By Will Pruett
Television has gone through a revolution in the last 15 years. While some has gone for the lowest common denominator (non-Total Divas reality TV, Impact Wrestling, etc) and made a mockery of the medium, some has transcended what was previously believed about the art form. The genre of prestige television has come into existence and I’m personally grateful for it. This week, I want to look at prestige television, wrestling, and if wrestling has evolved the genre.
First we have to ask what is the prestige television equivalent for wrestling? I don’t believe it’s a foreign/alternate language wrestling show. We all have a friend who got super into French Netflix shows and won’t shut up about them. They’re the friend who watches every NJPW show and considers you a dumbass for not. I also wouldn’t say only major shows count. NXT Takeovers are amazing, but the weekly television show is often less exciting than watching paint dry.
The closest thing to prestige television I’ve seen in professional wrestling is the one-off tournaments WWE has produced for WWE Network. We’ve seen two of them thus far and a third (this time with women!) isn’t far behind. These tournaments have a ton in common with modern prestige television:
- They’re limited. Game of Thrones has ten episode seasons (except for this year). Breaking Bad only had five seasons in it. WWE’s tournaments only have a few episodes. They can only last as long as the tournament is scheduled to go.
- They have a self-contained universe. This is really important. There are rules the worlds in these television shows function by and those rules are not broken. Look at WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament to see how simple, but complete the rules of the universe are. Pete Dunne broke those rules and was able to become a top level heel.
- There is a seriousness in tone. Prestige television famously lacks a funny bone. While this is starting to change, there’s no doubt Mad Men exemplified self-importance. These WWE tournaments don’t have much room for jokes. There aren’t any weird non-serious moments that cause second takes. There are wins and losses and they matter.
For WWE, much of what gives these tournaments their quality is structure. WWE ignores their own structure so often on Raw and Smackdown, it now doesn’t seem to exist. In these tournaments, we find WWE following a narrative formula. While this may seem to constrict what WWE could do, the structure offers them even more creative opportunities.
When have we ever seen a story about an older wrestler seeking one last moment like Brian Kendrick’s in the CWC? Has anything been as simple, but effective, as Tyler Bate’s ascension to the WWE UK Championship? Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi was a simple underdog story, but arguably the most effective WWE match of the last year.
This rigid structure gives WWE a box to create in. When they limit what they can do, what they do is better.
Next week: Fixing 205 Live and how WWE broke their Cruiserweight Division after a great start.
This week’s essential viewing:
For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.
Io Shirai vs. Shanna from June 6, 2016 – I’m going far outside of the past week here, but the past seven days haven’t produced wrestling I have considered essential. In between keeping up with the week in wrestles, I’ve found myself on a Io Shirai kick. This happened to be the first match of hers I watched this week. From the beginning you can tell how skilled she is as a performer. She’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, regardless of gender. It’s worth subscribing to Stardom World to see her back catalog of work.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins from WWE Raw (May 29, 2017) – While I currently find both of these characters difficult to emotionally connect to, in the ring they are still great. What I enjoyed about this match was the timing they seemed to have with each other. There’s a great chemistry to Reigns and Rollins when they wrestle and it’s worth watching every time. Rollins jumping into Superman Punches was a thing of beauty here.
Pete Dunne vs. Mark Haskins vs. Mark Andrews from PROGRESS Chapter 48: Bang The Drum (May 14, 2017) – If you’ve enjoyed Pete Dunne in WWE, you’ll greatly enjoy his efforts in this non-stop triple threat match from a couple weeks back. This match is pure energy from beginning to end and should totally be seen.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
Netflix’s GLOW trailer – Okay, this is only tangentially in wrestling, but I believe it still counts. Hell, it’s even relevant to this week’s main essay topic in a way. This looks like a fun dive into 1980s wrestling stereotypes. I’m also a sucked for Alison Brie in basically any show. I’m counting down the days until June 23.
What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:
“Requiem” from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen – This is a beautiful and complicated song that had me crying as I drove from Los Angeles to Orange County this week. There’s a mournful spirit to it, but it refuses to mourn. It confronts a ton of the complicated feelings those around someone who has taken their own life have to deal with. It may seem like a downer as you read it, but Laura Dreyfuss’ soaring vocals make this a pleasurable listen. Check it out!
Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at email@example.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!
Feedback from my first week doing this has been really fun to wade through. Thanks to everyone writing in! Keep it up!
Ender B emailed some very kind feedback, including this:
“My daughter, just barely 3, loves Charlotte, Bailey, Banks, and Bliss. I’ve been working really hard to introduce her to powerful, talented, hard-working women early on. I owe a lot of that to wrestling, believe it or not.”
I write a ton about representation mattering for this very reason. I have a young niece who watches WWE. One day, I hope to have a child that watches with me. Wrestling is a superhero story where you can go and watch the heroes save the world live in an arena just like on television. It’s magical. I’m happy to see more strong women amongst those heroes and will continue to push further.
“Juggalo Steve” offered his most assuredly awkwardly face-painted voice to the conversation saying:
“Small doses of you are irritating enough. This is the most “must skip” item this site has ever turned out. It might be enough to make me dump visiting the site for a while in hopes that numbers dwindle until your awful, blatantly dishonest, one-sided SJW garbage is gone.”
As far as must-skip items, Jason used to post individual wrestlers birthdays as stories. Those were the epitome of must-skip. I always laugh at the accusation of my clearly marked editorials being one-sided. Of course they are. It’s my side. I have no responsibility to present another argument for any reason but obliterating it, which I’m about to do. Finally, SJW, or Social Justice Warrior still sounds more badass to me than insulting. It makes me think of Ultimate Warrior, but without his blatant homophobia, racism, ableism, and the other generally awful portions of his personality.
Russell kindly commented
“An MFA in Drama? I knew there was a reason I enjoy your point of view, Will. Keep up the good work.”
Well, Russell, I’ve always believed the entire point of having a terminal degree in my field was flaunting it. Since I no longer work in academia and can no longer place it pretentiously in my email signature, I have to occasionally mention it while talking about professional wrestling. Thanks for giving me the chance to do so this week.
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
This week’s wrestling reading:
From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.
We’re Done Here:
And thus ends another week! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with names, ideas, or thoughts after last week. I’m settling into a fun rhythm here and I hope you’re all enjoying it. Today, I’ll leave you with the wise words of troubled fictional character Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.