Chris Benoit and Edge got the ball rolling this week, immediately boosting my anticipation and casually reminding me of the great set of matches Benoit had put on with Edge and Christian over the last couple of weeks. The crowd felt a little blown out from the preceding Smackdown taping, but it didn't take long for Edge and the Wolverine to grab their attention and start them buzzing once again here. Unfortunately, once they did reawaken the slumbering NYC audience, it was just about time to roll out of the ring and brawl backstage to a no-decision. I guess I can understand the idea that this match shouldn't be going to a definitive conclusion with their showdown at Backlash just around the corner, but surely there were better options than this. It was particularly confusing that the ref decided to throw his arms up in the air and call for help, rather than just letting them settle their differences backstage, since we've seen dozens upon dozens of similar predicaments end that way in the past, both on RAW and on PPV without help arriving to pull the combatants apart. Benoit's arm was noticeably less of an issue here, which is disappointing, because it had become such a great centerpiece during his last two matches, but I guess they don't need the additional drama for a match that's already shaping up to be pretty dramatic, based off of the gimmick alone. A hot start and a quick let-down.
The Lita / Trish segment would've bombed entirely if not for the insane smarktitude of the New York audience and their brutal anti-Lita chants that constantly had me craning my neck (a totally effective subliminal technique) to try to figure out what exactly they were saying. The Natural Born Killers vibe I thought I was picking up with Lita and Kane last week was completely missing here, with Lita shifting back over into her trite "smug, badass chick" face act and Kane filling the role of the big, dumb big monster who gives chase to every fleeing female within eyeshot. Neither one of these girls knew what to do when the crowd took control of the segment, much like Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX, and were understandably nervous about the situation. They handled it as best they could, trudging forward with the original plan and looking really stupid in the process, as Trish tried to insinuate they were booing her and Lita's big statements were met with dead silence or boos.
And then Kane came out, prompting Lita to take Trish down (but not out) with her crutch and the women's champ to lead what has to have been the slowest high-speed pursuit since OJ and his white bronco. And! And! As if the segment hadn't already shot straight to hell, Viscera then arrived to kick off what looks to be a fresh feud for Kane. I guess the big red machine's fourth annual "WHY THE FUCK AM I WATCHING THIS" feud is upon us already. I mean... Kane vs. Viscera?! Are you serious? Is the promotion's ultimate goal still to entertain the fans?
But the glory wasn't finished just yet! We, the lucky home viewers, were then whisked away backstage to witness Viscera putting the moves on an obviously uninterested Trish. Wow. Just... wow. This went on for what felt like an eternity, nearly turned Trish face just from the sympathy of it all, and was really, really awkward. In a bad way. As if there's a good kind of awkward.
The tag title match was on next, in a futile attempt to rescue a show that was already several minutes into a full tailspin, and didn't manage to accomplish much. Tajiri and Regal didn't look comfortable with the fresh recruits, the storyline that led to their introduction was tacked on at the last possible moment and the new team's gimmick's been done to death. Nothing totally off-putting here, really, but nothing worth getting worked up over and certainly not anything that was going to single-handedly turn the show around. The Heartthrobs have a little more personality than we'll usually get out of somebody right out of the minors, but they've got nothing to set them apart in the ring. They're like a weird mesh of Too Much, (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor's homophobic pre-gangsta gimmick) II Cool and Three Count (I swear, I didn't pick three teams with numbers in the first half of their names on purpose), without the same capabilities in the ring. Even Three Count's much-maligned original leader, Evan Karagias, had a better in-ring game than these two.
Hassan vs. Michaels was a paint-by-the-numbers affair and that isn't enough to get me excited about their upcoming tag team match for America. Muhammad's moveset is slowly expanding, which is nice to see, but this is something that should've been there before his big debut, not something that should be just now arriving, several months in. Of course, this one couldn't possibly have ended cleanly, so Daivari causes the DQ for little or no reason and the beatdown commences as the entire crowd simultaneously stands and looks at the entryway, expecting Hogan's imminent arrival. Sure enough, after what must've been deemed as appropriate dramatic tension, "Real American" finally blared across the speakers and the red and yellow goblin was there in living color. Funny, you'd think a guy who's concerned about his future tag team partner's health might be in a little bit of a hurry to get to the ring and stop his lynching, but not Hogan. Not only did he move at a Nash-esque pace on his way to the ring, but he actually took the time to pose and cup his ear, soaking up every last bit of adulation before turning his attention to the ring.
I'm sorry, I just couldn't get into this whole schpeel again. About two years ago, in the build to Hogan's match with Vince at WrestleMania XIX, (I believe) Hogan showed up on Smackdown and got a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. Despite my own opinion about Hogan as a man, I thought it was a legitimately cool, memorable moment seeing as how it was the big man's last run with the company. I bought into the retro appeal of it, the genuine adoration the audience had for him, the tears that were welling up in his eyes. I loved the moment. Guess what... it's twenty six months later, and he's back for his latest farewell tour. Remember the build to his match at WrestleMania VIII? I do. I was there in person, and I distinctly remember the promos building up to it, where Hogan flat out said "this may very well be my last match." Vince even thanked the Hulkster on behalf of himself, his family and the fans as a whole. That was thirteen years ago, and they must've realized what a big appeal "one more match" had, even then. I've bought that old line time after time after time, and this time I'm just not feeling anything any more. I don't care if it really is Hogan's last run, I've said so many goodbyes to the man over the years that I'm pretty much deadened to the idea of a world without Hulkamania. Sure, it was cool seeing HBK completely flip out in the ring, to see these two company-supporting legends in the ring together for the first time, but it wasn't anything I'd deem to be worthy of the five solid minutes of posing and celebrating that followed. Did these two just win individual World Titles? Did they cure cancer? Did they save the world? So why were we treated to such an elaborate celebration?
Straight up, I'm through buying into this shit. Hogan can come and go as he pleases for all I care, he's killed the importance of his own farewell tour by hanging on well beyond the point of no return. Why would I be interested in watching a match that features a man who needs a weightlifting belt to keep his gut in check, a bionic knee to keep from completely collapsing in the entryway and a bandana to mask his leathery, wrinkled, bald scalp?
Chris Masters jumped the shark in his opening vignette. I think that's some kind of record. He hadn't even debuted yet and already his best days were behind him. I got nothing out of the clicheed "Masterlock Challenge" last night, and I still think the character sucks, the finisher sucks and the angle sucks. Why should I be pulling any punches?
Not even Chris Jericho and Shelton Benjamin could get it together last night, as Jericho belted out a super-corny rendition of "Shelton Benjamin is a Little Bitch" that initially drew a smile but eventually overstayed its welcome and made the whole segment feel like a bad joke. Even Benjamin was grinning like a gimp while Y2J was trying to insult him, which speaks volumes about how silly the idea was to begin with. The first half of their interaction in the Highlight Reel last week was very forced and uncomfortable, while the second half did a complete about-face and came across as really interesting and compelling. This week's segment was entirely forced and uncomfortable. It feels like they're letting two friends work together and they're both too timid to really cut loose on each other.
I was surprised to see Vince out there, strutting to the ring no less, although I did notice the long cut-away the cameras pulled when he got to the ring steps. It was almost long enough to make me think something had gone wrong again and he'd be cutting his promo from the floor. Christian and Tomko fared remarkably well opposite McMahon, who's seemed to make a habit out of imposing himself on rising midcarders over the last few years, and Tyson even pulled out some great comedic timing, frantically covering up Christian's mouth after Vince threatened to make him "Captain Unemployed." This was harmless fun, and probably the only wholly entertaining segment of the evening.
And, to cap things off, here comes that anticipated singles match between JR and Triple H. Hey, remember how I harped on a few paragraphs back about hating the Hogan return because we've seen it half a dozen times before? I'd make that same comparison to JR in the ring, except seeing the Oklahoman in the squared circle has NEVER been entertaining. The prospect of JR in action has always been a groan-inducing proposition, but up until this point we'd always been given some sort of last-minute reprieve or the beating has been kept short. This week, for whatever reason, we were 'treated' to an elongated beating, a blade job that I vocally predicted a full minute before it actually happened, the in-ring heroics of Jerry Lawler and a Batista run-in that could serve as a beautiful illustration of the term "anticlimactic" in any number of dictionaries. I don't even know where to begin.
Jim Ross should never be an active competitor in the ring. That much should be obvious. You'd think that, after a career comprised entirely of one-sided beatings, he'd manage to figure out how to fall down, bleed and grimace convincingly. Nope. Likewise, in the last three years, Jerry Lawler has gone over Al Snow, Raven and Val Venis, just to name a few, but when he went out to the ring to defend his buddy, Triple H tossed him out as an afterthought. I'm not bent out of shape about the King being treated as an over-the-hill old fart so much as I am pissed that Hunter's the only one on the show who's been able to handle him as such.
I'm going to quit before I get much more long winded... just rest assured that I'm about as disappointed in this week's RAW as I've ever been. At least the Katie Vick episode had a few matches worth watching before the infamous corpse-screwing. This episode didn't have even that mild luxury. Easily one of the most lackluster programs I've ever witnessed, which is made twice as sick when you realize they wasted one of the hottest crowds in the country in the holy land of Madison Square Garden. This should've been special, and it was a self-indulgent, mindless pile of steaming bullshit.
Overall Score: 1.4