Imagine if your annual Christmas parade was routed to circle the same two block radius for three hours, with each marcher shot to the gills on Xanax. Now imagine if the parade took place every week, and Santa only showed up six times a year.
The March 16 episode was just another cut of the same old dreadful cloth. If it’s not JBL cantankerously grousing about some non-sensical point in his glossy-eyed stupor, it’s another video package railroad-spiking something we saw in hour one. The only real decent action came in the six-man tag of Intercontinental Title contenders, but we’ve been fed the same combinations of otherwise-aimless talents for the past number of weeks. That perpetual void is rendered dumber by R-Truth’s oblivious thief gimmick, which has the shelf-life of a carton of milk in a Cancun tool shed.
Making matters worse is that this is WrestleMania season, the stretch of calendar where WWE historically creates its most anticipation. Forget the complete apathy toward Roman Reigns in the main event, at least he shows up. An absent, Streak-stricken Undertaker has yet to be seen (and probably won’t be until the event itself). Brock Lesnar and Sting show up only on specific dates, relying on Paul Heyman and video packages respectively to usher their stories forward.
I think one of the biggest differences between Attitude-era WWE and the current product is that back then, it seemed as though everybody wanted to be there. Monday nights were the place to be, and Raw was the barometer of the business at its hottest. Nowadays, part-time contracts and wrestlers grimacing through uninspired characters (New Day, among many others) have turned Raw into something that’s more depressing than anything. It’s become a monument to the waste of obvious potential. It’s space occupied with sweat in order to justify $160M in annual rights fees. Don’t like the show? They’re telling you to blow ’em.
In the Attitude Era, it was necessary for Raw to go live, since WCW loved to toss out spoilers for shows so deep in the can that mold was evident. Live TV meant anything could happen. Actually, anything still *could* happen on live Raws, but the sterility is so overwhelming. Of the first ten Raws of the year, just three of them topped a 3.0 rating. There was a point in 1998 where if Nitro slipped to a 3.5, Eric Bischoff had to wear a dunce cap at Turner offices.
I’d argue what the point of Raw going live every week is, when it feels like nothing happens over the course of three mind-numbing hours. This question gets its legs from the fact that there are three better shows right now that tape their wrestling in compressed blocks of time.
One of them is in-house: NXT. As if the comparison between the December Takeover special and WWE’s TLC just days later wasn’t a wide-enough trek, the developmental group puts on shows that breeze by in the span of an hour. Not every impact player is on every week, something that plagues Raw, though it can be argued that the part-timers benefit from their infrequent visits. Regardless, how much less special are even Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose as compared to Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn? Especially since the latter three have yet to be corrupted by uninspired storytelling.
Because WWE seems so set in their ways in terms of their excruciating TV production beliefs, NXT is such a breath of fresh air, even aside from the indy-ringers they hired. Jason Albert and Corey Graves provide on-point announcing with not too much time wasted on tangents and obnoxious arguing. The women are given room to work, and some have very accessible characters, be it Charlotte the confident athlete or Bayley the gradually-self-empowering fangirl.
These are the winds that could possibly cleanse the dull Raws, though I will say that the March 16 episode featured thirty seconds of true excitement. Sadly for WWE, it was in the form of a Lucha Underground commercial.
If you’ve seen Lucha more than once, the noir-ish vibe of the vignettes and the dizzying action are probably what hooked you. Name-brand talents like those formerly known as John Morrison and Alberto Del Rio probably helped. Even announcers Matt Striker and Vampiro, over-the-top as they sometimes can be, are putting over the wrestling with a fanboyish enthusiasm. It beats putting over themselves. In other words, everybody feels like they want to be there.
Above all, Lucha Underground just feels *different*, much like NXT. If WWE Network didn’t have an on-demand function, I’d be torn which one to watch each week. The Wednesday Night Wars!
Speaking of wars, it’s been five years since TNA got trounced in the laughable sequel to the Monday Night Wars. Though 2014 looked like the company death march (and 2015 could still be, they’re far from turning a profit), Impact on Destination America has turned into inspired programming.
NXT, Lucha Underground, and Impact are all taped in marathon sessions. Their results are readily available on any two-bit news site. There is nothing to be gained in watching these shows in terms of expecting news-breaking swerves that would rival Scott Hall kicking off a hostile takeover.
On the other hand, in each of their current forms, they’re wrestling shows. And appreciating each for both their simple and bold charms beats the hell out of the three hour weekly road to nowhere.