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WWE Monday Night Raw’s 1000th episode

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July 27, 2012

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WWE Monday Night Raw’s 1000th episode

On Monday July 23, 2012, WWE broadcast the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw. They are known to frequently declare that program the “longest-running, weekly, episodic show in history.” This wordy description is to separate it from the likes of 60 Minutes, Meet the Press, and The Wonderful World of Disney. WWE cites The Simpsons, Lassie, and Gunsmoke as the next longest-running.

Nevertheless, putting out roughly 2 hours of original programming a week, with no reruns, for nearly 20 years is impressive. The word “original” is problematic, given the number of video packages recapping past events and the inevitability of redoing past storylines with only perfunctory changes. The company has been building up to this event for months on end, sometimes to the detriment of their actual Pay-Per-View builds. While on most weeks, Raw has at most one or two announced matches or appearances, this episode has had numerous aspects hyped up for weeks, including the nostalgia-fied returns of Attitude Era stalwarts D-Generation X and The Rock, Brock Lesnar’s return to answer HHH’s Summerslam Challenge (Hint: he’s been on the poster for it for a month), and John Cena cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on CM Punk. Also, an Intercontinental Title defense by Christian against a mystery opponent, but there was considerably less joy/time in hyping that up. Rather than recap the entire 3 hour event—in which there were, I believe, 4 actual matches, one of which lasted less than 20 seconds—I thought I’d share some general thoughts on the whole thing, and why it mostly worked.

NOSTALGIA!

The show opened with Vince McMahon, who basically went out there to get his ass kicked (I should specify that I mean this figuratively) and then introduce DX. As they entered the ring, I bemoaned the fact that DX was retroactively composed of only Shawn Michaels and HHH, when to my delight they introduced a few other members: The New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn) and X-Pac. It was clear that these guys were genuinely excited to be on the show, and sometimes it’s nice to feel that joy without it being immediately undercut by ironic detachment or random intensity. After a few catchphrases and crotch-chops, they beat up Damien Sandow (a reincarnated Lanny Poffo) and went on their merry way. X-Pac didn’t get to say anything, which proved wise when he later skeeved out Trish Stratus by being his usual creepy self.

We also got the always-welcome announcing return of Good Ole JR, albeit just for one match and with Darkest Timeline facial hair, and the presumably final entry in the “Heath Slater Jobs to Old People” World Tour. This week’s entry featured all of the past participants, plus Lita and the APA. It was fine. People hoping for a Stone Cold Stunner were no doubt disappointed that filming Grown Ups 2 took precedence, although I imagine if Austin had returned he would have done something more interesting than obliterate the One Man Band (baybay!)

While this week’s show saw the return of Brock Lesnar and The Rock, those relate to actual running storylines, so I’ll deal with them later. Barring an unforeseen development, however, the Undertaker is a once-a-year performer, so his appearance, while obvious, was welcome. His entrance will always be exciting, even if it’s slow as molasses.

ALSO, IN WITH THE NEW!

As this was a historic evening, the WWE decided to change things up in their plans for the future. There was no opening theme song this week, and while an official 1000th episode song was announced, it’s not clear whether that’s a one-time thing or the song going forward. It was relatively bland, but better than Nickelback by default (the two sweetest words in the English language.) They also introduced a new set, although I only know that because people said so. I don’t really pay attention to sets unless they’re atrocious. The biggest change, however, was that Raw has expanded from 2 hours to 3 hours every week. PPVs are all 3 hours long, except the 4-hour Wrestlemania, and they rarely drag too much, but they’re also filled with matches that mostly matter. Every now and then, Raw has had a special 3 hour episode, and it’s usually been dreadful. Rather than provide longer matches or give spots to up-and-comers, they usually shoehorn in bad comedy segments, extended promos, and recap upon recap. This week’s 3 hours mostly worked, as there were only a few times that I checked the clock to see when we’d get to the fireworks factory, but the coming weeks will tell the tale. If we get more matches and make them longer instead of rambling soliloquies from HHH and John Cena, it should all be relatively fine.

NOW FEATURING CELEBRITIES…

WWE has always been obsessed with celebrities, and Monday was no exception. Regis Philbin provided a surprisingly touching reflection of his years of being involved with wrestling, but the big “get” was Charlie Sheen. After shutting down his Twitter account (I guess? I don’t really know) he instead chose to Skype using what one can only imagine is the grainiest Instagram filter ever. Sheen stuck to the script, which was largely insipid and occasionally terrifying. The thought of Daniel Bryan being forced to wrestle Charlie Sheen makes me uncomfortable. Most importantly, Fozzie, the bear, not the band, led a little video package going through the history of catchphrases. I unapologetically love the Muppets, and if me and my soon to be 3-year-old nephew are any judge, Fozzie is the greatest.

…AND SOCIAL MEDIA!

If you’ve watched anything on WWE in the past year, you know that they’ve become obsessed with social media. The constant references to what is trending on Twitter have always been a little tiresome, but they seem to be dictating content far too much. Since The Rock’s return, it’s been clear that each of his promos is destined to get as many different things trending as possible. That’s just not a productive way to make a coherent promo, although given that his character seems to be “insults” it may not make that much of a difference. Recently, the company bought up a significant interest in Tout, a service that allows you to post 15-second videos online. This will probably take up about 3 minutes per 3 hour show, which is not that significant, but seems like a great way to make me feel great (Hey I’m smarter than they are!) and terrible (Oh right, I’m one of them.) Given the filter through which it streams, the videos will be largely pointless, without the opportunity to drop stealth messages that those annoying giant signs in the crowd provide. I’m not a fan.

HEY, REMEMBER ALL THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS?

With all the nostalgia at play in the show, it was important that they recognized just how stupid the vast majority of professional wrestling is. The opening DX segment mocked much of their history: that they’re old, balding men whose primary character trait is pointing at their crotches, that Shawn Michaels took a sabbatical because he “lost his smile”, or that he posed in Playgirl. Later, while AJ prepared for her impending nuptials to Daniel Bryan, she pointed out that everyone in the company was completely insane. After opening the door to the hallway, she was first greeted by the always unstable Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Next, Rowdy Roddy Piper and R-Truth were shown either attempting to wrangle or jump-rope with Little Jimmy. Little Jimmy is the invisible, white child who initially coincided with Truth’s descent into madness but who he now loves (no Sandusky-o).

Finally, elderly former wrestler Mae Young came by to introduce them to her child, a giant hand (actually just a 20-something man in a giant hand costume). For those that missed this storyline, Mae Young was found to be sleeping with “Sexual Chocolate” nee “World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry. It was later discovered that this octogenarian was, in fact, pregnant with his child. When it came time to deliver the baby, what emerged was a rubber hand. That was pretty much it. Unfortunately, no mention was made of the Gobbledygooker, WCW’s Shockmaster, or Daniel Tosh’s favorite, Katie Vick. (Look those all up on Youtube at your own risk. Although Shockmaster may be my favorite thing ever).

While I’m glad that WWE can mock their ridiculous past, this is the same company that has ended recent narratives—such as “Who is Vince McMahon’s bastard son?” and “Who is the Anonymous Raw General Manager?”—with “Uhhh… the leprechaun did it.”

Seriously.

WEDDINGS! GENERAL MANAGERS! INTRIGUE!

Speaking of Vince McMahon and General Managers, he interrupted the much-ballyhooed wedding ceremony to name AJ the new GM of Raw. Surprisingly, weddings on wrestling shows never turn out to just be nice wedding ceremonies. Daniel Bryan and AJ have done a great job building each other up over the past year as love interests; first as Bryan was the verbally abusive boyfriend who only cared about himself, and then as AJ became mentally unhinged and started making out with random dudes and causing chaos all around her. They reconciled last week after Bryan proposed to her on both the 998th and 999th Raw, and scheduled their wedding for the event. After AJ yelled “Yes!” repeatedly, she revealed that she was actually accepting a proposal from another man: a business proposal. This was convoluted, to say the least. It also led to questions like, “Why couldn’t she get married and accept this job? Is she stuck in some weird Betty Draper time shuffle?” But of course, Vince offered her the job (the WWE has an increasingly confusing power structure in which, at any given moment, one of several people will be in charge) and it’s remarkably easy to imagine him snarling at her about a woman’s role and declaring that anyone who doesn’t eat steak or drink beer is a sissy anyway. AJ could succeed in the role if she’s allowed to continue her characterization as someone with no clear motivation other than wreaking havoc along both sides of the aisle.

ADVANCING THE ACTUAL STORIES? WHY NOT?

While the wedding certainly wasn’t as important as Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth—it was closer to the fake commitment ceremony between Billy and Chuck—it did provide an opportunity for actual storylines to emerge. After Bryan destroyed the wedding props in the ring, WWE champion CM Punk emerged to mock him. While they argued about who was the best in the world, The Rock came out to drop some semi-dated references and announce that he would challenge for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble in January, no matter who the champion is at the time. This would seemingly pay off later in the night, when John Cena became the first ever Money-In-The-Bank briefcase winner to cash in his contract and then lose the match after the Big Show interfered. Ken Kennedy won the briefcase at Wrestlemania 23, but got injured and decided to put it up for grabs in a match against Edge, with Edge winning and successfully cashing it in. At another point, Kennedy was allegedly the choice to be named McMahon’s bastard, but again got put out of commission, so he was replaced by the aforementioned leprechaun, Hornswoggle. Opportunies missed.

During the match, a ref bump resulted in nobody being there to count Cena’s winning pinfall, and Big Show came out to hit a sloppy Spear and then the WMD, which is just a punch to the head. Punk hesitated to pick up the pin in such a dastardly manner, but eventually relented. His hesitation appeared to give Cena enough time to kick out at two. After the match, when Big Show was beating on a fallen Cena, The Rock came out to save the day. Before he could drop the People’s Elbow—the spiritual predecessor to Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle, in that they involve some rope-running and are terrible—Punk ran back into the ring and delivered a clothesline and his Go-To-Sleep finisher to The Rock.

Jerry Lawler’s comment that Punk has turned his back on the WWE Universe indicates that this is, in fact, a heel turn. If they treat it as a Walter White-esque transformation of a neutered, but good, person into a monster because of a chain of events that produce increasingly rough consequences, each of which makes it a little easier to respond to the next choice with a hardened, egomaniacal response, then that could be awesome. Wrestling, however, is not subtle. More likely, he’ll step right back into the role he was born to play. Punk is, without question, an amazing heel – in large part because he comes across as a dick in real life. He can cite the fact that, despite holding the most prestigious championship in the industry since November, he hasn’t headlined a single PPV in that time. There are lots of ways he can go, including repurposing his straight-edge lifestyle into a negative cult, as he has done in the past. His character had grown increasingly stale as a face, so it’s exciting to see one of my favorites return to the role that made me appreciate him.

There are a few other developments to report on. HHH and Brock Lesnar have their feud, which will erupt at Summerslam, probably with a HHH victory because Vince resents MMA. Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho continued their new conflict.Jericho is an all-time great who has admittedly fallen below the sky-high expectations set for his return, while Ziggler is some combination of Billy Gunn, Mr. Perfect, Ric Flair, and Shawn Michaels. He’s the best guy going right now. Both these guys seemed poised for a face turn. Most likely, it will be Jericho who turns, given Ziggler’s affiliation with heat-magnet Vickie Guerrero, but both are excellent workers who are more than capable on the microphone, or, in Jericho’s case, amazing.

I’m excited for both of these, but with WWE trying to recreate the mid-year buzz of the Nexus Invasion in 2010 or the Summer of Punk in 2011, all eyes are on CM Punk. It doesn’t have the same oomph of a Cena heel turn, but for a 1000th episode trying to make a splash, it got the job done.

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