Monday, May 23, 2005

WWE RAW Review: 05/23/05

I was hoping WWE would perform some sort of minor miracle this week, delivering an outstanding episode for my final RAW Review contribution, but some dreams are meant to be left unfulfilled. RAW's been on a skid all month long, it would seem, with the Gold Rush tournament actually losing momentum after the surprise elimination of Triple H in the first round and the staggeringly stupid Viscera face turn / push. With a World Title match already booked and a rematch of last week's disappointing Benjamin / Jericho vs. Hassan / Daivari tag match in the cards, as well, this week's episode looked to be an improvement. At least on paper, that is.

The airing opened up with an otherworldly heel promo from the newly-united tandem of Edge and Lita, where the two lovebirds took the time to tell us how envious we were of them as individuals, not to mention the copious amounts of sex they've been having together. The addition of Lita has really helped to round Edge out, at least momentarily, and to fill in some of the gaps in his character, but on her own the former queen of extreme is just dreadful as a heel on the stick. I have trouble buying anything she says, because she's never varying the tone of her voice or her own emotions... whether she's announcing to the world that she's pregnant and about to marry the love of her life or spitting out insult after insult at her scorned lover just after siding with another man, her words are always delivered with a dry, cocky monotone. Half of her lines and reactions to the crowd's chants felt like they were carefully scripted days in advance, rather than something she came up with on the spur of the moment, but that could've had more to do with their delivery than anything else. Her heel character is basically the same as her face character, she just wears darker clothes and makes out with a bad guy now. And, while that's something I've been preaching about for years now, (the constant altering of a character from top to bottom upon a change of allegiance) Lita just wasn't that interesting to begin with.

This whole thing just felt like one big, long insider barb at Matt Hardy, though, as Lita was careful to rarely mention Kane by name as her previous beau, and to leave the jabs and insults open for the audience to fill in on their own. That anonymity made me squirm a bit on one or two occasions, though, so I suppose it's mission accomplished on that front. I guess WWE's botched dozens of ready-made feuds that were dropped in their laps in the past, why not try to make a run of it this time?

I got a laugh out of Bischoff making such bizarre requests of his backstage intern between matches. "Hey, I've got a great idea... what I need is for you to miraculously produce a wreath made of barbed wire with the ECW logo printed on it. My segment's in little under an hour, so you're going to have to work fast." And the dude responds like it's no big hassle. Where, exactly, does one go to procure a barbed wire wreath at 9:15 on a Monday night? I think Home Depot is usually sold out by then.

Hassan and Daivari were next in line, challenging Shelton Benjamin in what became a handicap match due to Chris Jericho's late arrival. This was actually an improvement from last week's straight-up tag match, but that's not to say it was really all that good. Chris Jericho carried the load for the team last week, and in a side-by-side comparison I'd say Benjamin put in twice the effort with his showing this week. Daivari looked both confused and awkward in the ring, botching more than one spot, but Shelton was quick to cover for him and then march right into the next sequence as though nothing had happened. Seriously, Khosrow has some decent offensive maneuvers and good speed, but if he's messing up a simple irish whip or arm drag, I've got to question his game. Hassan's beginning to develop into a solid load-carrier for the team, though, especially so opposite somebody like Jericho or Benjamin, so maybe all his little buddy needs is some extra development time between the ropes. This wasn't great, but it accomplished everything it needed to without killing anyone's momentum. I like Hassan and Daivari in the tag division.

Damn, Jericho was stylin' upon his arrival in Green Bay. This "rockstar sellout" thing they seem to be doing with him is a decidedly different flavor than his usual heel act, so I'm interested in seeing where he goes with it. He's needed a big character shift for years now.

I was surprised to see the Richards / Masters feud blown off so quickly and so decisively. "The Masterpiece" has obviously been working on his moveset during the months this Masterlock Challenge thing has eaten up, as he displayed much more of a personality during his match against Richards than he had upon his debut not all that long ago. He's focusing more on a heavy-hitting big man style than before, with those nice back-to-back-to-back backbreakers (damn, that sounds like the name of an MC from the early 90s or something) and he actually had the crowd interested for the first minute, minute and a half of his match, but had lost them again by the time it wrapped up. This quickie could turn out to be a godsend for him, as Richards seemed to have built some momentum coming in and Masters simply crushed him here, surprising the live crowd.

Grenier vs. Jericho followed that, and was just terrible in every sense of the word. Grenier was all over the place, falling against his own momentum more than once and testing out new moves in bizarre places, (was there really a call for a human fucking torture rack in the middle of this match?!?) and Jericho wasn't at his finest, either. If they're serious about moving forward with this split of La Resistance, Grenier needs to either head back to OVW for another year or receive his walking papers. This guy's been on RAW for more than two years and still looks like he's trying to figure out the very basics of working a match by himself. The ability to sing in French shouldn't be your sole claim to fame on a wrestling program, and this kid hasn't progressed in the slightest since his debut.

Eric Bischoff was in the ring when we returned from the commercial (With his beautiful ECW wreath in place! The intern came through!) and wasted little time, diving headfirst into a diatribe about his hatred for the defunct promotion and his determination to obliterate their chances once again. And, as if the screenshot hyping this segment weren't strange enough, (Eric Bischoff standing next to a casket with the letters "ECW" printed on it, as the Undertaker's old theme music played... just think about seeing something like that on television five years ago) out stamped Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman to completely send my "holy shit" meter off the charts. The three heads of the biggest wrestling promotions of the '90s, all standing in the same ring together, chatting about the good ol' days on live TV. I never, ever thought I'd see that.

As with any Heyman promo where he's given something to dig his teeth into and really cut loose with, this was just phenomenal stuff. McMahon and Bischoff didn't even need to say anything once Paulie had a mic in his hands; their visible bewilderment was more than enough. I was just waiting for Bischoff's complete disdain for everything ECW to pay off with a wild, open-palmed slap in the face courtesy of Paul Heyman, especially when he wouldn't even look the guy in the face halfway through the segment, but I guess they're saving that for the PPV. The "mad scientist," as JR put it, can still captivate me like no other.

Unfortunately, the Benoit / Tajiri "ECW Plug Match" that followed didn't get much of a chance to use the momentum that the previous segment had established. I loved most of the big spots here, especially the insane amount of mist that coated the Wolverine's body and that sick transition from a standard crossface into one utilizing the singapore cane, but there wasn't enough time to space them out adequately to maximize their impact. This would've been an outstanding match, given another ten minutes, but as it was it felt extremely rushed and spotty.

The sick one-two punch of that Kane interview, followed by the Viscera / Maria / Lilian / Coach affair, was just brutal. No two ways about it, I've gotta paraphrase Matt Spence here; watching that stretch of RAW was "like being kicked repeatedly in the groin by a mule." Kane looks to be doubling up on the shitty feuds this year, if this promo was any indication. Hey, WWE writers! Come over here for a second and let me explain something for you. I'm not tuning in to watch a psychologically scarred, half-chrome-domed, deranged individual in red spandex go through every emotion in the dictionary, seated backstage in a forbodingly-lit locker room all his own. I'm here to watch some wrestling and, if necessary, some backstage skits to heighten my enjoyment of the eventual matches. Imagine if PRIDE tried to stick Cro Cop or Emelianenko into a setting like that. Somehow, I don't think the buyrates would go up.

The Viscera song and dance once again managed to drag some serious laughter out of me, in a bizarre "why am I still laughing at this" kind of way. I think I probably could have made it through the segment without a smile until JR came out of left field, shouting "King, he's dancing and eating at the SAME TIME" in a deadpan. Still, my amusement with just how unbelievably bad these things are has been anchored by the knowledge that they'll continue long past the point where they've stopped being funny.

The World Title match was nothing special, with Batista running out of things to do a couple of minutes in and Edge slowing the pace while in control a bit more than I'd have liked. It wasn't particularly bad, really, and it's nice to see new faces in the main event, but these guys didn't bring their A-Games and the match suffered. Near the end, just before the ref bump, outside interference and foreign objects, (the holy trinity of poor booking, if you will...) both guys seemed to catch a second wind and turn it up a bit, but by then it was a case of too little, too late. Flair holding his own against the two guys who had his number last week, not to mention the number one contender for the World Title, was a little odd, as was the way Edge was pinned cleanly in the center of the ring when the match finally concluded. Post-match, the ring emptied, Batista and Flair had a little pow wow, and Hunter returned from the unemployment line to swing a sledgehammer around like a man possessed. Oh yeah, and Flair turned heel again, demobilizing the Champ with a low blow while Trips had him distracted. After all the times you've seen him do it, how do you stand there in the ring with Ric Flair, completely oblivious to the fact that he's right at crotch level and only a wild muscle spasm away from literally busting your balls? C'mon, Dave, you were in Evolution for nearly two years... you've seen the guy work. You know better than that.

Wow, this feud sure feels fresher now that they took those three weeks off from one another. I thought the point was for Hunter to let RAW fail in his absence, then come crawling back to him so he could return triumphantly and carry it on his back once again, but apparently I got the wrong message. After seeing identical situations with Orton and Goldberg in the last year and a half alone, I'm having trouble getting excited for this same old "Hunter mad, Hunter smash with sledgehammer" business this time.

This week's RAW continued the trend of slow, steady improvement from last week, and while there are lots of areas in need of improvement, the general feel of the program is getting better once again. If they could just cut out those ridiculous segments with Viscera and Kane, release Sylvain Grenier's worthless ass and give Paul Heyman a forum to voice his concerns on a semi-weekly basis, this show could be outta sight. As is, it's just a step below average.

I guess it's only fitting that my last RAW writeup should end with an untouchable Hunter standing tall as the program fades to black. Thanks for the memories, guys, and take good care of yourselves.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.6

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