Its Cold, Grey, and Will Last The Rest Of Your Life
Many of you are probably familiar with the 1993 film “Groundhog Day”. If you are not, I will summarize it for you. In the movie, weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) finds himself stuck in an endless time loop in which he relives the events of February 2nd over and over again. He maintains the memories of each Groundhog Day he endures, but none of the denizens of Punxsutawney Pennsylvania do. With each day Phil enters the same February 2nd and every other character in the story resets and act as if the previous Groundhog Days never happened.
I have always loved this movie and it is a personal favorite of mine. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and check it out. I highly recommend it. However, it is my experience as a viewer of the WWE in 2015 that has given me a new appreciation for the film and its protagonist Phil Connors. With each new episode of Raw, each new PPV, and each new Network special (like the recent Madison Square Garden Show), I now understand the hell that Phil endured.
To spell it out, the characters in the WWE’s fictional universe are the inhabitants of Punxsutawney, and we the audience are Phil Connors as we relive the same events over and over again with feelings of frustration, boredom, and the burden being fully aware of the stagnation of everything going on around us. .
I am going to use last Saturday’s Madison Square Garden event to drive home my viewpoint. Let me start off by saying that I am not a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination. If it were easy, everyone would do it, but I am and have been a longtime consumer of professional wrestling and I know what I like and I know what frustrates me, and this last MSG special did about all it could to drive me to the edge.
The complete lack of forward motion in storylines and disregard for previous developments in the storyline just leaves me baffled. Again, I don’t perform creative writing for a living, but even I have the basic understand that stories need to move forward and develop and there has to be a cause and effect aspect to the fictional events. I saw a video of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker teaching a class in which they explain basic storytelling techniques like this. (check out the video here http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2014/03/06/writing-advice-from-south-parks-trey-parker-and-matt-stone/)
Getting back to the Madison Square Garden special, what examples could I use to explain the issues I have with WWE creative? Well we can start by taking a look at one of the smaller matches, Stardust Vs. Adrian Neville. These two have been “feuding” since before Summerslam. It put the term in quotations as in WWE’s world, feuding equates to just having a near endless cycle of matches. Ever since the tag team match with Stephen Amell (which was a fine match and would have served as an appropriate conclusion to the story), I have seen Stardust and Neville wrestle each other so many times that I have lost count. I feel like I am always seeing either a one on one match between the two or a six man tag with The Lucha Dragons and The Ascension thrown in (the six man tag has been done at least three times by my count). Forget the fact that the characters’ motivations are vague at best, but I have no idea what the point to all these matches are supposed to be. If Neville wins and beats Stardust, what happens? He wrestles Stardust again. If Stardust wins, what happens? He wrestles Neville again. The two are just stuck in a loop of wrestling each other with the outcome having no impact on where the characters go moving forward. They are just stuck wrestling each other until the WWE gets bored with it and will switch opponents (how they are not at that point already is anybody’s guess). If you are going to have the guys face each other in rematches, then shouldn’t each rematch raise the stakes somehow? If the story was truly evolving and the characters were truly developing, then each match should build higher and higher or change the story or do SOMETHING. Actually, I would argue that since Stephen Amell’s role in the story has ended, the stakes are actually less than what they were when the story first started. How do you go from having altercations with TV’s Green Arrow to having nothing, and then expect the audience to care?
An even more glaring example of the memory loss that WWE’s characters seem to have was in the six divas tag team match between Team PCB and Team Bella. When Paige flipped out a couple weeks ago and verbally ran down Charlotte, I expressed both joy and relief because we were FINALLY getting story and character development in this Divas Revolution. Prior to Paige’s outburst, all we had gotten was a stale and repetitive cycle of matches with interchangeable wrestlers with no clear direction or purpose to anything beyond everyone just telling us the matches are important. Now we were getting character development and the story can flourish and grow. What has happened since then? Well, Paige, Becky, and Charlotte had a six women tag match against Team Bella. My first question right off the bat is how are Paige, Becky, and Charlotte still teaming at this point? It felt to me like Paige had pretty much burnt that bridge and the partnership was done. They could have explained this by saying the match was already signed and all three competitors were contractually obligated to team together, but they never did that. The match ended with Paige walking out on her partners and ending Team PCB for good and moving the story forward.
That is until the MSG show where it is ONCE AGAIN Team PCB Vs Team Bella. At this point, I am getting ready to pull my hair out. For all intents and purposes, Paige has already turned heel twice before and she is STILL teaming with Charlotte and Becky? Why? What glue is holding this trio together and why haven’t Charlotte and Becky beaten her to a pulp or demanded a new partner for this match? They just went in there and acted as if the match on Raw didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until Paige blind tagged Charlotte to take the spotlight (guess that makes heel turn number 3) that Becky and Charlotte decided to get back at her by walking out on Paige. If Team PCB isn’t broken up after this then I am going to lose my marbles. Remember that scene in Die Hard where Hans Gruber pretended to be Bill Clay to trick McClane? Now try to imagine that scene happening, then we get the big shoot out where McClane barely gets away, and then they throw all logic out the window by having McClane buddy up to Bill Clay two scenes later. That is what this is like. Team PCB should have been dead and buried once Paige flipped out at them, or if not, they should have shown some kind of reconciliation, or provided some kind of explanation or SOMETHING. Instead, they just had Paige turn heel three shows in a row and turned the only piece of character development we’ve gotten out of the Divas Revolution so far and turned that into a cycle of repetition.
Now lets look at the Tag Team Championship match between The Dudley Boyz and the reigning champions The New Day. This one is going to be easy to explain. Did you see Night of Champions? Then you saw this match. I am not kidding when I say that at this MSG special, they had the exact same match that they had at Night of Champions. It was about as close to carbon copy as you can possibly get. They copied the finish exactly with Xavier causing a DQ to save the titles and then The Dudleys putting him through a table post-match. For now, I am going to overlook that I have seen the New Day and The Dudleys face each other in six man tags and non-title matches all leading into this match, effectively making the pairing itself dull. Why would you build up to a tag title rematch just to put on the exact same match you did last time? I am assuming this will eventually lead to a No DQ match in which The New Day can’t save their titles that way, but did you need to do the exact same finish twice to establish that point. Why make the same story point twice? Shouldn’t The Dudleys have been prepared for Xavier Woods’ interfering this second time around? Do they not remember what happened last time? Am I the only one that does? That type of match repetition might be fine if the matches weren’t being televised, but they are showing us these matches on TV and on their Network over and over again.
I will use the show’s two main events, (Brock Lesnar Vs. Big Show and John Cena Vs. Seth Rollins in a Steel Cage match for the US Title) to highlight the apparent selective historical knowledge or even downright amnesiac mindset of the WWE’s commentators. For the Big Show Vs. Brock Lesnar match at this event, they talked about how Big Show was the first guy to beat Lesnar and talked about the time Lesnar superplexed Big Show and broke the ring. However, despite having knowledge of previous Big Show Vs. Brock Lesnar matches, they seemed to be completely shocked that Lesnar was able to give Big Show an F-5. To me, that is like forgetting Hulk Hogan ever slammed Andre the Giant (which I guess the WWE wants us forget that given their current stance on Hogan). How on Earth are you aware of previous encounters between the two and still be shocked that Lesnar is able to F-5 Big Show? As far as I can remember, Lesnar delivered the F-5 in every match he ever had with Big Show, including the match they had less than two years ago at Royal Rumble 2014. How can the commentators claim to be aware of the history between these two and then act shocked when Lesnar does that thing he always does whenever he faces Big Show?
Those memory impairment issues were front and center in the cage match as well. Out of the three most recent Cena Vs Rollins encounters, I distinctly remember Seth hitting the Superplex / Falcon Arrow combo in at least two of them. Seth hit it again in this cage match. Like clockwork, Cena kicked out of the big move combo, but Seth acted shocked and the commentators acted surprised as if they had never seen the moves hit before. This is where I wish rematches would develop into something different by paying attention to small details like this. Because the Superplex / Falcon Arrow hasn’t gotten him a victory over Cena yet, why not have Rollins hit the Superplex, then follow it up with Eddie style three vertical suplexes and THEN hit the Falcon Arrow? I am not trying to encourage cramming more moves into the match for the sake of it, but making that change would click in my brain and tell me “Oh yeah, Seth didn’t beat him last time when it was just the Superplex and the Falcon Arrow, so he’s adding more shots to get the job done”. Or better yet, why not have Cena be prepared for the Superplex / Falcon Arrow combo since he’s been hit with it so many times? Why not have him develop a counter to it so that he never gets hit with it again? Those small changes would demonstrate the characters learn from their experiences and try to prepare potential repeat situations in matches. Instead we just get the same spots repeated in every match and the announcers acting surprised whenever they see it. Also, to elaborate on repetition, what exactly was the point of having Cena beat Rollins in three consecutive matches. I am not going to go off about being sick of Cena going over. From a storyline perspective, what is the point in doing three consecutive matches with the exact same outcome? There is no progression, no development, and nothing moves forward. If all you can think of is to deliver the same outcome you did last time (and the time before that), then maybe you shouldn’t do the match.
To sum up the Madison Square Garden Event, if you have been watching Raw and you watched Night of Champions, then you’e already watched this event. It had repeated so much of what we had already seen that I really did feel like I was stuck in a timeloop. The real question now is why are the shows written this way? Why does the WWE constantly recycle the same matches and tropes endlessly with no signs of stopping? Well, I think the obvious culprit is the high volume of content they have to fill each week. Between monthly PPV events, three hour Raws, two hour Smackdowns, various other shows sprinkled here and there, that is a lot of time to fill and in forcing themselves to do that, many pairings and booking decisions get repeated constantly. However, I am not so sure that even if they didn’t have the burden of so much TV time that they’d be able to write naturally flowing stories because most of what they do goes against the very basics of scripted entertainment. I guess it is impossible to truly tell, but what I do know now is that the WWE is getting harder and harder to watch. Watching a 3 hour show every week requires a lot of dedication on the part of the viewer and recycling the same material every week only makes it harder on them.
I can offer some way for wrestling fans to cope with the scenario though. Think back to Groundhog Day again. How did Phil Connors deal with his situation? Ultimately, he manipulated the variables of the day to play out how he wanted it. He learned how to speak French, how to play the piano, how to ice sculpt, and used his knowledge of the day’s events to help the people in the town. We as fans and viewers don’t have the ability to exert that level of control to where we can shape the show the way we want it, but we can certainly point out what is wrong. I encourage fans to keep writing reviews, sending tweets, and posting comments citing exactly what is wrong with the show because WWE creative might not even be aware of it themselves. Who knows? I also encourage just not watching the show. Just on Monday Nights alone, there is Monday Night Football and a myriad of different TV shows to experience. If you are looking for good wrestling, the WWE Network provides you with NXT. Just stick with that. There are even other WWE Network programs like Legends with JBL and Table for 3 that I actually enjoyed. If you are interested in wrestling in general, there are other options outside of the WWE like NJPW (which just got English commentary for NJPW World), ROH, and various other Indy feds. Lucha Underground is coming back for a second season, so you can look forward to that as well. Much like Phil in Groundhog Day, maybe we as fans need to realize that we don’t have to be handcuffed to being stuck in the same dull and bleak scenario over and over again. Based on the steady decline in the ratings, I’d say it looks like audiences are realizing it.