For the fifth week in succession, the WWE made the best use of its talent to create a good, solid edition of Raw. If they keep this up, I might have to stop being such a miserable sod (though chances are against it). Luckily, there were a few things on the show that didn’t quite hit the mark so no threat of me becoming a doe-eyed hippie just yet.
First off, a word about our new play-by-play guy on Raw, Jonathan Coachman. I think it’s fairly apparent that it is impossible to rate somebody’s skills when their abilities are as much a part of the ‘work’ as the storyline itself. Judging Coach’s announcing talent based on this week’s show is like claiming the Big Boss Man was a horrible person because he killed Al Snow’s dog. Coach was required to be obnoxious, distracted and thoroughly undeserving of the position that he was gifted as a result of JR’s misfortune. And that’s where I felt he failed. I thought his attempts to ridicule and parody JR weren’t annoying enough and the writing team is going to have to accept that, in performing this angle to its utmost, it is going to have to sacrifice the quality of the commentary or it will seem half-assed. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a genuinely heel/face announce team (in the mould of Monsoon/Ventura or McMahon/Heenan) and I’m not sure it fits anymore seeing as we don’t need to be led by the hand through storylines like we used to. But I can guarantee you that, unless the WWE decides to do what it does best and piss as many people off as possible, it’s going to seem a little flat. I thought the sarcastic tribute video for JR was a nice touch and Vince’s introduction of Coach to the announce position was done with typical McMahon zeal. I wonder how he manages to act like such an on-screen asshole every time? Maybe he practices when the cameras aren’t rolling.
I don’t get Angle’s spot on the show. I understand that a short, quiet night for Kurt isn’t a portent of dropping out of the main event scene, because his place in the main event at Taboo Tuesday is assured and he was allowed to annihilate Hurricane for no better reason than to make him look better and more dangerous, but he was wasted in this segment. Kurt is the number one guy in the WWE right now. Do you think Austin during the height of his corporation feud would have got a first-hour squash and nothing else on Raw? Or HHH during the McMahon-Helmsley era? I’m not suggesting that Kurt has to carry the company like those guys did but it does appear wasteful to give him so little to do when he’s clearly ready and hungry for the weight of the product.
I once commented that all that Big Show needed was to add one or two new basic wrestling moves to his arsenal every few months or so and his matches wouldn’t come across so turgid. One arm drag and one fall-away slam later and Big Show gets a big thumbs up from me. Granted, the early exchanges were standard ‘big guy/little guy’ stuff, which can seem fractious, but it built nicely throughout the match and Edge focussing on Show’s arm worked well as a motif and a catalyst for reversals. I was glad to see more two counts in a Big Show match (especially from the ‘gore’ … I mean ‘spear’) and the chair/briefcase false finish into JBL’s music playing was well written and competently executed. Based on the positive vibe from this match, I’m not concerned that Show advanced to the voting stage of the PPV main event (though I’ll be surprised if he wins the vote) but Edge, free from the shackles of Matt Hardy, now seems to be distracted by his bitterness towards Smackdown and his ‘money in the bank’ title shot feels more like a casual promise than a guaranteed contract. After blowing smoke up his ass for so long, management should be careful they don’t let all the wind out of his sails (I could mix metaphors at the Olympics).
Carlito and Mick Foley did a good job of making a watchable segment out of nothing. Not even Linda McMahon’s ‘Thunderbirds’ inspired acting skills could make this a truly worthless bit, though I would have preferred more fuel with which to start their PPV feud than ‘which one of them has the worst looking hair?’ But the chemistry was good and it didn’t overstay its welcome. Any good PR consultant will tell you how to correct a public perception. If you are thought of as dumb, you should be seen wearing glasses or coming out of a play or an art gallery. If you are perceived as a love-rat then you should be portrayed as a family man standing next to your loving wife (however much she hates you). So I was pleased to see creative realise that Carlito needs to increase his aggressiveness and had him attack HBK during his opening pyro. Unfortunately this aggression dominated the early part of the match and things once more deteriorated into a chop-fest with very little chain-wrestling in the first four minutes. Judging by the fact that Carlito held on to the top rope as the move was occurring we can assume that he was supposed to be suplexed onto the apron and not, as it turned out, all the way to the floor. But HBK had the wherewithal to follow him down and it didn’t look as bad as it might have. The match improved greatly as it progressed and by the time the ending came, and Michaels got the chair assisted ‘sweet chin music’ for the three-count, it had more than justified its place on the show. At a PPV and given more time I would expect a better wrestling match from these two but it suited a tv format and was another notch in Carlito’s career.
I noticed at Raw Homecoming that the chemistry between Steph and Austin was stronger than that with Austin and Vince. Maybe that was the reason why Stephanie was given the role of rattlesnake agitator this week and she did a great job. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were enjoying themselves out there. Everything is structured in the WWE but it did have that shoot feel to it with both taking extra shots at the other and walking over eachother’s lines. And again Austin showed that he is far more enthusiastic about a promo when sharing it with a McMahon. The set up for the Coach/Austin match is tricky. The idea that Austin could lose to Coach is helped by the fact that we don’t really know whether JR is gone, too ill to announce or working a return. And for those of you who think Austin wouldn’t agree to lose to Coach because of the creative control he has, remember that Coach would only be the weight on the pinfall and the loss would be marked down for the McMahon family. And that feud looks set to continue.
As with a few other things on the show, the women’s segment suffered from the storyline. But then once again that was the intention. Not exactly blessed with great subtlety, the carelessness with which James lost the match in trying desperately to impress Trish is a comfortable rework of the Sable/Tori storyline and it has mileage. Especially considering the talents of the wrestlers involved. The match was unsatisfactory and ended abruptly without utilising all the divas to the extent of their (varied) abilities so as a step in a constructed process it did exactly what it was meant to do. As we’ve seen with both Edge/Hardy and Mysterio/Guerrero in recent months, sometimes the needs of the week are superseded by the long-term vision and we just have to accept the limitations of running ten or twelve feuds per week all jostling for position on a two-hour show. Having said that, I would have preferred to have seen a follow-up backstage spot involving Stratus/Ashley/James just to keep the angle moving and give it some further meaning. But then we can’t have everything.
Conversely, the Flair/HHH segment benefited from a little thinking outside the box. After Flair delivered his best WWE promo to date, and proved that his entire body is covered with the type of gossamer-fine skin that most men only have on their elbows and testicles, he chased off HHH as he prepared to speak. I don’t think we were ‘saved’ from another HHH promo, as he normally excels in situations where he has a reason to talk and someone to talk to, but it was a useful little twist and one I’ve not seen before. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the writers are starting to put some effort into the show.
My only real annoyance about the show was the battle royal finale. Only two of the entrants (Masters and eventual winner Kane) could conceivably have won the match and there was very little of interest in the run-up to the victory. Speaking of Kane, he’s back and he’s the same as before. No new look and it’s only matter of time before his threats of satanic violence don’t come to fruition. I was a fan of Kane, even after the unmasking, and I saw more longevity in the gimmick than most at the time but I’m done with him for now. I can’t see a way that Kane can turn around his fortunes unless the writers do something drastic and this period of inactivity from him would have been the perfect opportunity to do so.
There was a very noticeable difference between this Raw and other recent efforts. A return to the old WWF style. Segment over-spills (Flair/HBK handshake), double-meaning endings (Edge annoyed with Smackdown and Show into the main event vote) and that overt ‘McMahon-ness’ all added to the sensation. Even shots of the road outside waiting for Austin to arrive was classic WWF. More than that, EVERY segment and match contained at least one major player on the roster. Compare that to past months when (for example) both members of La Resistance had wrestled singles matches or the Masterlock challenge and Diva Search had taken up roughly twenty minutes of combined screen time. Austin, Foley and Flair are showing some other veterans (Hogan) that you can come back and benefit the company and those around you as much as yourself and the new blood is stepping up to the plate when required. As far as I can see, reports of the death of the WWE are exaggerated and premature.