set to continue that trend right from the opening segment, as I watched with awe at the federation's satire of the Terrell Owens / Desperate Housewives debate from last week's Monday Night Football pregame show. I say I watched with awe, because every single time Vince & company try to get witty with a comedy segment like this, it seems to come across as heavy handed, preachy, hypocritical and just overwhelmingly stupid. This segment was none of those things... dare I say it, I was actually responding the punchlines. It's very rare that I'll say this about a pre-taped, overwritten backstage vignette that's trying to get Vince over as a legitimately funny guy, so mark today in your calendar. That was funny as hell, and I laughed my ass off.

As if I didn't think I was already in some sort of bizarro-WWE after that genuinely funny opening segment, Christ Benoit continued my sensation of vertigo by strolling out to the ramp, acknowledging the live crowd(!) and cutting a great, confident, to-the-point promo without a hint of hesitation. This was seriously like watching a completely different guy, that's how uncharacteristically collected he was out there during his one and only live promo as acting GM. I was hoping for more of a technical wrestling-focused program during the Crippler's week in charge, but the story they went with to avoid it made sense (hanging a blank sheet of paper on his door and allowing the roster to sign their own matches is about perfect for his character, actually, since he's never had any interest in making matches and stipulations that aren't his own) and he wrote himself into a cage match with Triple H for the World Title at the end of the show, so we were basically guaranteed to have a super hot main event. In theory, that is. Great opening segment all the same, that served to get the crowd off their seats and to reveal that Benoit has more than a passing knowledge of the English language.

Maven and Snitsky then rushed out to the ring in the opening bout of the evening, quickly deflating the high the crowd was riding from Benoit's main event announcement. This wasn't overwhelmingly bad, and to be honest it was actually better than I expected considering the participants, but it wasn't anything I'd put on a "best of RAW 2004" comp, either. The bloodshot eye and deep gash under the eyelid actually goes a long way toward giving Snitsky some personality, much in the same way Benoit's missing tooth and Sabu's crisscrossing scars helped them to develop characters for themselves without a lot of time on the mic. It's too bad that the eye will eventually heal, because legit scars like that are noticeably absent in the federation today, where everybody looks like He-Man and the most variety you can hope for in the young guys are some interesting new tattoos. After a week of establishing himself in the spotlight, Maven was back to his old tricks here, punching, dropkicking, backdropping and, uh... punching some more. He's still blander than a rice cake.

I loved the opening tensions between Batista and Triple H, because they'd done such a good job of building the big man's character over the last few months and it was finally starting to look like they were going to move him forward from the background and take advantage of all the seeds he'd been planting. By the second or third segment focusing on the tensions flaring in Evolution, though, I knew something was up. It was just overkill, and I was disgusted to see them toss away such a promising new character development in favor of a quick swerve and an in-ring ego stroke. Sure, they tossed in that little line at the end of the show (Triple H muttering "You still should've beat Jericho") to keep the coals warm should they need to revisit this storyline again in the near future, but it was already too little, too late. They had that crowd right where they wanted them and then threw it away for a segment so corny and cheap it seriously reminded me of the constant nWo "swerves" that all but killed the stable dead in the late 90s. All that was missing was Sting descending from the ceiling and a downpour of cups, papers and garbage in the center of the ring.

These Simon Dean segments are really starting to grate on me. The character's so one-dimensional that live crowds have begun to turn on it, and I don't mean the "whoah, I want to see this guy's ass whipped" kind of good heat. They've turned on him because they just don't want to see him any more, and I can't say I blame them. He's got a gimmick that's, basically, "I don't like fat people so now I will fight fat people for your amusement." That's IT. When he's not aimlessly insulting the audience, Dean's digging for cheap heat for all he's worth by employing every single generic heel tactic in the book. Powder in the eyes? Check. Assault from behind with a gimmicky weapon? Check. Weak, eardrum-wrecking entrance music? Check. I think all he's waiting for is a face to throw him into a birthday cake so we can complete the checklist.

I kind of enjoyed the Batista / Jericho match we got near the end of that first hour, because it served a couple purposes. For one, it demonstrated how dangerous Batista can be when enraged, since he took almost unanimous control of this match right from the opening bell and only let up when he was pried from Y2J's stunned, folded body in the corner of the ring. However, it also told a story or two about Triple H's psyche. Even if this whole dissolution of Evolution ordeal hadn't turned out to be nothing more than a ruse, Hunter would've come out as manipulative at worst, ingenious at best. He knows he's going to have to defend his title against Chris Jericho at least once in the coming weeks, and by riling Batista up before his match, he almost guaranteed himself an opponent who won't be 100% when they meet for the Heavyweight Title. This worked nicely for Batista's continuing story, and didn't even slow Jericho down all that much since he never had a chance to get the ball rolling after being taken by surprise right out of the gates. This was just long enough to say what it needed to say, which is more of a compliment than I can pay a lot of the matches taking place this month.

Coach vs. Rhyno was intriguing, since Coach actually stood up like a man for once and made a fight out of it before being distracted by the ref like a 'tard and taking a gore for his troubles. I'm liking this series of "beat down on Coach" segments, because it's something I can believe the guys in charge would get a kick out of and it hasn't been totally run through the ground yet. Bischoff isn't in the arena, so the faces are getting a rise out of demoralizing and obliterating his assistant, who also just happens to be a big-headed assface that thinks way too highly of himself. It's fun in the same way the Pete Rose / Kane segments at WrestleMania were fun, and like the previous segment it didn't take too long to get to the point.

I wish I could say we went three for three in the "got to the point and got out" department, but the Lita / Trish / Molly match kind of blew that idea all to hell. This was depressing more than anything, because the division is so totally dry and emotionless right now, just over a year removed from the height of its excellence. Lita didn't look as bad as usual here, but there was no emotion.

The six man never got time to develop, and I was surprised when the hot tag came at about the three minute mark. How much pain can you really be in after two minutes' worth of punishment? I like these teams, and they do seem to have good chemistry together, but this was just a nothing match that didn't mean anything to anyone. Benjamin an Conway, in particular, looked very good out there. If and when we get the La Resistance split and Rob Conway push I'm eagerly anticipating, that face-off has great potential as a midcard show stealer. They had a good thing going with a few good short, impact-filled matches earlier in the show and were just getting carried away at this point. This should've been twice as long.

Finally, after all the waiting and all the hooplah, Benoit marched out to the ring to a wild, eager reception and waited... and waited... and waited for Triple H to arrive. Finally, we cut to backstage in time to see Batista shuffling out of the Evolution locker room, Hunter flattened on the floor and VAL VENIS WITH NO HAIR. I thought maybe Kane and Lita's baby had grown up in a hurry, but nope... that was Val. Anyway. This setup was painfully obvious, and if Benoit's character had even an ounce of brains in his head, he would've taken the opportunity to grab a mic, announce that the title can now change hands on a count out, and rung the bell. He would've declared it a "last man standing match," rung the bell and let the refs backstage count to ten. He would've done SOMETHING to call Hunter's bluff and forced him to reveal that it was all a ruse because he's done this a dozen times in the past.

But no, rather than acting like a cynic, Benoit takes everything at face value, runs backstage and takes Ric Flair's word that Hunter is out cold. While there, however, he runs into Edge and the two exchange words, leading to a cage match between the recent enemies. This wasn't a bad match at all, but considering the venom that's been spraying between these guys in recent weeks, you'd think it would've been a lot more personal, not to mention a lot tougher to watch. Instead of a punishing, brutal war in the steel enclosure, they wrestled a solid match with a few traces of anger and frustration thrown in as an aside. Benoit was caught trying to escape the catch, not five minutes after he promised to torture his opponent in the cage, while Edge didn't seem to have anything to prove. I loved the spots with the baseball slides into the steel mesh, and they made for some awesome visuals, but the obvious hatred I was looking for wasn't there. I wish they'd bring back the blue bar cages, too, because slamming somebody into a mesh fence that swings away from the ring with a blatant amount of give just doesn't have the same impact as throwing somebody into a set of thick, immobile bars. A good match, really, with an ending I'm indifferent towards (it put Benoit over as both a seasoned veteran with great ring awareness and a coward, running away from the fight) and hopeless expectations to live up to after the Hunter / Benoit championship match we'd been promised all night long.

And I already covered the Hunter / Batista stare-down earlier in the writeup.

This wasn't as horrible a show as I'd remembered, but it wasn't really all that good at the same time. I liked the novel idea of cutting a match short after it had finished telling its story, right up until they tried to do it four times in a row. I loved the harsh words exchanged between Batista and Triple H, right up until I realized it was only heading to a disappointing swerve. And I really adored the idea of a Benoit / Hunter cage match, even if Hunter took it cleanly, right up until they yanked it away from us and gave us Edge in HHH's spot. This was an above-average showing, despite all the broken promises and wasted potential, but not by much.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.4

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