By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Look, it’s not that I don’t like what Roman Reigns and his cousins have been doing on WWE TV for what feels like one hundred million years now. The story is certainly worth the accolades it receives from most every end of the pro wrestling world. It’s been fun, intriguing, and a nice respite from what we’ve seen on pro wrestling TV – and especially WWE TV. There’s been a lot of good stuff in there between the happy accident with Samy Zayn, the rise of Jey Uso, and the undeniable attention Reigns receives each time he appears in front of a crowd.
But come on, man. Even when we replace “pro wrestling” with “sports entertainment,” and that sports entertainment actually doesn’t suck, there’s always a limit on how much we can take. It appears there aren’t a lot of people who have hit that limit quite yet, but color me someone who has. Word has it that the designated Bloodline segment that went down on Friday’s SmackDown went nearly double the allotted time it was given and clocked in at somewhere around 40 minutes. That’s more than a quarter of the show devoted to not wrestling. Call me crazy, but if I want to watch a pro wrestling television program, one of the things I’d hope to see is pro wrestling. At least some of the time? Maybe?
Again taking nothing away from how captivating Reigns and his crew has been, someone has to say this out loud, and since no one else is doing it, I’ll give it a shot: This is not great acting; this is great acting for pro wrestling TV. All these comments about how what the Bloodline is doing is cinema, tongue in cheek or not, have become grating. It’s not cinema. It’s not even a made-for-TV movie. It’s a pro wrestling angle that gets more time than any other pro wrestling angle has received on WWE TV in quite a while – if ever.
It’s also backed by – and don’t forget this, friends – television writers. Remember all those complaints that would surface from fans, insiders, and talent alike? They were based around the notion that WWE wasn’t hiring wrestling people to be part of its creative anymore and instead, the company was turning its attention toward bringing people who had television writing experience into the fold. It’s no wonder, then, that some quality story-driven television has been produced as a result of that initiative. And yet there’s only one problem.
Where’s the wrestling?
There’s no denying that part of pro wrestling’s appeal is the dirty little secret that it’s at least a second cousin – if not a first cousin – to a soap opera. For all of it to work, you have to have good wrestling, but you also have to have compelling drama. Some programs work because of great wrestling alone; some work because the story behind the wrestling is just so damn interesting. There are heroes. There are villains. There are anti-heroes. There are a myriad of characters in between. It’s like pro sports with more energy dedicated to telling the tale – or, for that matter, it’s like a tale being told that has pro sports as its nucleus. It’s Days Of Our Lives but athletes.
As such, the standard for things in the pro wrestling space that are otherwise lauded in separate industries is compromised. If you have wrestlers who can sprinkle some emotion and authenticity into their performances, they rise to the top. That doesn’t mean they are Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. It just means they know how to read lines better than the typical jock who is more concerned with how his pectoral muscle looks than he is with making a crowd believe he hates the guy standing across from him in a ring. Which is why I’ll say it again for the people in the back: The Bloodline saga isn’t great acting; it’s great acting for pro wrestling TV.
And that’s not specific to only WWE, either. The Adam Cole/MJF stuff on AEW television has been a lot of fun … but it’s also starting to be a little too much fun. MJF was a born entertainer, and he’s proven that time and again with his AEW work. Adam Cole, meanwhile, can hold his own when it comes to a pro wrestling angle standpoint. He’s not nearly as vanilla or unbelievable as some of his industry colleagues. That said, it might be time to turn a corner on wherever they’re going sooner than later. A milk chocolate bar is a great after-dinner snack; it’s not great as an entire meal. Much like the Bloodline presentation, it’d be best for them to get out before all that chocolate starts giving people cavities.
“Reigns told Jimmy to acknowledge him. The crowd booed. Jimmy stood there silent for a few seconds before telling Reigns he wouldn’t. The crowd cheered. Reigns was angry and threatened to attack Jimmy’s brother if Jimmy didn’t acknowledge Reigns as the Tribal Chief. The crowd chanted ‘No!’ Eventually, Reigns speared Jimmy.”
Wow. That sure popped off the page.
That’s not how it goes in live pro wrestling TV reviews. You watch a match. You describe the match. You give an opinion on the match. It’s real time. You don’t have the space to allow everything to sink in the way it can when you’re reviewing television that’s not pro wrestling. Take a look at a lot of the live reviews – including from myself – when these talking segments air. There is rarely substantial analysis. Instead, it’s a lot of “More good stuff from the Bloodline. We’re seemingly working our way toward Jey vs. Roman,” and that’s about it. For the most part, it’s fine, because, again, for the most part, pro wrestling stories are simple. Nobody is really asked to swim into deep waters when it comes to figuring out these things (and in some cases, if you tried, you’d be profoundly disappointed because pro wrestling stories have no problem leaving the holes poked in some details of some tales).
It should go without saying, then, that the bar for this kind of stuff is lowered when it comes to pro wrestling. Roman Reigns face-palming his cousins does not hold the same weight Bubbles’ drug addiction provided on The Wire. And yet, for some reason, so many people are still insisting the Bloodline is wickedly smart, deliciously layered storytelling that somehow marks a paradigm shift in how great acting can be in wrestling. How about Shawn Michaels throwing Marty Jannetty through a barber shop window? Or, hey: Remember when the Macho Man was pissed that Elizabeth was cozying up to Hulk Hogan? Those were effective stories. Did anyone argue for Dusty Rhodes receiving a best supporting actor nod after he cut that “son of a plumber man” promo?
Actually, promos are important here, too. Because there’s a distinction. A promo and a segment are two different things. The former is rooted in pro wrestling history and tradition. A guy or two talking; someone holding a mic. The latter feels like a 12-minute stage play, complete with multiple characters and moving parts that are designed to be the latest chapter in a larger story. I love good wrestling promos. Segments? Eh. Rarely does one hit with the power it so desperately seeks and more often than not – especially in WWE – they feel like they’re designed to fill time on a three-hour Raw.
The frustrating thing about the Bloodline was that for the longest time, they were the exception to that description. They weren’t time-fillers. They were intriguing. They bucked the trend of WWE forcing wrestlers to memorize lines and recite them in a way that felt both inauthentic and corny, and if nothing else, those segments felt like they were as real as it gets in WWE Land. The problem now is they’ve taken that great thing and run it into the ground. You can almost predict when Jey Uso is going to smile, when Roman is going to fire up, who’s going through a table and how Solo Sikoa is going to play his body language while each person talks. It’s not that we’ve seen it once; it’s that we’ve seen it 100 times. The first 50 were good. The next 25 were OK. But between 75 and 100 … I mean, honestly.
I swear on everything that’s good, if I hear one more person say that everyone in the Bloodline deserves an Emmy…
Really, though. Kudos to everyone involved for concocting the story, playing it well, and giving WWE fans something to look forward to most every week. But enough is enough. And while the Bloodline saga has certainly been a lot of fun to watch evolve from a pro wrestling story standpoint, let’s not get carried away with superlatives now that we’re finally seeing the thing implode. It was very good while it lasted. But cheers to knowing that each minute it continues to last is a minute closer to when we finally see this thing end.