Full disclosure: I have yet to watch the Steve Austin/Vince McMahon interview that was simulcast live on the WWE Network late last night. After all, a guy's gotta get some shut-eye after enduring a particularly unmemorable three-plus hours of sports entertainment.
But by most accounts, it was far more compelling than the Raw that preceded it. That's not hard to fathom, unless you're a fan of AOL jokes and the Big Show. Alas, as always, I have broken the action down into five essential takeaways and, as a bonus, a bunch of stuff that may have taught us nothing, but gave everyone something to tweet about.
Here's what I learned from the December 1 edition of Monday Night Raw.
5. Feud Awakening
There could be myriad reasons for WWE bunching Survivor Series and TLC so close together, including a desire to avoid directly overlapping their end-of-year PPV with the start of holiday hiatuses. But the resulting pressure cooker has yet to yield stirring results.
The card for December 14 is taking shape, and there seem to be a few motifs: A) Reopening cold cases, like Rusev and the people of Bulgaria/Russia vs. Jack Swagger and his cartoon bigot Zeb Colter; B) Carrying on with the would-be mega-powers battle between Teams Cena and Authority, but just dropping their collective monikers and continuing with plenty of triumphant arm-raising; and C) Assigning matches somewhat at random, a la John Cena vs. Seth Rollins, and asking the competitors to sell their epic beef (mmmm, epic beef) overnight, even though there actually is substantial recent history between them. A common criticism from fans is that there's no real game plan for Raw from week to week. But methinks the opposite might be true, i.e. there being little room to deviate from the long view. Hopefully, TLC doesn't fall short of already modest expectations.
4. What's Old Is New Day Again
Speaking of game plans, a cynic has to wonder whether Xavier Woods, Big E and Kofi Kingston's New Day faction was refined as anything other than a way to sell Super Strikers and energize young kids put to sleep by overwritten opening segments (more on that later). Which is fine. Personally, I'd hoped all that singing and sermonizing would foreshadow more of an evangelical con-artist gimmick, rather than the gospel superheroes we've seen since their debut on last week's SmackDown. It was a reasonable assumption, given how the trio's individual face runs had grown so lackluster. But if the group's purpose is to ward off the evil-weirdo Dust Brothers with kerchiefs and capes, even if it means absorbing a clean loss in their Raw debut to enhance the storyline, so be it. It's difficult, however, to see New Day representing the dawn of greatness for its talented members.
3. Don't Look Down
I've never played chess, nor do I pretend to grasp its nuances, but I've gathered there's a broad philosophy about the necessity of subtle maneuvers to facilitate more devastating future swerves. Pro wrestling can be a physical expression of that, with arm drags here or defensive postures there establishing pacing and rhythm before a final, more assertive end to sequence or exchange of moves.
Having said that, I think we can officially retire the "Guy whips opponent into the ropes then lowers his head" go-to as a serviceable means to an end. Tyson Kidd looked particularly lost selling the spot amid that generally disastrous Tag Team Turmoil fiasco, but ditto for Kane during the main event, in keeping with his recent role as glorified sparring partner. While the ol' four-point stance may be a classic in-ring pose, all it does today – and to shamelessly bring our chess metaphor full circle – is make the facilitator look like a rook.
2. Segueing The Risks
We've all come to accept that mid-to-upper card contests on Raw are split up by commercial breaks into two (or in the case of last night's closing bout, three) segments. It's a practical and economic reality for a three-hour show, and Michael Cole is typically aces at ushering the audience into sponsored interruptions then welcoming them back without making anyone feel like they've missed out. And for those watching from behind, some predictive fast-forwarding helps create the illusion of each match feeling seamless.
But last night's broadcast featured at least two instances in which those segues were far from fluid. Notably, Cole furiously calling a near-three count during Tag Team Turmoil after he'd already signed off, and an abrupt cut during a Ryback main-event suplex that seemed transparently in err. Those moments reveal the cracks in an intense, 180-minute production that could benefit from being leaner and more concerned with story and action than furthering the brand, but they're also just ugly to watch. If only there was a way to help front-load some of that burden so there were fewer discrepancies as the show wore on (insert ellipses suggesting to read on to the final observation).
1. Cold Open
Dear God, that was 22 minutes of awful to kick off the show. No matter how much self-awareness John Cena has, or how many subsequent references he makes to the Anonymous GM's dated email prompts or Seth Rollins' meandering tendencies, nothing was going to save that opening segment from actually making fans contemplate flipping to the abysmal Dolphins-Jets affair set to kick off on ESPN.
Cut that puppy down to size, take five to pay some bills, come back on the air, give a pair of bottom-card workers a spot to warm up the crowd, take another couple minutes to plug Chrisley Knows Best and then let the inherently dizzying Tag Team Turmoil saga breathe a bit. Perhaps this all underscores a serious lack of top-heel charisma at the moment, or reinforces how there's tons of quality face talent but no one who can steal the show on the mic and electrify fans. But next Monday's go-home has precious time to curry the favor of possible Network subscribers, and there's only so many post-show Stone Could/Vince McMahon podcast pairings to help offset a Raw that did little to initially draw us in.
Below the Belt:
- I'm digging Harper's entrance.
- I am, however, distracted by seeing his kneepads under his ripped jeans.
- Still hopeful Bray v. Dean can steal the show at TLC. It might have to.
- OK, the Bellas really need to cut a promo explaining some things.
- The "Nattie's husband" shtick makes me giggle.
- Tyson Kidd + Cesaro = Tysaro?
- Rowan as eccentric genius furthers the idea of him being WWE's next unlikely, outsider protagonist.
- Heyman's always great, but Lesnar's absence still stinks.
- Line of the Night: Miz reminding Mizdow, "Don't improvise" when he deigned to speak. Hope they don't rush that inevitable split.
- Fan-Made Sign of the Night: "Can someone check my staph infection?"
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Man, that Kars 4 Kids ad is creepy, and what exactly are Raw ad buyers trying to tell us with all these Cliffside Malibu spots?