By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
Two weeks ago, WWE broke out an old playbook to get Roman Reigns over. It was a little dusty, labelled “do not open”, and it was sealed with deteriorating duct tape. On the inside cover, was a photo of Steve Austin and Vince McMahon the night after WrestleMania XIV. WWE decided to open up (and slightly modify) the Austin playbook after the Hogan and Cena playbooks came up short for Roman. It worked.
Last night on Raw, WWE attempted to pull another page out of this book and the effect was less than stellar. While a two night Hail Mary worked to get Roman to the WWE Championship and accepted in a town renowned for rejecting him, the whole playbook didn’t need to be opened. Last night reenforced a point I’ve often tried to make: The Attitude Era was not good. Sure, the characters were over and WWE was ahead of the curve pop culturally, but the storytelling was fairly weak. This week, we saw a weak Attitude Era-esque story in a modern context and it was quite bad.
Vince McMahon opened up Raw with all the bravado of a 70 year old man trying to pretend he’s 45 again. He called out Reigns and began running down his family. This was the first time things got weird. Vince McMahon seemed to be celebrating the racial stereotypes he (and the entire wrestling industry) used to force on minority performers. He said Reigns was “just one generation away from a bone in your nose” and I was suddenly uncomfortable. It’s one thing for wrestling to have the past it does. We all know racism was big in wrestling back in the day, but it should be more progressive now. Was McMahon threatening to force racist stereotypes onto Reigns?
Reigns became enraged about threats of racial stereotyping and lightly pushed McMahon, causing McMahon to groan “my neck”. This was another place where the playbook failed them. When Austin was beating up a just-over-50 McMahon, it was entertaining. When Roman Reigns is laying his hands on a senior citizen without any physical provocation, it feels wrong. Stephanie then demanded her music be played so she could run down and help her father (one cannot run to the ring without first yelling at the sound guy to play their music). This just kept getting weirder.
Stephanie brought cops, who proceeded to arrest Vince. Why? I’m still not sure. This was getting more absurd by the minute.
Later in the night, Vince was released on bail and refused to talk with intrepid report Renee Young outside the police station. Vince would then return in the final moment of Raw to tell Roman Reigns he’d be refereeing Reigns vs. Sheamus for the WWE Championship next week on Raw.
This was one long Attitude Era-style angle. It was eye-rollingly bad in 1998, but the characters were so exciting it didn’t matter. As 2015 draws to a close and 2016 begins, WWE’s inept storytelling process is more apparent than ever. Sure, Reigns was cheered two weeks ago, but this week had him assaulting a 70 year old racist. What did this have to do with professional wrestling? I’ve said it since Survivor Series and I’ll continue saying it: The WWE storytelling universe is broken. Tonight is further proof of it.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Seriously, with McMahon threatening to racially stereotype Roman Reigns, though. WWE should be trying to avoid and/or make up for their racist history. They shouldn’t be embracing it in any way. This is in absurdly poor taste, much like the Reid Flair comments from a few weeks ago.
– John Cena’s return was the true highlight of this show. The crowd’s relationship with him continues to be amazing. Sure, they sing “John Cena sucks” and throw his shirt back, but it’s all part of the bit. They play into it just like he does. If there is a more compelling act in WWE right now, I must be regularly missing it. Cena’s promo was excellent. His presence made the show better. WWE needs him in a bad way.
– Kevin Owens had a really good night on Raw. His loss to Neville was played off like a fluke, thus he wasn’t harmed. His post-match attack on Neville made him look like a world beater. His brawls with Dean Ambrose had me more excited for the continuation of their feud than I’ve been in a long while. The Owens character has been on a positive trajectory since losing the Intercontinental Championship.
– Sasha Banks returning to the arena where she had the best wrestling match of 2015 with Bayley should have been better. Her match with Becky Lynch had some fun moments, but ultimately failed at telling a good story. Their timing wasn’t quite right. It lagged sometimes. The ending was great, but the majority of the match wasn’t. I’m all about giving the talented women time to work on Raw, but why not establish them as characters first? Who is Becky Lynch?
– Look at the long line of enhancement talents being used to get over the new generation of NXT women over the last few months. WWE could use some women in enhancement roles. Establish compelling characters, then put them together.
– The New Day was really effective on this show. They’re still playing against type by being antagonists, but it works. They’re antagonists fans want to cheer because they were protagonists fans wanted to boo. What was I saying about the universe being broken?
– Poor Sin Cara. The mask is cursed.
– I didn’t see it, but did Big Show really become the first guy to enter the Royal Rumble? One of the anchors who helped drag last year’s Rumble to being the worst in history is back again! Can he make it terrible two years in a row?
– The League of Nations vs. Reigns’ Family filled time in an admirable way.
– Cena vs. Alberto Del Rio for the United States Championship felt like every Cena and Del Rio match before it. It’s good enough to enjoy, but not good enough to want to see again. Cena’s disappearing act at the end to make way for Reigns was abrupt. I know Reigns is the star they’re building now, but Cena is obviously the guy more people care about.
– Vince repeating “Happy New Year, pal” as Raw went off the air had me dreading 2016.
This was not a good episode of Raw. WWE is insistent on using a broken formula to make their top star and the cracks are already showing. Vince McMahon has already overstayed his welcome. As I’ve said for weeks and repeated when Reigns had his big night two weeks ago: there is not a quick fix for WWE right now. The universe is broken.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts, hit me up with them! Check the Twitter twitter.com/itswilltime or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.